48-63rd Place, Long Beach, Calif.
Mrs. Emma Endsley writes me that the good people of Bull City (now Alton, Kansas) are erecting a monument to the memory of General and Mrs. Hiram C. Bull on the exact spot where once stood his log store. I think this is a wonderful and generous act but cannot help wondering why this token of love wasn’t thought of long ago, so that the people he loved and was kind to and who loved him could have had a part in it.
Yes I well remember that dry-goods and grocery store, especially its varied smells (dried buffalo meat, etc.). It was my first memory of Bull City. When our little family arrived in Bull City in the spring of 1871 we drew up before this building the only one in the “city”. Also it was the place where my little brother Steve and I bought those gorgeous large red sticks of candy, the joy of our childish hearts!
Nowadays we would call it a “department store”. One incident I remember well. My blessed mother and I went there quite early one morning we found Mrs. Bull sitting on a cracker box which had been turned over to be used as a chair. She was in a real spasm of laughter. Some of the pioneers will remember that she was short and plump, and when she laughed, she would shake allover and the tears would roll down her cheeks. That was the case on this occasion. It took her some time to compose herself enough to share the joke with us. This is what she told us.
First, however, I must give you a word picture of the store or you will miss the point of the joke. It was a lone, low building made of logs, one laid on top of the other, the cracks between being filled with chunks of wood plastered over with mud. It had two rooms, one for their living quarters, the other for this general store, the only one for many miles around. There were two doors, the south one in the residence, the north, the store entrance. As one walked in, the “post office” was on the right. This consisted of a dry-goods box with pigeon holes for the mail.
On the left were shelves with all kinds of dry goods, such as men’s overalls (the women were not wearing them then), shirts, red bandana handkerchiefs, pins, needles and thread. Coarse linen thread was put in skeins about six or seven inches long, not rolled wooden spools as we buy it now. Everything was placed very neatly on the shelves, including the tobacco in the northeast corner. At that time there wasn’t even a counter.
Now for the story Mrs. Bull told us: Earlier that same morning (really before daylight) a hunter came pounding on the store door. The General called out, asking what was wanted.
The man called back that he needed some ammunition, as he was on the trail of a large herd of buffalo, and he also wanted some chewing tobacco. No one smoked when out hunting, partly for fear the animals would scent the smoke and become wary, and partly to avoid prairie fires which were most disastrous.
The General crawled out of bed hurriedly, but not in a very good humor as it was cold and he had to hunt for his glasses so he could find the matches to light the coal oil lamp. (There was no electricity nor gas in those days.) The glasses couldn’t be found so he tried desperately to fill the order without them.
Trying to get into his trousers he got tangled up in his suspenders, fell over a box and upset a pail of drinking water which had been brought a long distance from the creek the evening before, drenching him thoroughly Everything being in order on the shelves, he shiveringly decided that glasses didn’t matter anyway; he could put his hands right on the articles wanted.
He finally opened the store door· and the hunter came in to give his order more in detai1. Now the General’s troubles began. He searched for the tobacco but found, instead, some dry sticks, the carcass of a prairie dog, some buffalo chips not too dry, dried apples, potatoes, beans, skeins of thread, and several of those lovely red cotton handkerchiefs. In general the store shelves were turned upside down; not a thing being in its accustomed place. With the help of the customer, however, the General finally filled his order and the hunter went on his way.
It was poor Mrs. Bull who had to pay the consequences. The language of our gentlemanly General would hardly look nice in print. Finally he said very emphatically: “Sarah, you’d better look after your store shelves a little better.”
Mother and I appeared soon after this happening but by that time Mrs. Bull had discovered the reason: a trade rat had been visiting the store during the previous night! No doubt most of the pioneers will remember how thoroughly these “trade” or “carrier” rats transacted business. And Mrs. Bull was some time recovering from her amusement, both at the happening itself and at the very humble and abject apology the General had made to her.
I wish I might be with the Pioneers on this happy occasion, and could participate. I remember with interest and affection the few of my friends who are left.
Nettie Korb Bryson