2 Letters written to ANDOVER NEWS
THIS IS THE FIRST LETTER (2 below)
WRITTEN BY “BERT BAKER” ALIAS ALBERT ST. CLAIR,
IN JANUARY 4TH, 1921 LOOKING FOR FAMILY IN ANDOVER, N.Y.
Found in the Andover News and submitted by
William A. Greene 2006
This is a letter written to the Andover News from a man who claimed to have been born in Andover around 1860. The letter was published On Feb. 4th, 1921. I don’t know what is true and what isn’t, but there are family names and business’s from long ago mentioned in the story.
Submitted by William A. Greene 2006
YE GOLDEN TIME IN ANDOVER
Another Intensely Interesting Letter From
“Bert Baker” to His Andover Acquaintances
Messrs. J. Harvey Backus & Son, Publishers of the Andover News:
Dear Sirs: It is gratifying indeed to receive a paper from my old hometown. It is a half century, about, since your little city had to honor the pleasure and the profit of numbering yours truly among the citizens there of and it is the first time I ever saw or knew of, a paper being published, or anything printed in Andover.
Having bought by bread and butter many years by swapping the product of my thot factory with the editorial staffs of the Globe Democrat, and others among the greatest newspapers of the world, for cash, I am, at this early age of 60, able to judge closely of a community by the papers published there. And I arrive at the conclusion, by a glance at The News, that Andover is “some town,” speaking in the expressive patois of the pave.
The Andover of my boyhood days was about 4x6 with an L about 2x4, compared with what I now see, after peering at it thru the columns of your paper. At that time there was a foundry, and the Comstock wagon shop on the hill to the west; a tannery by the creek at the Erie railroad bridge just north of Main Street (if it had been christened yet) and between the foundry and the tannery, a mill race which the waters took to after they did their little job of turning the wheel for the grist mill a little way above, and toward the old time mill pond where “us boys” tried to catch whales but only succeeded in getting very young ones, three or four inches long, which the prosaic elders persisted in considering as “bull heads!” The very teachers who could see in every boy who behaved right a prospective President of the United States could not see, or pretended not, a shark or whale in a fish five or six inches long, that the same boy had caught! And those teachers would stick to it that our string of fish was only catfish, or shiners etcetera!
Away beyond, I guess a mile toward Hornellsville, was a woolen factory, and these, so far as I recall, were the only industries in Andover. There was a drug store near the crossing of Main (or the big street) and the Erie railroad, besides the one Dr. Thaddeus Baker had; first, at his home and office in the center of town, opposite Bradley’s dry goods store, and later on the road south of the Comstock’s when the venerable physician moved to the outskirts, in a big house with terraced grounds (Baker St.) a huge yellow barn, across the street, a little house for an office and drug store in one corner, and near the barn a house where his son, Flavious aided the grand old man of medicine in the practice thereof. At that time the Erie railroad had its station on the corner of the farm that the doctor owned.
There was a post office and a grocery store. If there was ever a printing office there it must have been in some hollow tree with the hole plugged up so that no printed sheet ever got out. As to a bank, Oh! Had a bank ever come to that burg we would all have borrowed money for it and set up all night to borrow some more the next day.
I almost dread my prospective trip back there for I fear the old town of my boy days is sponged off, built over, and I would be such a stranger that I would have to get an introduction to myself when I awoke the next day. The dear old Sleepy Hollow has evidently woke up.
Strangely enough, the first familiar name my eye met on first opening the first paper I ever saw from Andover, was that of Flora Bundy; it the same one, I remember her fondly as a school-mate; and perusal of the papers you so kindly forwarded to me was a feast of reminiscence; names of those dear to me in my very young days (about the time Abe Lincoln and I and others were helping to make a great nation of this) names long slumbering in the cradle of memory, rose up to greet me again; Brundage and Clark and Slocum and Burdick and Crandall sounded a familiar cord in my recollection apparatus but conning over the personals there were the names of so many people that surely the old time hills couldn’t hold them, and I tremble lest you have moved “Wintergreen Hill” and the other to make room for a little city where the old town was. If the creek has grown, as the town appears to have done, it must be a respectable river by this time.
I suppose, tho this is hardly of interest now, unless perhaps there be some old residents. To me Andover was the Gate of Life. I was born there. That wasn’t Andover’s fault. I took it by surprise. I have no doubt it hampered the growth of the embryo a long time, but Andover seems to have got over it. I haven’t got over it yet. I don’t remember if I selected Andover as my starting point or not; but I did pick the 4th of November, the day after election, to make my advent in this little old world, and which has most of the time been the best world I remember of having lived in. I have been told, but cannot vouch for the truth of it, that the first noise I made was to ask the doctor “Who’s elected?” And when he replied “Abraham Lincoln” I have a dim recollection of saying that the country was safe, as Abe, in spite of his penchant for telling gunny stories, was a good fellow and had lots of uncommon sense.
