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JAMES TOWNSEND ARNOLD
Having disposed of the meager traditions, I have reached the point where I take up the thread of the story approximately where my uncles dropped it, selecting that particular strand that deals with James Townsend Arnold, the youngest son of William Arnold.
To you who know me well, it is perhaps understandable with what reverence I undertake the task. No one could possibly have a deeper love for a parent than I have had for my father, all my life. If the record herein developed seems to present little to justify that feeling, it will perhaps be well to recall what I have so often said, that it is not for their strength and their virtues that we love people. We respect them and admire them and hold them in high esteem for those elements of their character, but it is for their weaknesses and their faults that we love them. That sounds like the build up for the delineation of a terrible character but, if that be your anticipation, you are in for a severe disappointment.
April 5, 1844 being the date of my father's birth (and of his twin sister, Lydia), that seems the logical point from which to start his personal history, yet I find myself immediately beset with a multitude of little things which should be told somewhere and keep intruding themselves, with the result, I fear, that this narrative is likely to be a bit jerky and my conduct much like that of a pointer pup which, taken out to point birds, cannot resist the temptation to chase up the trail of every rabbit that crosses the path.
Father was born on Grandfather's farm, near Greenville, Darke County, Ohio. If this were a real book, instead of a sort of long letter, the farm would be worthy of a chapter all its own. As it is, the farm will be briefly described as 480 acres, practically all tillable but about half what was locally referred to as "prairie", probably an area which, for some reason satisfactory to old mother nature, was not timbered as was most of western Ohio in the early part of the last century. This prairie, in my father's day, was maintained as grazing land, Grandfather going in heavily for stock raising in the later years of his career. One season, immediately after the civil war, he took into Greenville one thousand bushels of wheat and twenty steers for which he received $3,500 ($2,500 for the wheat and $1,000 for the steers), which seems to indicate that farm prices could occasionally go up even in those days.
The house was of brick, built in 1827 and one of the first brick houses, outside of the towns probably, that was built in that part of the country. I have never seen it but, from pictures of it that I have seen, I would say that it was an unpretentious sturdy looking farm house. My grandfather built it out of the proceeds from supplies sold to the army that came out fight the Blackfeet War.2 It was about the first real cash money that he had ever received. To give you some idea of costs in those pioneer days, my grandfather hired a carpenter during the winter of 1826-27 to frame the timbers out of logs made from trees on the farm. When spring came this carpenter, after living with the family and working diligently all winter getting out the timber, superintended the erection of the house and, when it was all done, my grandfather paid him $75.00.
Life on even as nice a farm as that does not seem to have been exactly a bed of roses, as Grandfather wanted my father to stay on the farm and offered to arrange his will so that it would be left to him on extremely favorable terms, with a long period in which to pay for it, but the offer was declined. Never was I able to make Father admit that he was ever sorry that he had not accepted that offer, beyond the admission that one of his reasons for declining was the likelihood that his half-brothers might resent what they might regard as unwarranted favoritism toward one of the children by his second wife.
(Here comes one of the rabbits.)
When father was in his eighty-fifth year, he was sitting on the porch at our Hasbrouck Heights home one summers day and casually asked what the date was. Upon learning that it was the twenty-third of June, 1928, (I think he already knew full well) he said: "I can remember something that happened just eighty years ago today." He then related, in minute detail, the circumstances under which he received a scar still visible on his left hand. It seems that he hand gone with his father that day to the home of a neighbor where the farmers of the vicinity were gathered to harvest the wheat. At the noon hour each reaper thrust his sickle into a sheaf of wheat to keep the blade cool and my father, who of course was waiting to eat at the second table, decided to try his hand at cutting wheat. Being only a few months over four, about the only thing really learned was that the particular sickle selected had a keen edge and about all he accomplished was to cut his hand. Father wound up the story with: "Of course, I didn't know then that it was the twenty-third of June but, when we got home that day, we found that someone had stolen my father's valuable saddle horse and I know it was the twenty-third of June from remembering certain legal documents regarding the recovery of the horse, that I saw many years after."
(This is another rabbit.)
Probably earlier in the year of the foregoing incident, they were building a railroad through the farm (probably the Dayton & Union, now B & O and all but abandoned) and my father had gone down to watch the work. The hands were almost entirely recently imported Irish, who lived, with their families, in a lot of shacks built along the right of way. A heavy thunder-storm came up and there was an immediate hue and cry in the Arnold household as to what had become of Jimmie. When they found him, sitting up at the table in one of the shacks, eating bread and sugar (and probably drinking tea), while the Irish dames made a fuss over him, his mother snatched him out of there with same alacrity with which she would have rescued him from a Gypsy camp, or a modern mother would recover here little boy from the shacks of a bunch of Italian laborers.
The above incident is cited to show something of the attitude of America toward the Irish a hundred years ago. The comparative reference to Italians may soon lose much of its force, as the younger generations become more and more Americanized.
I could fill a book with anecdotes I have heard of Bub (Jimmie) and Sis (Lydia); how he was a regular little cotton-top while a child, to grow up so swarthy black in manhood; how he was whipped in school his first day because he blotted in his copy book; his going two years to college at Ohio Wesleyan University, and living on a dollar and a half a week while he was doing it; his early manhood on the farm; how he was caught in the draft for the civil war and rather ungallantly hired a colored man as substitute (for $500), who was never heard of again, my grandfather having an idea that it was just as necessary for someone to stay at home on the farm to feed the armies as it was for some to take up a gun and fight.3 All these tales contribute to build up a very vivid picture in mind but I have bored so many people by telling little inconsequential stories about my father that I am going to resist the temptation this time and go on to relate others - probably fully as boresome - that at least have the virtue of carrying the history down to later year.
(One more, however.)
Near the close of his career as a farmer the first woman seems to have come into his life. Her name was Jamison or Jimmerson or something of that kind. Nothing appears to have come of it but she must have made quite an impression on him as, sixty-five years after he had seen her last, he made a trip home from our New Jersey place by way of Cleveland, just to call upon her. He was eighty-four then and, as he was preparing to leave, said, "I am going to Cleveland to see my first sweetheart. She was an awful nice girl; I used to like to kiss her but I don't know whether she will stand for it now or not. Maybe I will find out." Whether he did or not I do not know; he never made any mention of the visit at any later time, so I suspect some slight disillusionment. Knowing nothing of her but knowing my dad in his later years, I can recognize the possibility that they may have developed in slightly different directions.
2I suspect that part about the Indian war is apocryphal; I can find no historical corroboration; it certainly had nothing to do with the Blackfeet, in that part of the country.
3Once, at a romantic moment, I mentioned to my father that his father, had be been born in France, would probably have fought in Napoleon's army. "Hell," he said, "If he had wanted to fight he could have fought in the war of 1812; you don't need to move him clear to France."
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