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Late in the month of July we discovered that our flour, like the surplus manna in the wilderness, bred worms. It was, indeed, a difficult matter to preserve provisions in a sweet and sound condition during the long, dry, and intensely warm summer seasons in that country. We had known that the weevils would consume the unground grain that might be stored away in the granary, but we had never heard that the meal and flour would become foul and unfit for use. Our flour was in barrels, had been purchased in Cincinnati in the month of April preceding, and was of excellent quality.
On opening a fresh barrel, one morning, it was found to contain myriads of white, hairy worms from a fourth to a half inch long. The cook stood aghast; he was, indeed, so much excited as to attract the attention of the entire family to the scene and the cause of his amazement. ” Mister B. O. mishter B., to flour ish spilt; to flour ish no goot; it’s filt mit so many verms as eber vas!”
“‘Gustus” was not very courageous; he was constitutionally cautious and somewhat nervous. On a former occasion we had seen him overwhelmed with fear and uncontrollable excitement; but he was quite to sure the circumstances fully justified him in his agitation and expressions of alarm. He had gone into the garden to gather vegetables for dinner, when his band came into close proximity to a little gartersnake, about eighteen inches in length. When he saw it he dropped the basket and run, with all possible speed, calling out lustily for help. “Mister B., a shnake! a shnake! She run’t at me so fasht as eber she coot, mit her mout vide open; unt Yen I fling a shtick at her, shtill she coomed mit her toong out so far as eber vas!” It was no laughing matter with ‘Gustus, who trembled from head to foot, and such was his alarm that it was a full week before he would again venture inside the garden-gate. He became almost angry with us because we manifested so little sympathy for him in his imminent peril and his hairbreadth escape.
With regard to the flour, however, and his recent agitation our sympathy was deep and genuine. Spreading sheets upon the ground we opened all the barrels, and run the flour through a meal sieve to separate the worms from it. We then let the flour remain in the sun about six hours, so that any small worms which had gone through the sieve might have an opportunity to creep out; we then barreled it up again. This was all that we could do, and yet it failed to give entire satisfaction. After that refining process had been completed our family had but little relish for wheat-bread or pastry, but all became very partial to corn-cake and long tom-ful-la. After a consultation we determined to sell the flour for whatever price it would command, not failing to make known its true condition to the purchaser.
Our Cherokee neighbor, who kept the ferry, was eager to purchase our entire stock, but could not give quite as much as we demanded for it. Knowing his inveterate propensity to chaffer about prices, without reason or justice, we let him know, in positive terms, that he could not have a single barrel for one cent less than the price asked. His next maneuver was to purchase partly on time, but with the purpose never to pay; but failing in that he agreed to take it at the price and pay down, but in counting his money he lacked just fifty cents of having the amount. He commenced to chaffer and haggle for the half dollar; and when he found that he was not likely to succeed, he was greatly displeased and said he would not take the flour, and so left us in disgust. But in a few minutes he returned, in excellent temper, and cheerfully paid the full price, and relieved us of what we chose to spare.
The ferryman and myself had become so well acquainted in that business transaction, that we perfectly understood each other ever afterward.
A destitute colored woman came to the mission one afternoon in a famishing condition. Her name was Hannah. She was the old worn out slave belonging to our neighbor Jones. In appearance she was by far the most aged, withered, decrepit, forlorn, and pitiable creature we ever saw. Her limbs were drawn almost out of joint by age and excessive hardships; so that she could not walk erect, but was forced to creep along upon her hands and feet like an infant. Aided by two sticks she could stand and hobble along for a few rods till exhausted, when she would again creep and drag herself upon the ground. It thus required her utmost speed and strength to travel from her cabin to the mission in three hours, a distance of less than one mile. I inquired as to her age and history. “Aunt Hannah, how old are you?” ” How ole is I–dunno–no tell massa dat! I’se drefful ole, Bat’s sartin. Da cotch me when I’se a gal, way in de ole country, and toted me to Massysippy desput long spell ago. ‘Spect dis here ole body’s live more’n a hundred year–now I’se ’bout to perish! I’se no chil’en to keer for dis ole mammy. Ole massa berry good man, monsous kind to all our folks; but he die, an missus, right off, sell ole man and all de chil’en all down de ribber, to work cotton fiel, and sell dis ole body to Injuns. Nebber see my ole man an chil’en no more in dis heap worl, dat’s shoals! Now, I wants few ear ob corn, make tom-ful- Youse ‘ligious folks and won’t let poor nigga perish!”
