I enjoy reading first-hand accounts of what life was like for early Fayette County settlers.
Presley Garner Donaldson, who was born in Hurricane Township in 1839, is one of my favorite Fayette County storytellers. P.G., as he was called, self-published his down-home stories in 1908 under the title, “Life and Adventures of P.G. Donaldson.” The book was printed at the Jewett Printery in Cowden.
Following is one of his tales.
“The country at that date was what might be called a howling wilderness, infested by wolves, catamounts, bear and panther; also deer, wild turkey, rattlesnakes and many other animals too numerous to mention.
“There were lakes all around, where the water stood the whole year, and, of course, ague, chills and fever were common from August to November. Do any of you older fellows remember that old shaking ague?
“One more pest – the greenhead flies from nine o’clock in the morning 'til five in the evening; there was no rest time for horses or cattle these times. We boys in plow time would be in the field by daylight and plow till nine o’clock and come in with our horses bleeding, take breakfast and stay in until four or five o’clock before returning to the fields.
“We would then plow on until the lightning bugs showed their lights. It was no trouble to raise corn those days, though we plowed with cary plows with wooden mouldboards cut six inches.
“These plows were thrown aside along with the crooked stick plow, reap hooks and cradles. To such tools as our fathers used, we say farewell. In those early days, everything was cheap, money scarce and fat cows sold for $5 apiece. No railroads, no way of getting stock to market, only to drive them. No way to get goods, only to haul them from St. Louis in wagons.
“Now reader, you can begin to see how hard a time the first settlers had. Some may say, ‘Why did they stay here?’ I can answer that question – they were not able to get away.
“I will relate one instance to the public, about the suffering among the early settlers. Uncle Mose Donaldson, like many others, ran out of corn before the new crop came in. He rode 10 miles to Moses Holland’s, who was so fortunate as to have old corn. Mr. Holland said, ‘Make a hundred rails and you may have a bushel of corn.’ Uncle Mose gathered up his maul and wedge and finished them before sundown.
“The next day he took his bushel of corn to Greenville and got it ground. This made two days he had been away from home, but the third day he reached home and had a feast of venison and cornbread.
“I have mentioned how natural it was to have the ague in the fall of the year, and I want to speak of some of the remedies. Mind you, at this time, there were no doctors nearer than Greenville in Bond County.
“Some of the remedies were horse mint tea, pennyroyal tea and lobelia to act on the stomach. Oh my! Did any of you ever take lobelia? I tell you, you’d be sick to the end of your toes? I’ve been there.
“The pills we took in those days were made from white walnut bark and about the size of a jaybird egg. When they would come at a boy with one of those pills, there was no monkeying about it; to refuse was a breach of etiquette.
“The next thing that happened to a boy that had refused was that he was thrown flat on his back, held there and the pill forced down his throat.
“Sometimes, the operation of taking the remedy was worse than the disease. I know what I am talking about, for I have already been there.
“Stone bruises were common in our boyhood days, for everyone went barefooted during the summer and part of the winter. The writer remembers the first pair of shoes he ever wore, and that Henry Harris was the man who made them.
“The remedy for a stone bruise was to lay a boy on his stomach, sit on him, take up his foot and pare off the thick skin with a razor until you came to the affected part, and then apply a piece of fat meat for a few hours, when all will be right.
“The boy who had been there on the stone bruise question would put off limping as long as he could, for he knew what would follow – razors in the air.”
Presley G. Donaldson had many things to say on various subjects, all of which he shared with his readers in his memoirs.