My theory of bringing up children did not agree with the practice of my parents and at the advanced age of two years I relieved them of that duty and conferred my company on the family of Dr. and Mrs. Thaddeus Baker, whose methods I heartily approved; history and the human race (at least most of it that I have come across) concur. Seriously, they were a grand and noble couple. If there ever was, or ever is, a pair of persons as gentle, kindly and self sacrificing, there will be a moving picture of them prepared by angel hands and presented and preserved in Heaven for the edification of the cherubim and seraphim. At the stage of eight I realized that the world would not roll and show me its strange sights unless I waded out into it, and as it chanced I collected some $5 or $6 for the Sunday School, and some of the town boys got it away from me and urged me to go to Buffalo with them and buy the place. Ashamed to face the dear old doctor and his wife, I journeyed to Hornellsville (seems some printer had a “pull out” on the hind end of that name and cut it to Hornell) and then started roaming over the earth. In Paris I became so woefully homesick that I remitted the amount with interest and detailed the circumstances, of course as boys will, absolving myself, laying all the blame on the other fellows. On the other side of the earth came to me a letter from the loving hand of Mrs. Baker, reassuring me of my belief in my own innocence and assuring me a welcome home. And I got there as soon as the seas and the sails let me.
But in a few weeks the itch of travel tickled my toes, and I started out to kill Indians, which, at that time, was a popular pastime with boys of 11 or 12. I found the Wide West so crowded that one had to ride two or three days to find a house and half the time that was empty. But when I got a chance to an Indian I was squeamish. The cowboys killed them with the same remorse that they killed fleas and wolves. Then one night the ranch boss, Harry Seidel, and myself were in a dug-out (a half cellar in a bank with mud walls and roof) when he blew out the light, handed me a gun and we fired thru the holes prepared in the door, and shot it up all night. In the morning seven Indians, we found, had obliged us by dying in front of the shack, but there were several who had not been so considerate. They had a tremendous respect for our guns and were protected by the bodies of cattle they had killed and partly eaten. They waited patiently to starve us out but occasionally one grew careless and we put him out. Suddenly, about 3 o’clock, there was a commotion and the most welcome sight I eve saw, from over a knoll came M Troop 89th Cavalry and as Reds sprang up to dash down the “draw” (a gully in Western phrase) a squadron Blacks in blue, C Troop Cavalry rode up to the draw with a barrage from 16 shot Winchesters that started the Reds direct towards our dug out. We didn’t sit still and watch them thru the little window. They were a bunch of Brules escaped from the reservation; when the trumpet sounded, “cease firing” they were assimilated; the Custer massacre was partly avenged.
The troops had been following them some days. The report of Capt. Wint was that the troops under his command had overtaken the run a ways in a barricaded position and that they refused to surrender and was dispatched in accordance with instructions as prescribed in the Articles of War. “The ground was frozen however, and it being impracticable to intern them we left the bodies to be disposed of by a part of their tribe, which I have the honor to recommend be sent to the spot under guard of proper detail of troops from the reservation.”
I do not know if the War Office sent the detail; but I do know the wolves saved the trouble for the coyotes buried them in traveling cemeteries. To make sure they would, we drove the cattle away after burning the remains of those the Indians had slaughtered. I was glad afterwards that Seidel was with me that night, I am not sure if he killed the seven found in the morning. I am not dead sure I hit any of them. After that I regarded the reds to with that same affection I had for rattlesnakes or bed bugs. And yet it was a pity. The same God made them; they had as much right on earth as we; they had some splendid, manly qualities once in a while. Anyway, killing Indians is not the fun that boys of my day thot; I had rather set type of edit newspaper.
I insert a check for “Two Bones” to buy a year of communication with the old home place. It may be by that time that I will have some more surplus and try it again. If I had known there was a paper published in Andover, I’d had it if I’d had to pawn my hat and go bare headed. Especially as good a paper as the samples sent, and tho I may not know much of anything else, I sure know a paper when I see it. The man who took me to raise the rest of the way when I was 20 was an editor, and he incorporated me into his family, and as I had never known the name of my family, he labeled me with his own, St. Clair. He tattooed, so to speak, it on me with the pen of the Court, so it would stick. Mrs. Baker told me that the name of my mother before marriage was “Burlingame” or some such combination of consonants; and I heard she married a Capt. Kennedy. If any of your old timers can tell me anything, no matter what, of them, or either, I shall be very glad. Sometimes in the next 100 years, when I go to Heaven, a seat wherein I have sought to reserve, St. Peter might ask, and if I told him I didn’t know my mother’s name, he might send me to the museum of curious characters, or might tell me to come back and say until I found out.
ALBERT ST. CLAIR