I shall not close this history, without clearing up my record as to the mares, Susie and Winnie, and the cutter, and Nick, the black-and-tan, that saved Virginia’s fingers from freezing, and the robes. First, I kept the property, and every horse on the farm is descended from Susie and Winnie. Second, I paid Buck Gowdy all the outfit was worth, though he never knew it, and never would have taken pay: I drove a bunch of cattle over into his corn-field the next fall and left them just before day one morning, and he took them up, advertised them as estrays, and finally, as N.V. says, reduced them to possession. And third, they were legally mine, anyhow; for when I got home, I found this paper lying on the bed, where he had slept those two nights when we were nesting in the straw-pile:
In consideration of one lesson in the manly art of self-defense, of two days’ board and lodging, and of one dollar ($1.00) to me in hand by J.T. Vandemark, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, I hereby sell and transfer to said J.T. Vandemark, possession having already been given, the following described personal property, to wit:
1 Bay Mare called Susie, weight 1150 lbs., with star in forehead, and white left hind foot, five years old;
1 Bay Mare called Winnie, weight 1175 lbs., with star in forehead, and two white hind feet, six years old;
1 one-seated, swell-body cutter, one fine army blanket, one coonskin robe lined with flannel, one large buffalo robe.
It is hereby understood that if any of said animals are ever returned to me at Blue-grass Manor or elsewhere they will be hamstrung by the undersigned and turned out to die.
Signed, J. Buckner Gowdy.
One of my grandsons, Frank McConkey, has just read over this chapter, and remarks, “He was a dead game sport!” But he had also read what Captain Gowdy had interlined, or rather written on the margin to go in after the description of the property conveyed: “Also one blue-blooded black-and-tan terrier name ‘Nicodemus.’ The tail goes with the hide, Jacob!” Since his death, I have grown to liking the man much better; in fact ever since I whaled him.
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Here ends the story, so far as I can tell it. It is not my story. There are some fifteen hundred townships in Iowa; and each of them had its history like this; and so had every township in all the great, wonderful West of the prairie. The thing in my mind has been to tell the truth; not the truth of statistics; not just information: but the living truth as we lived it. Every one of these townships has a history beginning in the East, or in Scandinavia, or Germany, or the South. We are a result of lines of effect which draw together into our story; and we are a cause of a future of which no man can form a conjecture.
The prairies took me, an ignorant, orphaned canal hand, and made me something much better. How much better it is not for me to say. The best prayer I can utter now is that it may do as well with my children and grandchildren, with the tenants on these rich farms, and the farm-hands that help till them, and with the owners who find that expensive land is just like expensive clothes:—merely something you must have, and must pay heavily for.