Pioneer Families

Note:   Roger Harding sent me this biographical information. According to Roger this sketch was hand written by L. G. Harding (Roger's grandfather) in the 1920’s and copied by typewriter by his granddaughter Lu Ree Harding Sperry in the 1940’s. It was recopied  by his granddaughter Barbara Harding Hines for her biography of  Leb’s  son Robert  Harding in 1984; this was then typed  into the computer by his grandson Roger Alan Harding and great-Grandson Ronald Alan Harding in 2007. Location of the handwritten original is not known.

Biography of Grandpa William Harding

by L. G. Harding

According to my memory of the record in the old Family Bible, Grandpa Harding was born May 29, 1777, and died January 3, 1874, at the age of 97 years, 6 months and 4 days. He was born in Virginia  - I do not know the county or town.

As I understand, there were but three children in his father’s family – Nancy, the oldest, William, second and Philip, the youngest. Philip was killed at the age of 87 by poison thorn in his heel. Nancy was alive and hearty the last time we heard from her before the War of the Rebellion, at the age of 102. We did not hear when she died as the war cut off all communications for so long.

Uncle Philip was a peculiar man, spending a great deal of his life with his pipe beside the fireplace, going to bed, it was said, almost with the regularity of the clock at midnight and rising at three in the morning.  Could not sleep over three hours, neither was he contented to lie in bed – rather sit by the fire and smoke his pipe. He was very industrious, and accumulated considerable wealth for a farmer in those days.  He had no education except that gained by experience in life.

Aunt Nancy was a woman said to be loved by all whom she met, and that number was not small as she made it her business to meet and know everybody.

William Harding, my Grandpa, was a man nature did a great deal for. He had no schooling, but seemed to meet the problems of life with more ease than some favored with education. He was a born mechanic, blacksmith, wagon maker and cooper. He would work in the shop that needed him most, solving their mechanical problems. Mentally he was above the average man of his day. He was known as local preacher, and at all gatherings, whether religious, social, or political he was called upon for a speech and always was well remembered and in demand for all public gatherings. He was a bit too radical on the slave question for the average Virginian. He had three slaves left him as an inheritance, but he immediately set them free, even against  their own will, but he told them they would have to go as he could not conscientiously own a human being.

 Here I have to step to one side to show how, perhaps, the slavery question more than anything else caused our very fortunate move to Iowa before the War of the Rebellion, and Grandpa came with us.

My father was a regularly ordained Methodist minister and could not own a slave if he wanted to, and preach for the M.E, Church. And perhaps, too, few know today that the Civil War of 1861-65 had it’s origin in the Methodist  Church and the Masonic Lodge. There was trouble in the South many  years before the War and Methodist preachers were mobbed and silenced. But some wouldn’t “silence” and some, too, like my father left the South and it finally caused a split in the Methodist Church. I think they have united recently. My father was ordered not to preach anymore at the Red Brush schoolhouse, under penalty of death. This was altogether too much for a Harding who believed God called him to preach. He was preaching when the leader of the mob came to the door and gave him verbal notice not to preach any more at that place. Father stopped long enough to tell him that there was but One Power on earth that could stop him, and that was the Power that called him, and that he “would be right there next Sunday, the Lord willing”. The leader answered, “You’ll be dead, man, if you do.” The next Sunday morning Father was on hand and preached. The mob came to the door and ordered him to stop. Father simply stopped long enough to say again, “The Power that called me to preach is the only power that can stop me.” They threatened to shoot. He told them to shoot and that if  the Lord didn’t turn the bullet it was Hiis will that he should go that way, and said, “I am ready.” They didn’t shoot, but waited until the service was over, then told him they did not wish to kill him, but he must stop preaching there. He told them again, “The Lord willing, I will be back next Sunday.” And  back he went , but when in sight  of the spot he could not see the Red Brush School House, which had been torn down, Not one log lay on top of another but the people were there and placed the logs to make seats, and for a pulpit placed two logs side by side and one on top of the other, and Father said he never preached to as large a congregation in his life as at that place. The mob came and skulked around in the brush, but did nothing. Then Father told the people if they would do the work he would furnish the material and they would build a church on his own ground. They agreed, and so it was done, and soon reports were afloat that that log church would be torn down. With the idea that the Lord helps  those that help themselves, Father went to town and bought a double barreled shotgun and a rifle, and spread the news that that church was his property on his ground and that he would defend it.

