NEWSLETTER OF THE NORTH MANCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY, INC.
Volume XXVIII, No. 1, February 2011
NEWSLETTER OF THE NORTH MANCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY, INC.
FRAZIER HUNT REMEMBERS—PART I
NORTH MANCHESTER, 1893-1903.
By John Knarr
By John Knarr
Frazier Hunt graduated from Manchester High School in 1903. As a successful war correspondent, radio commentator and author, Hunt traveled world-wide, interviewing all kinds of persons, from American Presidents to revolutionaries. A historical sign now stands in front of the large brick house on North Mill Street where he lived for ten years during his youth. Hunt even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, being inducted in 1960.
In a fascinating autobiography published in 1938, One American and His Attempt at Education, Hunt recalls his formative years spent in North Manchester, Indiana. This article highlights several observations made by Hunt in his vivid recollections about living in our community during 1893-1903. Hunt’s writings are italicized. Note: Because Hunt’s recollection was not perfect when it came to names of local people, streets and business establishments, information is sometimes inserted inside brackets for clarification or correction.1
Frazier Hunt was born on December 1, 1885, in the northwestern Illinois town of Rock Island on the Mississippi River. His mother’s name was Amanda Frazier; his father’s name was Jasper Newton Hunt. Frazier had an older brother named Jasper Newton Hunt, Jr. Seventeen days after Frazier Hunt was born, his mother tragically died.
My brother and I were to go to Martha and Joseph Mathews. My father’s schoolbook business was taking him to Chicago as headquarters, and since he would be away most of the time it had been my mother’s last request that Aunt Martha and Uncle Joe raise her two boys….We did not talk much about my mother and her untimely death, but when we did a mood of futility seemed to settle down on the whole household. Gay and full as my boyhood was, there was always a hidden sense of incompleteness about it. And to this touch of mystery was added an unspoken conviction of the ultimate cruelty of life. I was brought up to believe that my mother was one woman in a million—as I believe to this day—and that her death was one of infinite pathos and incalculable loss.
Martha Mathews was a sister to Frazier Hunt’s mother. The Frazier family had migrated in the mid 1840s from Ohio to Illinois.
…Grandmother and Grandfather Frazier drove their two wagons overland from the old homestead at Hubbard, in northeastern Ohio, southward to the Ohio—the river the Indians called the Beautiful River. Here they loaded the wagons, four horses, two cows, the crude farm instruments, household effects, and their eleven children on board a flat-bottomed, paddle-wheel steamer.
Joseph Mathews in 1851 at the age of seventeen had left his home in New Hampshire for the gold fields of California.
He remained there four years, and returned to “the States” only after a mine had caved in on him and all but crushed his right leg. With four thousand dollars in gold in his money belt, he made his way back across the Isthmus. In 1855 he migrated to the Mississippi River country, and settled on a rich section of Illinois prairie. Here he met my mother’s favorite sister, Martha, and they promptly married. When the Civil War came he tried his best to go with Bob Ingersoll’s Third Illinois Cavalry, but his bad leg barred him. So he and Auntie did their bit for the Union by distributing wagonloads of potatoes and vegetables, hams and quarters of beef, to the widows of soldiers. It was about this time that they went into the business of raising other people’s children. There were plenty of war orphans in those days.
The Mathews family moved from the Illinois prairie to Arkansas, where Joseph bought a fourteen-thousand acre cattle ranch outside Hazen, about twenty miles east of Little Rock. Mathews then engineered a land swap that provided the opportunity to move near Centralia, Missouri, and eventually to North Manchester, Indiana.
The ranch, with good will and poison grasses thrown in for luck, was swapped sight unseen for two farms in Missouri and one in Indiana. We now migrated north to one of these farms—a rolling quarter-section lying on the edge of the pleasant little town of Centralia, Missouri.
The Mathews family lived in Missouri five years. Yet another move was made to New Boston, on the Illinois bank of the Mississippi.
It was here that Grandfather Frazier and his eleven children had landed, almost a half century before. Uncle’s and Auntie’s only daughter, Tillie, newly married to Chart Gregory, was teaching school here.
Frazier Hunt recalls that it was thrilling to be on the Great River.
…with the water moving always and endlessly, it made you think queer thoughts. You wanted to go along. Life didn’t stand still as you were doing now: it had motion—it was restless and moving. …I knew all about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Cousin Tillie read us both books that year on the river….I pretended I was Huck. It was wonderful to make dream voyages down the river with Tom.
