Highlights from Recent Reading

An incident of our journey was an amusing illustration of the vicissitudes of Western life. In passing through Fargo, on the Northern Pacific Railroad, an old townsman of ours always came to see us, but invariably after dark. He had taken a claim in the very heart of the town, which was disputed by an energetic widow. If he left his place in the daytime for a few hours, he always returned to find his cabin occupied by the goods and chattels of the widow, and his own effects reposing on the snow outside his door. Then ensued the ejection of the interloper by one of the town authorities, and our friend would re-establish himself. After these raids were repeated a few times, he learned to keep guard during the day and steal out after dark. In vain outsiders advised him to settle the difficulty by asking a clergyman to unite the claims. His eyes turned from the widow to a young girl in his native state, who now presides unmolested over the disputed domicile, while the widow has forsaken war for the peace of another hearthstone.

  • from Boots and Saddles: or, Life in Dakota with General Custer, by Elizabeth B. Custer

Tigers do not know that human beings have no sense of smell, and when a tiger becomes a man-eater it treats human beings exactly as it treats wild animals, that is, it approaches its intended victims up-wind, or lies up in wait for them down-wind.

The significance of this will be apparent when it is realized that, while the sportsman is trying to get a sight of the tiger, the tiger in all probability is trying to stalk the sportsman, or is lying up in wait for him. The contest, owing to the tiger’s height, coloring and ability to move without making a sound would be very unequal were it not for the wind-factor operating in favor of the sportsman.

In all cases where killing is done by stalking or stealth, the victim is approached from behind. This being so, it would be suicidal for the sportsman to enter dense jungle, in which he had every reason to believe a man-eater was lurking, unless he was capable of making full use of the currents of air. For example, assuming that the sportsman has to proceed, owing to the nature of the ground, in the direction from which the wind is blowing, the danger would lie behind him, where he would be last able to deal with it, but by frequently tacking across the wind, he could keep the danger alternately to right and left of him. In print this scheme may not appear very attractive, but in practice it works, and, short of walking backwards, I do not know of a better or safer method of going up-wind through dense cover in which a hungry man-eater is lurking.

  • from Man-Eaters of Kumaon, by Jim Corbett

The little shop round the corner, which for thirty-five years I had not seen, was the same, except that it looked a deal smaller. It wore the same shingles — I was sure of it; for did not I know the roof where we boys,  night after night, hunted for the skin of a black cat, to be taken on a dark night, to make a plaster for a poor lame man? Lowry the tailor lived there when boys were boys. In his day he was fond of the gun. He always carried his powder loose in the tail pocket of his coat. he usually had in his mouth a short dudeen; but in an evil moment he put the dudeen, lighted, in the pocket among the powder. Mr. Lowry was an eccentric man.

  • from Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum

Many of the incidents were ludicrous. When I found myself, for instance, disentangling the sloop’s mast from the branches of a tree after she had drifted three times around a small island, against my will, it seemed more than one’s nerves could bear, and I had to speak about it, so I thought, or die of lockjaw, and I apostrophized the Spray as an impatient farmer might his horse or his ox. “Didn’t you know,” cried I — “didn’t you know that you couldn’t climb a tree?” But the poor old Spray had essayed, and successfully too, nearly everything else in the Strait of Magellan, and my heart softened toward her when I thought of what she had gone through. Moreover, she had discovered an island. On the charts this one that she had sailed around was traced as a point of land. I named it Alan Erric Island, after a worthy literary friend whom I had met in strange by-places, and I put up a sign, “Keep off the grass,” which, as discoverer, was within my rights.

  • from Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum

Water lilies dotted the river while the water was clear enough to see as fish darted about while they crossed from Cary to Fox River Grove, she remembered. [I posted this on facebook with the heading “Why We Need Editors”]

  • from a Northwest Herald special edition on the history of Cary and Fox River Grove

So many transportation routes pass through Rochelle that it has gained the nickname “the Hub City.” With two interstates, two other major highways, and two railroads intersecting there, Rochelle resembled the hub of a wagon wheel. The moniker is so popular that Rochelle High School’s sports teams call themselves “the Hubs.”

There were a number of homesteads scattered throughout Flagg Township when the sparse settlement of Hickory Grove welcomed the arrival of the Chicago & North Western Railway in 1854, connecting it with Chicago. Railroad officials named the stop Lane Station, honoring Rockford developer Dr. Robert P. Lane. Hickory Grove adopted the name and incorporated as the village of Lane in 1861. Not long afterward, Lane endured a series of fires that consumed most of its downtown buildings. Residents became suspicious after the second fire, and when a third one erupted, a suspect named Thomas Burke was arrested and tried for arson. But before a verdict was reached, the locals took the law into their own hands and hanged Burke in the middle of the town. After the incident, disapproving outsiders began to refer to Lane as “Hangtown” or “Hangman’s Town.” Unable to shake the epithet, embarrassed Lane residents sought a new name. They came by it in an unlikely way — when a group of local men in a drug store noticed a bottle of the laxative Rochelle Salts on the shelf, they declared that because the city needed “a good cleaning out,” it should be called Rochelle. The name became official in 1866.

  • from Roadside History of Illinois, by Stan Banash

“I heard you bein’ interviewed on the radio this morning,” Retch said.

“How’d I do?” I said.

“Fine. But what was that about you being an avid hunter, you big liar? Ha!”

“What are you talking about, Retch? You know I’m an avid hunter.”

“Don’t think you can pull that on me. There ain’t no such thing as avids.”

  • from Into the Twilight Endlessly Grousing, by Patrick McManus
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