Thursday, February 28, 2013

Depression in Pioneer Days -The James Ryerson Kays Story

The Melancholy of James Ryerson Kays

     Those of us who read history these days, and I doubt that there are many, are drawn to stories of the pioneers who set out courageously, defying all odds to conquer an untamed land.  Their indomitable spirits overcame all hardships; disease, Indian attacks, blizzards and plagues of locusts that would have crushed Pharaoh.  That is the story we hear, but what is the truth?  From my reading of the stories of those men and women of yore, they seem just like us.  They had the same fears, the same passions, and the same reactions when overwhelmed by misfortune and loss.  Take for example, the “Memories of James Ryerson Kays”, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1835, and came with his parents to Platteville in 1849.  We have a partial copy at the museum, and the Wisconsin State Historical Society has a full copy of the unpublished document.  He wrote his story in the manner of a man of common language and modest education.  His spelling, like that of many of his contemporaries, was atrocious.  In that we see another similarity with today’s younger folks, whose skins are saved only by the spell checkers on their word processors.

     Kays writes first of his youth, spent on various farms in Ohio and Pennsylvania.  He describes making maple syrup and sugar, going to fairs, and orchards full of fruit free for the taking.  He writes frankly of his youthful misdeeds with a friend: “ Once he and I sliped a way and went to a Peach Orchard when the Peaches was ripe and we eat Peaches to our harts content and we could have all the Peaches we wanted without stealing them but they tasted better when you could steal them.”  His life back east as he recalled it was very good, with friends and relatives all about.  This came to an end in 1849 when his father was convinced to move to the “far a way west” by his sister, Martha Neely who had emigrated to Platteville, Wisconsin earlier with her husband John.  The parting with family was not easy:

     “and now my father having everything ready we must make a start and the time had come to bid my mothers People a last goodby,  And it proved to be the last goodby for the most of our Family.  Did you ever get ready to start any place in a Prairie Schooner and the time had come to start and your Relatives and Friends had come to see you off And you must say gooby.  Did you feel that big lump come up in your throat and that big tear run down your cheek and when you tried to say gooby you couldent say it.  Well if you did not you don’t know what it is to part with Loved ones.”

     They drove their wagon to the small town of Cleveland, Ohio and took a ship to the even smaller town of Milwaukee, where they disembarked and started west across the state of Wisconsin.  “We followed the Emegrant road a cross the great Prairie country and traveled miles and miles without seeing a house…we made pretty good time and crossed the Rock River at Janesville Wis…On this trip a cross the western Wild we seen and hurd many new and strange things…We had never seen so much Grass and so little Timber until we got into Wisconsin.”  Soon they were in Platteville and reunited with his father’s sister.

     The Cholera epidemic of 1850 changed his life.  James and his father helped to bury a man named Feathers, who had come from St. Louis to visit a local family.  He had contracted the disease, which started with stomach cramps, and died in a short time.  He wrote:

      “the next one to die with Cholera was my brother Martin…on Saturday morning my brother in law come after me for my Brother Martin was dying and he said we would have to hurry for the doctor said he had the Cholera and could not live very long.  I can see my brother as he sat up in the Bed shakeing hands with all the rest of the Family and biding them good by.  I was the last one to take his hand in death he bade me good By and layed down and was gone his eyes closed in Death with no signs of anguish or pain, just Good by Good by GOOD by.”

     His mental pain was not over.  On the following Wednesday his sister Maryann, who was his mother’s favorite, began cramping at about eight in the evening.  That morning she had been fine and “full of mischief.”  On seeing her daughter ill, his mother came down with the same symptoms.  The killer worked quickly.  By ten o’clock that same night, both were dead.  They were buried next to Martin.  The following Sunday his father was stricken:

      “He must have suffered teribly for 2 or 3 hours and then he seemed to get better then he said he guessed it was all over now, but I took the rong meaning to what he  said I thot he ment he would get well.  But my hopes was soon turned to sorrow for he took my hand and said goodby my Boy and then quietly and peasfully passed a way…shortly after, Little Emma Alvira Died Mothers Grave and Coffin was opened and she was laid on her Mothers Brest.”

     He and his four younger brothers were farmed out to area families.  All but James were too young to live alone or support themselves.  “What could I do” he wrote, “for after Father and Mother died I did not care where I went or where I stayed and I told them so.”  Mental Depression was poorly understood then.  The persistent sadness, feelings of emptiness and hopelessness, exhaustion, restlessness and irritability were given the broad term “Melancholy” of which “Depressing Passions” was one variety, Mania being the other.  It was felt by most authorities of the day that this malady had its origin in the body, perhaps in an overabundance of black bile.  Nasty purging and bloodletting were often prescribed. In 1809, Dr. John Haslam, one of the more enlightened physicians of his time described depression thusly: 

Those under the influence of the depressing passions, will exhibit a different train of symptoms. The countenance wears an anxious and gloomy aspect, and they are little disposed to speak. They retire from the company of those with whom they had formerly associated, seclude themselves in obscure places, or lie in bed the greatest part of their time. Frequently they will keep their eyes fixed to some object for hours together, or continue them an equal time "bent on vacuity." They next become fearful, and conceive a thousand fancies: often recur to some immoral act which they have committed, or imagine themselves guilty of crimes which they never perpetrated: believe that God has abandoned them, and, with trembling, await his punishment. Frequently they become desperate, and endeavour by their own hands to terminate an existence, which appears to be an afflicting and hateful incumbrance. 