Hunt was going on eight years of age when the Mathews family finally moved from the Mississippi to the Eel River.
For my growing years I needed a quieter stream than the great Mississippi. This was to be the little Eel. It, too, was to get into my blood. Its gentle flowing waters were to set the pace for ten years of my life. It was a slow and dreamy pace, part and parcel of the mood of a time that is gone, and of a place that is changed beyond recognition. The spell of that mood is ended as well. It had to do with jogging carriage horses, dusty gravel roads, the smell of plowed fields, wood fires, kerosene lamps, ice-cream socials, church cantatas, the poems of James Whitcomb Riley, and the books of Tarkington, Eggleston, and Nicholson.
Joseph and Martha Mathews retired and settled in North Manchester. Their son Lloyd did the farming on land southeast of Liberty Mills that had been acquired from the Comstocks.2
[Auntie] had lived on farms and ranches all her life, but now that she and Uncle had retired and settled in North Manchester….Uncle was a year or two over sixty when he finally retired and moved to Indiana. He thought he’d done his full share of hard work. Then, of course, it was quite a task in itself to take care of another set of orphan boys.
Hunt remembers his older brother Jasper.
He grew like a weed, and by the time he was fourteen he was almost six feet tall. Shy, awkward, and overgrown, he couldn’t stand all the endless talk and excitement of summer guests. He liked to be alone, or with Ed Butterbaugh, the Dunkard boy who lived next door. He was happy, too, at Cousin Lloyd’s and Cousin Rouie’s farm at Liberty Mills, three miles up Eel River
Hunt remembers the Eel River.
The little Eel wound and twisted like some giant namesake through this Hoosier town of North Manchester….Eel River ran along one side of the town and then suddenly twisted in a short U-curve and cut in directly back of Main Street. The stores on one side of the street clung to the high riverbank.
Hunt remembers the Mathews house on north Mill Street.
Our red-brick, two-story house stood at the corner of Maple Avenue and Eighth Street [sic; actual address was 508 N. Mill St.3]. Great maple trees locked their branches together in the middle of the wide graveled street….We had a comfortable house but there were no electric lights, telephone, bathroom, furnace, or city water—except a hydrant for watering the lawn. Behind the house we had a garden and a barn with a double carriage room….I thought we had a pretty big house. There were a kitchen, dining room, sitting room, parlor, and spare bedroom downstairs. Under the kitchen and dining room was a cemented cellar, and here in the fall were stored bins of potatoes, cabbages, and turnips, and barrels of apples and pears. Upstairs were three bedrooms.
Hunt remembers the outdoor privy.
At the far end of the grape arbor was a little building painted the same color as the barn. It had a crescent in the door and stars high up on the two sides….Auntie always had a roll of toilet paper that she kept hidden in the bottom of a dresser drawer. When Aunt Addie or some of the high-toned Chicago relatives came down she hung this cherished roll on a string in the little building at the end of the grape arbor. …Of course, Uncle would have nothing to do with it. He had his own ideas about such high-falutin nonsense. He was a great corncob man. The rest of us compromised with last year’s Montgomery & Ward catalog.
Hunt remembers Uncle “Posy” Mathews.
From the opening of the earliest May buds to the fading of the last bloom of summer Uncle went about with a rose in his mouth. Forty and more years before, when he was breaking the tough sod on his section of land in western Illinois, he would pull up his horses and cut wild roses from the fragrant bushes. While his strong hands gripped his breaking plow he carried the roses in his mouth. Later, in the little Indiana town of North Manchester, many of the inhabitants called him “Posy” Mathews. And when he drove along the shaded residential streets in his wide-seated phaeton, with his rose balanced on his great white beard, they smiled a little and shook their heads.
Hunt remembers his Uncle’s gentlemanly demeanor and his propensity to recite poetry and snatches of song.
Half the time Uncle was either humming a little tune or reciting poetry. He had a verse or two that seemed to fit almost everything. In the morning he’d come to the bottom of the stairs and in the kindliest of voices recite: “Up, men, he cried, today yon rocky cliff please God! We’ll pass.”…Whenever we’d be driving with him behind old Nellie and we’d pass Mr. Baker’s blacksmith shop, there wasn’t any question about it at all. If it was in the summertime Uncle would take the rose from his mouth and begin: “Under a spreading chestnut tree/The village smith stands….” But if it was autumn and we were driving by the fields of yellow corn out to Cousin Lloyd’s farm….He could either do [James Whitcomb] Riley’s “When the frost is on the pumpkin/And the corn is in the shock” or he could go straight into Longfellow’s Yankee classic: “Up from the meadows rich with corn/Clear in the cool September morn….” But I think Uncle really delighted most in Whittier. The poet was his own mother’s second cousin, and he held a teaching certificate signed by the gentle old New Englander. Naturally this doubly endeared him to Uncle.…He liked to hum when he was driving, and while our old mare would jog along he’d work away on his own version of “Dear, dear, what can the matter be?” If he were driving in town he had a way of bowing low and touching his whip hand to his hat in a graceful salute when he passed acquaintances. He had the same elaborate greeting for men and women alike. I suppose the fact that his large, well-shaped head was entirely bald had something to do with the fact that he never actually raised his hat.
