Pioneers Turn Home Into ‘Pill Factory,’ –Remedies Help To Meet Expenses
In the nineteenth chapter Mr. Merrill told of the rescue of Darius by a searching party headed by his father, who found him unconscious and with toes frozen, lying beside a log near Little Trout River, after he had wandered three days in the woods.
Luckily for Darius, he came from the good old stock of hard working, robust and strong constituted frontiersmen, and inherited from both sides their virility and good health, otherwise he might have suffered more severely from his enforced exposure in the forest. As it was he recovered rapidly and declared he was able to return to Malone school the last week in January, knowing he would need the three remaining months before spring to enable him to pass the examination for a first grade certificate for teaching.
Accordingly about January 25th, grandfather hitched up the team to the pung, and drove Darius back to Malone. And there we will leave him for the present and follow grandfather and Wes through their struggles to keep the wolf from the door and also to retain their usual number of animals on the farm.
This winter was long to be remembered throughout the little settlement as a period of “hard times.” In fact it was almost a famine brought about in part by the reckless building of the summer before and by a spirit of jealousy which had led the farmers each to see if he could not exceed his neighbor furnishing his new house, or buying some fancy breed of animals. Some, if not all, ran in-to debt because their credit was good. A poor hay crop also increased their difficulties and all these causes combined to give them a tight pinch to survive the long, hard winter.
Darius had been intentionally kept ignorant of the general situation, as grandfather was glad to make sacrifices in order to keep him in school. And so he and Wes had to resort to heretofore unheard of schemes to keep the larder replenished. One or two of these little schemes grandfather had learned while in New Hampshire.
On account of so much heavily-timbered land–all forest everywhere–there was no market for wood. So when the settlers were clearing their land, the logs were skidded into great heaps and burned. The ashes were then gathered and through some formula, which I have been unable to find out, they made many little pack-ages of something they called “salts” which found a ready market in a drug store in Chateaugay four corners.
Grandfather and Wes made several bushels of the salts that winter, squeezing the finished product into little cakes about two inches square. They were placed near the stove all around the floor to dry. Drying would harden them sufficiently to handle without breaking. For these cakes they would get a penny each.
And now grandfather brought into practical use one of the things he had learned while in the medical school in Manchester–that of making cathartic purgative pills. His recipe for making them was: Four parts pulverized aloes, two parts pulverized rhubarb, one part pulverized cayenne pepper, well mixed and wet with spirits of wine.
He and Wesley made many little boxes of these pills. A dozen pills wrapped up in paper constituted a box for which the druggist in Chateaugay would pay him five cents.
Another recipe which they used to good advantage that winter was or cough pills: One part maple sugar, one part fir balsam, one part ginger, one part salt, mix thoroughly, then roll and press firmly into pill size of green pea. Dose one to three, every six hours until relieved.
While grandfather was making these pills Wesley would be gathering balsam from the gum blisters which project from the bark of balsam trees. To gather this liquid gum they used a tin can which was fastened to the end of a ten-foot pole, the can had been shaped like a huge spoon with the pointed end ground sharp. This sharp end was thrust under the lower end of the gum blister, which allowed the gum to run into the cup. The cup, which held about one-half gill, would be poured, when filled, into a large bottle which he carried for this purpose. It took Wes about e week or ten days to gather a bottle full of gum. This balsam was very valuable, the druggist paid them one dollar an ounce for it.
Along about New Year’s they had butchered a pig. The entrails grandfather had taken down near the river bank for fox bait, around which he had set six traps.
Twice a week he would go down near enough to see the traps, which were carefully covered with light snow. The foxes were eating the bait but were very careful to step over each trap as they came to it.
At last, however, when the bail was nearly all devoured, two or three foxes came one night and started fighting over the remaining morsels, and consequently one of them got caught in the traps.
During January and February 1 grandfather managed to fool three more foxes into his traps. These skins he sold for seventy-five cents each. (Quite a difference from the after-the-war prices of 1923 and 1924, when they were worth from eighteen to twenty-five dollars each).
In the meantime grandmother and Abbie were not idle. Both were knitting industriously stockings and mittens from the wool sheared from Wesley’s Southdowns.
Grandfather’s little apple tree nursery also added its contribution to the general fund and every Monday morning would find grand-father packing his big box with the various articles of home manufacture, and hitching old Dan to the pung, he would start peddling through the farming district east and north as far as Chateaugay, and sometimes clear to Champlain.
Returning by way of Chateaugay he would purchase the few necessities which grandmother had written on the memorandum. This trip would usually take two or three days, and great was the rejoicing when grandfather returned home with the needed supplies.
And so the winter passed and with April came the delightful, though hard work of making maple sugar.
Darius had completely regained his usual good health and was now eager to return to the farm for the spring work, but his school would not end till June 1st and then the spring work would be half done. However, he managed to get home two or three week-ends to help in the sugaring, as that was a pleasure he could not deny himself and also a help that Wes appreciated.
Another thing Darius could not resist was the smell of spring in the woods. The fresh warm south winds coming down the lake, still covered with ice, wafted an odor to his nostrils that no sportsman could resist. And best of all was the fishing trip with his father up to the mouth of the Thurber brook where they only had to, cut some holes through the ice and drop in their hooks, well baited with fresh worms, to pull out the speckled pounders and then, last but not least, eating them from grandmother’s. What a feast that always was! Even Wes, enjoyed that part of it.
Darius had made many friends that winter. Members of the singing school class and the church choir received him in, their homes as one of their own family. He told Bill Wheeler of his hunt up the Little Trout River, but made light of it, as he felt somewhat ashamed to think that he got lost. Bill, however, thought it was a great feast, and wished he could have been with him.
Finally when the school came around and Darius was gathering up his books and extra clothes, Bill appeared at his room and they had a parting visit, Darius repeating his invitation to Bill to come to his home and Bill repeating his acceptance. And so the two friends parted.
Next morning bright and early, carrying his satchel over his shoulder by a stick thrust through the handle, Darius started on the long walk home. When about half way he met his father coming after him, with the light wagon and team. He had the big box filled with young seedling apple trees well packed in moist earth to keep them from wilting.
“Mighty! Mighty! Dide, why didn’t ye wait awhile till I delivered these trees? Now set right dawn here on that rock while I go on to Farmer Foote with these trees. It’s only about a mile further and won’t take me more’n an’ hour.”
Darius, being pretty tired carrying his heavy satchel, readily consented, and sitting down, watched the blue birds building a nest in. a nearby stump. Already in imagination he could see the woods down in the pasture where they drove the sheep to be sheared, and the river, the big hole under the rock, where he had surprised Wes by capturing the big trout, the lake, the mill. He could feel that unseen magnet tugging and drawing him ever toward the mountains, the fascinating wildness of the hills and valleys.
Thrilled by his own imagination he again inwardly renewed his resolve to some time own a goodly share of the beautiful forest surrounding the Upper Chateaugay Lake.
By Charles E. Merrill.
In the next chapter Mr. Merrill tells how the settlers built stone “fences,” describes the spring work on the farm and tells of Darius’ return to the sawmill where he continued his studies in spare time.