Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Days of Adversity, Third Letter to the Censor

The Fredonia Censor
Fredonia, New York
Wednesday, April 22, 1925
Page Eleven

Adversities of Life

No. 3

    About the year 1854 I was working as a compositor at Lyons, Iowa, which is located on the Mississippi River almost directly west of Chicago. The newspaper was a weekly published by T. H. Holmes. A printer named Vanover, who worked with me, took a vacation to take a trip on the river to St. Louis, where he was formerly employed on the old “Missouri Democrat,” and wanted me to go along.
    With a small amount of cash in our pockets we embarked on a steamboat for Davenport, and when we arrived there I immediately secured employment on the “Democrat”, published by Richardson  & Son, but Vanover spent the rest of his cash by getting drunk. In a few days he persuaded me to throw up my job and start for Saint Louis. I waited for my companion until I had but one dollar left, which took me to Muscatine, leaving Mr. Vanover asleep in a hotel.
    On my way to Muscatine I became acquainted with a commercial traveler who was going to stop off in that city on business. He invited me to room with him at a hotel there. It was Saturday night when we arrived at Muscatine. We put up at a hotel at my new friend’s expense, but when Sunday came I found that could not obtain employment there, and had no money to pay my fare to go further. About three o’clock p. m. a sternwheel steamboat came to the landing and I seized my small grip and started for the boat. I hid in a vacant stateroom until the boat started away, and then went to the office and told the clerk that I was broke and wanted to go to St. Louis. He said I would have to work my passage, and set me to work as a cabin boy, washing dishes, making up berths, etc. It was late in the fall, and the weather was getting cold, and I was grateful for even a shelter, but did my work rather clumsily, as it was new to me.
    One cold morning I was ordered by the porter to go up in “texas” and make the officers’ beds. When I got there a man I didn’t know was the captain of the steamer, gave me a coal bucket and ordered me to go the hold and get some coal for the stove. It was then about dinner time, and as I passed through the Cabin I saw the other cabin boys eating their dinner.  I dropped the coal bucket and sat down at the table. When I had finished my meal I met the gentleman who had ordered the coal, when a conversation occurred something like the following:
    “Where in h--l is that coal I ordered you to get?”
    I replied that I stopped to eat dinner.
    “I am the captain of this boat, and do you know what we do to cabin boys who don’t obey orders?”
    “I didn’t know you were the captain”, I replied, “and didn’t want to lose my dinner.”
    “That’s no excuse,” he retorted, “and you’ll have to be punished for disobeying orders. The last boy who did this we left on a lone desert island on the river, and I guess he starved to death, as we never heard of him since.”
    The I flared up and told the captain that I was a printer and was working my way to Saint Louis, and that I din’t want to be a cabin boy. He relented at that statement, but told me I better get off the boat as soon as possible. The next landing stop was Keokuk, where I obtained temporary work at my trade, but it was my last attempt to work my passage on a steamboat.
    After leaving Keokuk, I next landed in St. Louis, which at that time had but 8,000 or 10,000 inhabitants. Employment for extra printers was scarce, but I managed to get along for a few weeks by subbing on the “Missouri Democrat” and other papers. The editor of the Democrat in 1853 was B. Gratz Brown, afterward Governor of Missouri and later candidate for Vice President of theUnited States on the ticket with Horace Greeley for President.
    My lodging room in the city was a cheap one near the river, and was infested with wharf rats, which sometimes held carnivals on my bed, and I occasionally had to kick them off the coverlid. But I managed to get away soon, and secured some work at Alton, Illinois, and Carlinville, a small village in Macoupin County.
    From there I went to Wisconsin and visited two sisters, whom I had never seen as they left Fredonia when I was a baby or before my birth. I finally landed in Zanesville, where I worked night and day on the “Free Press”, for small compensation, and then I struck Milwaukee.
    The slavery question was in full sway at that time and political excitement was great. An evening daily was edited by S. M. Booth who was a radical Abolitionist. He was a chief of the “underground railroad” who ran fugitive slaves from the south into Canada. Gerrit Smith, a philanthropist and politician of New York, occasionally visited Mr. Booth, and inspected the printing plant. The fugitive slave law was in force, and the border ruffians were invading Kansas.
    Editor Booth lived to a good old age, and saw negro slavery abolished by the edict of Abraham Lincoln and the result of the Civil War.
    I will here remark that “Mark Twain” (Samuel Clemens) worked as a printer in St’ Louis about the time that I did, but I have no recollection of meeting him, although I worked at the trade about a week at Hannibal, Mo., his native town.

Oscar Langford
Colorado Springs, Colorado

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