Hunt remembers his uncle’s fervent views on Prohibition.
Uncle sure was death on liquor. As a matter of fact he had three pet cranks: prohibition, woman suffrage, and tobacco. His own father, a merry little man who could putter around his tool shed in Illinois and sing all day long on a few swigs out of a jug, had, oddly enough, made Uncle a violent Prohibitionist. Somehow or other, Uncle figured that tobacco led to drink, so he eventually turned against the weed, as well. He felt that only woman suffrage could do away with these two mighty evils.
Hunt remembers his uncle’s political activities.
Uncle was the leading member of the Prohibition party in all that part of Indiana and consequently he was an authority on liquor. He was a friend and ardent supporter of John G. Wooley, who was the perpetual candidate for president on the Prohibition ticket. Uncle was the perpetual candidate for congressman from our district, just the same way. Every four years, when the national election time rolled around, Uncle’d got excited. He’d reorganize the local Prohibition party, and they would rent the opera house and import a speaker and maybe a quartet from the headquarters in Chicago. I say “they” would do all that, but it was really Uncle who did the big part of it. There were a few true believers who’d put up two or three dollars each—maybe as much as five dollars—but Uncle had to take a good deal of that out in trade….The most exciting time that Uncle ran for Congress was in 1900, when McKinley and Roosevelt ran on the Republican ticket and Bryan ran on the Democratic ticket….Uncle spent quite a little money that year. He went all over the Congressional district, and had a speaker and quartet from Chicago. The local Prohibition committees helped some but it wasn’t so very much. Auntie hinted that she’d like to take a trip back to Uncle’s home in New Hampshire rather than have him spend so much money on his campaign for Congress. I guess it was about the only time that Auntie ever had to chide Uncle for spending too much money. But Uncle was adamant. He wouldn’t tell how much he was spending or where the money was going. In fact, he wouldn’t confess anything….On election day Uncle was pretty busy hauling old people and cripples to the polls. We used to tease him afterward by saying that some of them must have voted for McKinley or even Bryan. It wasn’t until late the next evening that we got the total returns from all the five counties in the Congressional district. The Republican candidate received more than twenty thousand votes, and the Democratic runner-up got somewhere around fourteen thousand. The best count they could give Uncle was 184 votes.
Hunt remembers soothing home health remedies.
It was always a joy to be just a little sick when Auntie was around to take care of you. Not that I particularly liked to soak my feet in a mustard bath or to have my throat rubbed with goose grease and wrapped in a red flannel rag, but I did like the outpouring of affection and concern. Toward evening Auntie’d come into the bedroom with a pan of warm water, a washcloth, and a towel, and ever so gently she’d bathe my face and hands and comb my hair. Then she’d disappear and in a few minutes return with a tray with a white napkin over it, and there’d be a poached egg, milk toast, and a cup of sassafras tea.
Hunt remembers the hired help. Molly was a black nursemaid from Arkansas who delighted in telling ghost stories and scaring the Hunt boys out of their wits. Molly’s health failed and she returned to Arkansas. The new hired girl was a neighbor, Rettie Grossnickle. According to the 1894 Wabash County Directory, Retta Grossnickle lived at the corner of Walnut and Sixth Streets.
Rettie was fat and good-natured, and ran over the outside heels of her shoes. She was a Dunkard girl, about nineteen years old. She got $1.50 a week and did the washing and ironing. Except when we had company she ate with the family….[when we had company] Rettie would wear a neat white apron, and pass the plates and things from the left side. Naturally she ate in the kitchen….It was a great blow to our household when Rettie Grossnickle, our hired girl, decided that she would go to North Dakota and take out a claim. Rettie had a regular beau, who was a hardworking dunkard farmer boy, and after a lengthy courtship it was finally decided that the two would set up a pioneer home together….Rettie and her young man sensibly agreed not to marry until they had filed separately on their individual half-sections of Dakota wheatland. First, they chose claims that lay together. Then they built a double cabin, resting half on one claim and half on the other. After paying the ten-dollar government fees, they were married. During these first years Rettie used to write Auntie now and again….Without her my boyhood would have lost much of its color.