As Hannah was too old and frail to labor, Jones had concluded not to furnish her any more provisions. As she was not useful to any one, he thought it would be strictly proper, and in good taste, for her to die as soon as convenient.
Mrs. Hall, an excellent half-breed Indian woman, who was in good circumstances, and the owner of a number of colored people, kindly consented to receive Hannah into a vacant cabin, and take care of her as long as she lived. Her own servants could nurse the feeble old slave while she lived. Mrs. H. did this cheerfully, from a conviction of duty, and without any compensation whatever. Hannah was still living when we left that country, and quite comfortable.
On the twenty-second day of July Mr. Cotton and myself went to assist Rev. John Cowle in holding a two-days’ meeting in the Massard Prairie, just east of the line between the state and the territory. We preached in an old vacated cabin, which was pleasantly shaded by forest-trees. The congregations varied in number from sixty to one hundred, which was remarkably good for that sparsely settled region of country. The people gave serious attention to the word, and occasionally wept in time of preaching. In the evening of the second day there was a manifestation of deep feeling and true penitence in the congregation. Many wept aloud, and besought God to have mercy on them. A number came to the altar for prayer; and at the close of the service eight united with the Church on probation, the most of whom professed conversion. There was one rather remarkable case, which is perhaps worthy of record. A man who had passed the meridian of life came forward and bowed at the altar. He wept and prayed, manifesting deep and pungent conviction for sins. He confessed his guilt and vileness, and poured out his soul in an agony of prayer. He professed faith in the Savior, and seemed to be filled with joy unutterable. “Ah,” said he, ” I feel as humble as a dog! I have been a vile sinner deserving hell, but have obtained mercy through Christ !” He had once resided in Texas, and in an altercation with a neighbor had taken the life of his enemy. He had fled from Texas to Arkansas to avoid a prosecution or assassination. And there, in the wilderness, he humbled himself before the mercy seat and sought the Savior; and who dare question the willingness of Christ, or the power of the Gospel to save even him whose hands were reeking with human gore? Of M.’s sincerity and earnestness we entertained not a single doubt; but whether or not he would persevere and continue faithful to the end, none but God could know.
At the close of the last service a class was organized, and henceforth Massard Prairie became a regular preaching-place in the Fort Smith circuit. During the two days spent at Massard Mr. C. and myself were most kindly entertained at the house of Mr. H. M, who was a remarkable and somewhat enigmatical character. He was a farmer, a merchant, and a speculator. He dealt in dry goods, in groceries, in liquors, and in negroes, and did a thriving business. He was as shrewd as a Yankee peddler, had always “an eye to the main chance,” and would not scruple to overreach his best friends, or even his own brother, in a bargain. And yet he was not covetous or penurious, but was kind, charitable, hospitable, and liberal to a fault. He was courteous and respectful to religious people, especially ministers of the Gospel, whom he would invariably ask to conduct worship in his family. He was a true friend to the “parson,” would feed and clothe him, and, if need be, give him money, and send him on his way rejoicing. Mr. M. was not eccentric, and did not affect a character, but was honest, candid, high-minded, and honorable. A minister who had received numerous evidences of kindness at his hand, presented him with an elegant family Bible, as a token of his friendship and esteem; but before a month had elapsed the Bible was in the market and sold to a neighbor. Mr. M. was utterly incapable of doing what he conceived to be a mean or unworthy act; he was, in short, the best style of men reared and educated in that remarkable and unique quarter of the globe.
After enjoying the hospitalities, and studying the character of our kind host for two days, we took leave of the family, not failing to “remember the boy” who had cared for our mustangs in the mean time. Returning to Fort Coffee I employed Munerieff, a Choctaw, to make us ten tons of marsh hay.