We had an old Negro living with us for five years before we left Virginia, and he was with us at that time. One night there was a great noise up at the log church, as though it was being torn down. Father called “Uncle Davey”, the Negro, and gave him a grub hoe. Father took the shotgun, kissed Mother goodbye and left her standing in the door, praying, of course, while they solved the matter of tearing down the church. There was a great commotion up at the church,  about 150 yards from the house. All was dark and Father and Uncle Davey hurried on, went up to the door and hollered “Hello”! What’s going on here?” They heard the knocking of loose clapboard seats and found a lot of hogs. Father hollered, each one was trying to get there first. Uncle Davey lay back and let out a Negro “Ha! Ha!” that made those old Virginia hills echo – and that wasn’t all it did either. It told Mother her prayers were answered – the fight was over and nobody killed. I have heard Mother say she had heard many a Negro laugh but none ever gave her such relief as that one did.

My father was Grandpa’s oldest child and he did not want to leave Virginia without Grandpa. Shortly after the building of the log church Grandma died, so there was little left to keep Grandpa from leaving Virginia, and in April, 1855, we started and Grandfather was with us.

We stopped at Mount Pleasant, Iowa, about 28 miles from Burlington, where we got off the boat which brought us up the Mississippi River. Aunt Betty, James G. Lash’s wife who lived in Mount Pleasant was Mother’s sister. We stayed a few days and went to Henry County, I think about ten miles from Mount Pleasant. We stayed there about two years. However, previous to leaving there, Grandpa had gotten the Central Iowa fever quite badly, so one day he took his hat and cane and a personal grip – bid us goodbye, and away he went, afoot and alone in his 82nd year for Ottawa, Iowa, ten miles east of Osceola and 14 miles north of Woodburn, Iowa, the station on the C.B. & Q. where the town is now. (Ottawa is no more, not even a school house or church.) This trip of Grandpa’s was about 150 miles and he got through and figured it up he averaged a little over 32 miles a day. Pretty good for his age, carrying a heavy personal carpetbag, as they were called. They had no “grips” then. By this time Father had the Missouri fever. Quite a colony of Virginians had gone to Missouri and wanted Father and Grandpa to come. But, Grandpa sent such glowing reports back to Father, saying that he and found “the garden spot of the earth”, that Father agreed to sell and go by Ottawa where Grandpa was, and if he did not like if they would pull for Missouri. But Father also was pleased when he reached Ottawa and concluded to “locate”.

Grandfather located 80 acres of prairie land with his warrant from the War of  1812, also 10 acres of timber. Father bought eight 40-acre tracts of  prairie and ten of timber from the Government at $1.25 per acre. I am not sure, but believe the timber land was higher. Father’s land to the Southwest is _  mile north and  _ mile east of Woodburn, Grandpa’s is _ mile further east just over the line in Lucas County. Father’s land is in Clark County. We first lived in a big barn of a house called Government Barracks and at one time was occupied by soldiers. Several families lived in it. Then Father bought a house in Ottawa, and my baby brother Beverly, was born in it May 30, 1858, and I believe it was moved out on our land that fall. (No! I am too fast – our first Winter was spent in a log cabin a half mile south of Ottawa.) The house was 12 feet square and there were ten of us in the family – eleven when Grandpa was home. He stayed most of the winter at Joe Chamber’s. They had a bigger house – frame. In the Spring Father bought the house in Ottawa and it was moved onto our land in the Fall of 1858 or ’59. The house Father bought had but two rooms. After moving it, two more rooms were added, also a pantry and a porch. The south room, however, was never finished and was used for a summer kitchen and storeroom. Grandfather died in the East room. Father in the West room. My brother, Beverly, was born in the middle room and “Daughter” thought Mother was killed in the South unfinished room, but she wasn’t. Lightening would strike every now and then in a certain spot  in the orchard, then, then in a certain spot in the Northwest part of the yard, then on to the Southwest part, narrowly missing the house. Mother was standing in the East door of the South room and got sufficient of it to knock her down. The six-inch loose oak boards made quite a noise when they came down as Mother fell. “Daughter Rowena” ran to see what had happened at the time of the big clap of thunder. Seeing Mother lying on the floor she, of  course, supposed that she was dead and went to lift her up but couldn’t as Mother weighed over 200 pounds. Mother wasn’t hurt a bit and was laughing so hard at Daughter’s fright and actions she could not help herself, an finally blurted out, “Daughter, Mother isn’t hurt,” laughing fit to kill. Then Daughter thought the lighting had knocked her crazy.