Hunt fondly remembers Nellie.
…without Nellie, our old mare, those Indiana days would have been incomplete. Nellie was all things to all boys. At one time or another she was family carriage horse, Indian pony, cavalry mount, cow pony, circus and trick horse, race horse, and general utility mare. Nellie was not always happy in her various roles. Most of all, she resented the Indian fights in which she had to take part. At the World’s Fair in Chicago, in the summer of 1893 just before we had moved to Indiana, my eyes had practically popped out of their sockets at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. It was here that I had received much of my inspiration for Nellie’s various horse acts.
Hunt remembers the trees, the woods and gathering nuts.
…Nellie really enjoyed the Saturdays in autumn when Jasper and I went nutting. We’d jog along some country road until we came to a woods. All this part of Indiana was once covered with hardwood forests, and even at this date the countryside was dotted with thirty- and forty-acre tracts of timber. Among the oaks and maples were black walnut and butternut trees, and the ground underneath them would be literally covered with the green-barked nuts. We would tie Nellie to a rail fence, leaving the slipknot loose and easy so that one jerk would free the rope. Then, with two or three empty sacks under our arms, we would shinny over the fence and hunt out the walnut trees. As a rule we had to keep a sharp eye out for the farmer and his dog. If we saw or heard them coming we would make a run for Nellie, throw our sacks in the buggy, and be off in a cloud of dust.
Hunt remembers the buggy rides and the autumn colors.
The rides home in the autumn twilight were always the loveliest part of the nut-gathering days. The sumac and hazel bushes that fringed the graveled roads blazed with color. The maples, oaks, and elms were like bright Scotch plaids of brilliant reds and crimsons, burnt browns and maroons. Soon a little chill would come in the air and before long a few brave stars would be twinkling in the great, dark blue dome above….I wonder if anything in the world is as beautiful as an Indian summer twilight in Indiana. There was nothing to hold back a boy’s fancy on those rides home. You could put your feet on top the curved dashboard, lie back in the old leather seat, and just dream away. Maybe for minutes at a time Nellie’d seem to catch your own mood: she’d stop jogging and walk along lazy as anything: probably she was dreaming too.
Hunt recalls his Uncle’s love for horses, storytelling, and boxing.
He knew all about the trotters and the pacers, and the champions like Maud S. and Nancy Hanks, Lou Dillon and Star Pointer. Uncle used to hold forth, too, on the great prize fighters. Of course, John L. Sullivan was really Uncle’s favorite, but young Jim Corbett had a place in his affection because he set young men such a good example in clean living. That Saint Patrick’s Day in 1897 when lanky Bob Fitzsimmons knocked out Gentleman Jim in the fourteenth round was a sad day for Uncle. He had told us that Bob couldn’t do it. It was one of the few times that Uncle was wrong.
Hunt remembers his Uncle’s favorite stories.
My brother and I never were sure quite just what period of Uncle’s life we would rather hear him spin yarns about—his own boyhood in New Hampshire, his California gold days, his early years on the Illinois prairies, or his adventures in the cattle country. It was the California days that won most of the time….I suppose our favorite was about the time when Uncle was mixed up in the mutiny on the ship going down to Panama in the gold-rush days. Still, it wasn’t exactly a mutiny because Uncle was only a poor eighteen-year-old farmer boy, traveling steerage to the gold fields. The third-class passengers couldn’t eat the terrible food they were given. So one day they broke into the bakery shop, slugged the bakers, and escaped with armloads of pies and cakes. Then the poor fellows had a battle with the ship officers, which ended only when my uncle and two other men dragged the captain to the rail and threatened to throw him overboard to the sharks. These ferocious, man-eating sharks were thick in that part of the Caribbean, so the Captain promised to give the men good food if they wouldn’t toss him overboard….sometimes he’d tell us two or three wonderful tales of California: about the bearbaiting and the rattlesnake pits, the stagecoach robberies and the hangings, or the coming of the vigilantes. But the prize story that he never did tell more than a few times concerned a prospecting trip he and six or eight other men made in California in the wintertime. A blizzard swept down on them. They lost the trail and ran out of food. One man froze to death and a second gave up, and they were forced to leave him dying, with his cocked revolver by his side. They simply couldn’t bear to shoot him themselves.