     “I stayed” he wrote “and helped Uncle John Neely to finish cutting our grain But I wasn’t much good.  I could not set myself to work.  It seemed to me that there was something the matter with me.  I could feel sore spots all over my boddy and I could not work what I had to work for - anyway it all looked dark to me.” He was examined by a doctor who told him he had to quit eating green corn or he might get Cholera.  Such was the medical knowledge of the typical frontier doctor. “I told him I didn’t care what I got. He said I had better take a dose of salts (laxative) but I did not take any salts…” Since Cholera is a disease of the intestinal lining that causes massive dehydration through diarrhea, a laxative would be the worst thing to take. The medical treatment of the time called for withholding fluids.  We now know that maintaining hydration is the most essential thing in the treatment of Cholera. He tried field work for others who told him he was “no good.” This continued into 1852; “I went to work for a farmer by the name of Utt.  I worked for him untill about the first of June then he said I was no good and turned me off.”

    So what happened to James Ryerson Kays?  He eventually found his calling as a blacksmith, a profession he followed into his seventies.  He moved to Washburn (now Arthur) and worked there for many years as a blacksmith.  His four younger brothers joined the Union Army during the Civil War.  One, George, lost a leg in the war.  James was rejected for service due to a rupture and rheumatism.  Slowly he regained an enjoyment for life.  He married.  He sought entertainment, writing “Our principal Amusement was going to Dances or Balls, Fourth of July celebrations, and once in a while a Circus. We went to one circus in Platteville where we seen Tom Thumb and his Wife, they were Dwarfs, And a Man that could write better with his Toes than I can with my fingers. In those days we didn’t know anything a bout the Grizzly Bear dance nor the Tango dance nor the Bunny Hug and such fancy dances as we hear of now days.”  He regained his wry sense of humor.  Among his activities was attending religious revival meetings:  “We had the Old Shouting Methodist Camp Meetings where everybody went, Even the Harlot Gamblers and Thieves was ever present at these Camp Meetings.  It was more of a place of Amusement than a place of Worship.”

     In October of 1865, he moved with his wife and three daughters to Independence Iowa, where he continued his trade, shoeing the oxen of the thousands moving through Iowa to the new frontiers in the far west.  Later he worked for race tracks in Eastern Iowa, shoeing the horses.  By 1929 he was 95 years old and living with his daughter in Waterloo, Iowa.  At that time his four younger brothers were still living, ranging in age from 81 to 87.  Kays lived to be 100 years old.  His100th birthday was on January 4, 1935, and a local newspaper reporter paid a visit for an interview.  By that time all of his younger brothers but George had passed away.  The reporter asked him how to live to be 100.  He said; “Be moderate in all things.  Abstain from hard liquor and tobacco.  Recognize 9 p.m. as bedtime.  Keep abreast of the world and its events.”  Perhaps the reporter should have asked him the secret of happiness, for what was taken from him in his youth was returned in family, and health, and a long life.  He died 15 days after attaining the century mark, and crossed the river to meet his family and friends who had gone so long ago.

Sunday, February 24, 2013



Dickie Happy Even If Dog Can't Explain
PLATTEVILLE, July 26, 1946

    Whatever bond of companionship existed between Richard "Dickie" Young, son of Mrs. N. C. Young, Platteville, and his dog, Trixie, just before Trixie was hit by a car a week ago and wet-eyed Dickie took the limp form to a ravine to be buried, was nothing compar­ed to that bond today.
    Dickie can’t explain it; his mother can't ex­plain it, and Trixie, who was last seen a week ago lying at the bottom of the ra­vine in a gunny sack, is powerless to explain it.