So it will be seen that Grandpa had been living with us since I was about three years old. I want to say right now that a boy who hasn’t a Grandpa to amuse himself with misses just barrels of fun. Of course, the misery he causes his Grandpa does not concern him, only  to add as much as possible to his Grandpa’s grief. When Father and Mother were away from home I thought it was my religious duty to make life a burden for Grandpa. Many times it wouldn’t have added to my health or happiness to have let him catch me. When Father and Mother came home from church and found me down at the stable I wasn’t fit to be seen, and when Mother led me up for Grandpa to look at I presume no one was more surprised than Grandpa. “Huh! Well really Mary, I didn’t think I was hurting that boy so. Well, I shall never whip him anymore, but he id make me so mad I lost myself.” I didn’t improve a bit, but took advantage of  Grandpa’s promise to be good, which, boy-like, I thought was right and proper. I did not improve until I was big enough or old enough to know something about what a Grandpa is, and, strange to say, I became the favorite of all “Tommy’s boys”, as he used to put it. I used to go home and keep him up until late talking to him, and when I could get him out in the shade of some building or tree (though trees big enough for shade were scarce) there was where I would get the stories of his youth, which were fresh in his mind, though he might forget what happened last week. He grew so hard of hearing that few wanted to talk with him. I did not mind that—my lungs were strong, and it was during these talks with him I learned what happened long before I was thought of. I came to know what he was and what he did. And I am not sorry I had these talks with my Grandpa. It made me think altogether differently of him and to feel differently toward him. When a boy, many times I chalked him down for a real good licking if he lived until I got to be a man. But, when I got to be a man, all I blamed the dear old man for was that he had not killed me long ago. Though I do believe if  Grandpa had tried real hard he could have gotten on the good side of an original hard crackling, uncultivated, turned out with strange uncivilized ideas, blessed with one of his own attributes- to go ahead when he believed he was right.

I have already said that mentally my Grandpa was a man Nature did a great deal for. In plain words, he was born a man – that is, naturally a manly man, blessed with good judgment, kind, generous, benevolent, forgiving and free-hearted. He gave away too much to live in or under a competitive system. He could not see one in want and have a dollar in his pocket, and many times he gave when he needed it the worse. He could not read, but if you read for him he could and would tell you more about it than nine out of ten who would read for him could tell – and he would remember it. He was far ahead of many who had a fair education. On politics and religion he was a debater. He reasoned well and few could beat him. People who heard him talk and did not know he was uneducated thought that he was. He could not take his pencil and figure anything, but could do it “in his head”. Where hogs and cattle were being weighed and sold, if the price were given he could figure the worth of the animal more quickly than anyone else.

Physically, few men of his size (weight 165 to 170) were his equals. In his day fighters were called Bullies. Now they call them Champions. Then, they fought for fun. Now they fight for money. Grandpa was a Bully of Virginia – in the ring with his fists, and with the sword also. Then, they used their bare hands, now they use gloves. With the sword exercise the used wooden swords with “Grabs” on the points. The object was not to hurt a man, but the judges or referees judged who got in the first out, thrust, jab, or stab that would disable the opponent, or it counted as so many points. It was only through my talks with Grandpa that I learned of this part of his life. Father was a preacher and would never have told it, but I got this along with the secret of fighting by Grandpa’s taking me into his confidence on one of the occasions when we were having a good old “Windup”, when they were perhaps all gone but him and me. When I was older I was glad to talk to him instead of driving him off the place.