Joseph Mathews often had a moral at the end of his stories.
Uncle would say, “Both the poor devil who froze to death and the one we had to leave behind were heavy drinkers. They might have been living to this day, boys, if they hadn’t been drinkers.”
Hunt remembers the Methodist church and his aunt’s religiosity.
She offset [Uncle’s] race-horse reminiscences by her own ideas about running horses. Everything that had to do with the runners was immoral, she contended. The horses were doped and the races crooked, but even that wasn’t the worst of it—the jockeys were fed whisky when they were boys so as to stunt their growth. Auntie was a little troubled about our religious training, but Uncle wasn’t….he was bitter against the organized church because of its conservatism. He contended that it had been largely against the cause of abolition. And he believed that most preachers, and certainly most national church organizations, should come out boldly for temperance and woman suffrage. Their failure to do this settled Uncle’s churchgoing. Only under the strongest pressure from Auntie would Uncle stir out on a Sabbath morning….Consequently, except when Uncle Easton did his annual preaching or there was the annual Methodist sermon against dancing and cardplaying, Jasper and I had only to attend Sunday school. On Sabbath mornings we would be decked out in our best suits and Uncle would ceremoniously hand each of us a nickel for the Sunday-school collection. Unless we voluntarily chose to go to church we were supposed to report home as soon as Sunday school was over. Auntie would usually dress in her black silk, with the pretty lavender and lace trimmings, and her black gloves with the white seams showing on the back, and with her best bonnet on she’d proudly sally forth to the Methodist church. Uncle would stay at home and read the Sunday Inter-Ocean or The Herald.
Hunt remembers “the call of the wild” on a Sunday morning.
If the weather was uncertain Jasper and I would dutifully report at Sunday school. In due course of time we’d relinquish our precious nickels to the red plush maw of the collection basket. But if it was a lovely spring or summer day, the call of the wild was usually too much for us. We’d head straight for town and the fleshpots. These were mostly of two varieties—peanuts from Crip Johnson’s peanut wagon on the corner of the vacant lot beyond the post office, or a salmon sandwich soaked in catsup, at the Star Restaurant [sic; possibly Tilman’s. Oddly, on page 74 Hunt also refers to a Star Restaurant in the small Illinois town of Alexis where he briefly owned and edited a newspaper.]. I never could get enough salmon, and as for catsup it was strictly forbidden on our table. Auntie claimed that such things as catsup and even vinegar were craved only by drunkards.
Hunt remembers table etiquette.
Uncle always insisted on having his pie on the same plate that he had used for his meat and potatoes. He always said it tasted better that way. He liked to eat pie with his knife, too. Auntie scolded him a good deal about it and told him that it was a bad example to set for us boys. But he stuck to his colors. That is, except when we had company from Chicago—and especially Uncle’s rich sister, Aunt Addie. Auntie tolerated no foolishness from Uncle then. He had to eat his pie with his fork. And he had to carve and serve just as if he always did it.
(to be continued)
1 The assistance of Allan White and Joyce Joy in understanding Frazier Hunt is gratefully acknowledged.
2 On December 23, 1885, Joseph S. Mathews of Prairie County, Arkansas, bought 36.22 acres for $2230.20 from John and Phoebe Shaubut and Horace and Bertha Comstock. See Wabash Co. Deed Book 42, Pages 47-48. On December 31, 1885, Mathews purchased a large amount of land from Henry and Melissa Comstock for $11,100.00, totaling 297 acres. See Wabash Co. Deed Book 42, Pages 49-51. On April 26, 1887, Lloyd G. Mathews purchased 174 acres for $7,000.00 from his parents, Joseph S. and Martha F. Mathews of Prairie County, Arkansas. See Wabash Co. Deed Book 44, Page 381.
3Lot 11 in Edmund Halderman’s Second Addition to North Manchester. On April 3, 1893, J.S. Mathews of Wabash County acquired the property for $2500.00 from John and Dora Domer and John and May Curtner. See Wabash Co. Deed Book 57, Page 365.
2010 Annual Fund
Thank you to the people who supported the North Manchester Historical Society and the North Manchester Center for History with cash gifts to our 2010 Annual Fund. The Annual Fund pays our on-going operating expenses each year. We cannot serve this community with our museum, educational programs, research, and artifact collecting without your help. Thank you!
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Manchester Veterinary Clinic
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Please let us know if there are any corrections to be made, and we will be happy to make them. Thank you.
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