    Last week Trixie was run over by a car. Dickie found him lying unconscious on the parkway.  Dickie gathered up the limp form of his constant pal and, tears running down his face, took it into the kitchen where he laid Trixie on the floor.  "We did everything we could to revive him," Mrs. Young said, "but our efforts were useless.  We felt so badly about it.  Dickie cried so hard and I guess I cried too."
    Dickie finally put the body of his dog into a gunny sack, loaded it on his coaster wagon, and moved off down the street to "bury" his pet.    
     HE PRAYED       |
    His mother’s promise to get him another dog failed to end Dickie's grief for Trixie.  He prayed that Trixie would come back.  One week to the day after Trix­ie "died," the dog returned.  He climbed into Dickie's lap, put his paws on the boy's shoulder and licked Dickie's face.  Trixie never explained how it happened.
By Mrs. Davis Crichton   -   LANCASTER, January 5, 1942
     Benny will ring no more doorbells, and the family of Dr. J. H. Fowler will get more sleep, but the family mourns any­way.  If Benny's trick of ringing the door bell, picked up all by himself had been tried on any other than a doctor's family it would not have been half as effective.  But when a general practitioner's doorbell rings in a small city, it gets answered, no matter what the hour.
      Learning to ring the old fash­ioned doorbell was tantamount to having his own latch key for Ben­ny.  He took to staying out until all hours, even 2 and 3 a. m., and ringing the bell when, he was good and ready to call it a night.
    But Benny was run over and killed by a bicycle rider not long ago, and everybody mourned his passing. “He was probably too smart for this world, though,” was the general    comment.

MAD DOG AT LANCASTER Wisconsin – June 3, 1853

    We are told that several head of Mr. A. Calder’s stock were bitten by a Mad Dog, last week, near Pigeon Diggings in Lancaster.  The dog was killed afterwards.  It is believed that one of those dangerous canines was seen in Lancaster village yesterday.  There ought to be a sharp look out for them.

Rocky the Alcoholic Rooster – Lancaster, Wisconsin September 12, 1948

    When the Lan­caster canning factory started in on its annual corn pick the other day, that was the signal for Oscar Udelhofen, who lives across the road, to tighten up the fence around his chicken yard. Oscar is trying hard to avoid a situation such as the one which developed a year ago and practically demoralized his flock.
    Up to canning time last year, Oscar says, he owned as home loving a flock of chickens as ever stretched a budget. Rocky espe­cially. That year old White Rock was as steady and dependable as any rooster that ever preened a feather. He was Oscar's pride and joy. That is, he was until one day he learned what the hot September sun could do to corn juice

    It is probable, as some hotly argue, that it was one of his more frivolous  consorts  who  led him astray after   having discovered for herself the potentialities of the liquid that trickles down the tiled aides of the canning company's two silos whenever the doors, are opened.

    Credible witnesses insist that a hen was seen heading, for home, wings akimbo, weaving slightly like a fine lady on too high heels, cackling hysterically every step of the way. And Rocky, gentleman that he was, had to accompany her back to see what it was all about.
    Be that as it may, Rocky's ad­vent into the canning company yard was the beginning of a debacle. Rocky's whole disposition seemed to change, his owner asserts. In all his life he never be­fore had set foot off the place. Suddenly home was just a place to roost. "We'd be getting up In the morning," says Oscar, "and look out, and there he'd go, walking out on us, ruffled and unkempt and strictly on the loose. It was sickening."

    At the plant the yard men found it hard to concentrate on their work and still watch the antics of Rocky and his flock. ''Goofiest thing you ever saw," says one. "They'd drink, and then walk around in dizzy circles, lift­ing their feet high off the ground like stepping over felled saplings. That old rooster crowed himself hoarse and flapped his wings and ruffled his neck feathers like a fighting cock."

    The hens were right in there holding up their end, the men in­sisted, But Rocky was the pacemaker. Toward the end of the day, when he found it slightly difficult to maintain his balance, he used to sidle around and back up to the silo, lean heavily against the side and with a silly look on his face just let the stuff dribble down into his beak.

    One evening as Rocky led his flock homeward, full of corn and confidence, he made the mistake of challenging a truck to the right of way. The truck won the deci­sion. The frightened hens, squawking and flapping their wings, scuttled for home and safety without once looking back.  Oscar got himself a new rooster after that - a serious, home lov­ing bird, which he aims to keep that way. But he still mourns Rocky. "Doggone, I sure miss that old rounder, he says plaintively.

Nipper The Dog Gets Screen Test in Hollywood – Platteville, WI. August 19, 1934
     DeWayne Hull’s dog, Nipper, is going to Hollywood. Hull operates the homestead farm north of Platteville. Only the thought that his pal has the makings of another movie dog star, and must not be denied this chance, reconciles the Platteville farmer to their parting.  When Nipper was just a young pup Hull knew he was no ordinary dog.  He was “smart as brass tacks.”  Being an acrobatic stunt dog is only one of Nipper’s accomplishments. He enters with zest into suggested routines and appears to invent stunts of his own with which to entertain.   


     Hull’s daughter, Mrs. Ruth Sweeney is employed in the Hollywood movie production colony.  She is taking Nipper back with her. Speculating over Nipper’s chances in Hollywood, Hull says: “It may be that someday I’ll see Nipper again in a screen play. I am sure if he saw me in the audience he would jump right out of the picture toward me.” They are inseparable pals, and the prospect of Nipper going to Hollywood is causing Hull considerable heartache.