In Grandpa’s time, Saturday afternoon was a half –day off. It was considered about as bad to work Saturday afternoons as Sundays. They would muster, “rassle”, pitch horse shoes (quoits, I believe, is the correct  name), but the dictionary says it is a different game. A heavy, flat ring, not open like horse shoes. They would throw heavy weights and other feats of strength, box (self-defense), etc. They would fight, not because they were mad, but to see who was the best man. For example, some man would come up to me and say, “ William you are a good man, so am I. Let us see who is the best man.” We would clear our ring, choose our judges, then we would go. One would be knocked down. Give him your hand and help him up and laugh at him – and at it again. Finally, one or the other would get enough and say, “Well, I am a good man but you are better.” That settled it as good friends as ever – maybe better. Grandpa said some of his best friends were men he had “licked”. “Six men”, he said, “came to my shop at one time and told me I had to have a licking. Some of them were strangers. I was to choose the time for taking on each man, one after another, with one day or more between.” (That was to give him a fair chance if he was hurt to get well again before taking on another.) “So I accepted and chose first the one I thought to be the best man, but found him very easy. After three minutes’ rest I took an another, and inside of two hours the six were “done for”. Satisfied they had tackled the wrong man, he made friends of them that were strangers – and those who knew him, knew him better. All that he told me would make a good sized book. I can only relate one of his stories now and then. For example, I will never forget the time he took me into his confidence and gave me a secret which he reckoned had been handed down through the Harding family for hundreds of  years –from one to another chosen by the one who held the secret, and every now and then comes along a Harding that always gets away with his man – but not that we are better than anybody else. “Levious”, he always called me – Lev-i-ous. You  know my name is Lebbeus – “But there is a secret to it and now I am going to give you the secret. I am not going to give it to any other of  Tommy’s boys but you,” he said.

He drew a long breath and said, “In the first place, Levious, be sure you are right. You can fight a great deal harder for the right than for the wrong. I never challenged a man in my life – never picked or nagged at a man. Attend to your own business and stand for the right. When I was challenged I had to fight to defend the honor of old Virginia, being the Bully of the State. Let the other fellow force the fight, you do the fighting, and when you go into it go into it to win or die – there’s where it is Levious. Many a man has hollered, “Nuf ,” when I was glad to hear it. When it seems that all is against you and you can’t win, just remember, it is win or die. Give up ? – No, never. Lay to, stay with him – “It will win”. And my experience in life tells me that this is the case in all life’s problems – “Lay to , stay with it,” will win. Grandpa did not think this kind of fighting was wrong – just to see who and where the good men were. They did not fight for money. In fact, it was just a rather rough way to see who was the best sinewed man. They were as easy as could be, generally.

The most regrettable thing that ever happened to him was his fight with Tom Branner, the Bully of Kentucky, in the sword exercise. Tom came over riding a big bald face Kent stallion – a fine looking man and a fine looking horse. He came ten days before the fight to get his horse used to the ground at the Fairgrounds on Cedar Hill in Culpepper County , Virginia. “I took him home with me,” Grandfather said, “and Tom and I had a good time telling of our fights, etc., and every day he took his horse out to the grounds. And when  the day for the fight came, there was said to be 5,000 people out to see it; -- Kentucky against Virginia.” Grandpa had a little pony for his horse. He said, “I had been offered a big price for that pony, but no money could buy him. He knew as much about that business as I did, and after we started into the fight I always dropped his bridle reins on the pummel of my saddle and never touched them during the fight. I knew he would attend to his business if I would to mine, and he would carry me through to victory if I did my part as wee as he did his. But I must have looked very insignificant when we rode out into the ring – I with my little pony beside Tom and his fine Kent stallion. Tom was a big man-weighed over 200 pounds, I about 165 or 170. We rode around the ring together, and when the word was given each of us took opposite sides and the battle opened.  We met about the center of the ring with a cut and a thrust at each other, which we both expected to be caught and pared off, and was.  But my pony knew what he would do - turned like a flash and came back, and as quickly I made a cut at Tom's head, and his horse got scared at my pony's actions, and jumped.  Between the jump and blow, Tom lost his balance and fell, and before his horse could be stopped, poor Tom was dead, and that put an end to our fun for that day."  That seemed to be the only thing that ever happened in his life that caused him regrets, and he blamed that on Tom's fine horse, then said, "Is it a wonder that I wouldn't sell my pony?"  He knew what to do and did it to perfection.  I have many times risked my honor and reputation on his judgment, and he brought me through to victory.  I never had such feelings in my life as I did when I accepted that challenge.  I felt that one or the other of us was going to get it, but it was poor Tom that got it.  If Tom had a horse as safe as mine, it would have ended in just a victory for one or the other - Kentucky or Virginia, without either one being seriously hurt."  No one else in the ring or with the sword exercise ever was even seriously hurt.  

 This seemed to be the only occasion for regret.  He never was conquered, as he called it, but once in his life, and then he found the excuse:  "You know, Levious, I told you that you can fight for the right a great deal harder than the wrong, and the only time I was ever conquered was when I was wrong.  Negros used to run away and try to win their freedom.  Negro owners paid for a patrol to watch the plantations day and night, as well as public roads, and if a Negro was caught out after nine o'clock at night (or away from home in daytime) without a pass, he was arrested and taken home.  No excuse, he must have a pass from his master, or one in authority, and if a Negro escaped this patrol they would offer a reward, depending on the value of the Negro and the doubtfulness of the case, ect.  Sometimes that reward would run as high as four or five hundred dollars.  I had been home but a few hours with a runaway Negro and got $150.00 reward, when here came a man with a written handbill to put on the shop door - $400.00 reward for Big Negro Fred.  I went to the house and said "400.00 waiting for me Betsy."  There was a big Negro settlement in Kentucky, and the Virginia Negros would go for that, and if they got to that settlement they were considered 'gone Negros'.  They would hide and feed them for months.  Fred had been gone for so many days.  I told Betsy first where I would find him - on the side of a certain mountain near Kentucky, and that in another day and night he would be in Kentucky and gone, so I must make haste.  "Ah William", said Betsy, "You'll go for the wrong Negro yet, and I am afraid it will be this time.  You know Big Negro Fred is said to be the strongest Negro in Virginia."  "Yes, yes" said I, "but Betsey, I am a scienced man and Negro Fred isn't.  I can master him."  So away Grandpa goes with his little pony, and found Negro Fred not over 50 yards from where he told Betsy he would find him.  For all Grandpa wouldn't own a slave, he had followed catching them for so long he knew their route and what they did.  They would pull off their shirts and grease their arms and bodies so the mosquitoes wouldn't bite them, and so white men could not hold so well, or tie them.   Grandpa said, "I said, 'How-do-you-do, Fred'.  Fred did not answer me.  I got off my pony and said, "Fred, you must go home."  I die fust, Suh, was his answer.  "Now, Fred," said I, "You better go home and save any further trouble".  "I die fust," was all I could get out of him, though he looked like a monster as he stood their naked to the waist, and his big muscles did look powerful - but I had to take him home.  I found that I could knock him down faster than he could get up.  While Fred was a mighty man, he did not know a thing about self defense, and I was beating him as I wished, but seemed to gain nothing and I was wearing myself out.  I couldn't knock him out.  I could knock him down but he would come up again.   I tried to knock him out.  So we fought until I called for a rest, and Fred was willing.  I began to reason with myself:  "Here I have been fighting Fred fair and according to rules.  It is my business to capture Fred and take him home.  I looked around and close to me I saw a pine knob about the size of my two fists, with a long, tapering handle, or heart about three feet long - dry pitch pine and almost as heavy as lead.  Without giving Fred any notice, I jumped and grabbed that knob and I did think I would beat him into a jelly, but in the tussle, I dropped it and Fred got it and paid me back.  We were both bad off and winded.  Fred proposed a rest and I was willing, and as soon as I could I said, "Fred, have I got to kill you to get to you?"  "Yes suh, I die fust, I die fust," and I believed him.  I said, "Fred, have you got any money?"   He said, "No suh, I'ze hungry."  I ran my hand into my pocket and got a silver dollar - pitched it to him and said "Go."  Fred lost no time, though he could scarcely get up.  Off he went, staggering as he walked, but thanking me for that dollar.  I watched him and then got up and on my pony and started for home, not so good-looking as when I left.  That pitch knob was my undoing.  There, you see Levious, I was wrong.  One was fighting for freedom, the other for money.  Freedom got it, but if I had left that pine knob out I believe I could finally have worn him out and captured him.  But right will prevail, sooner or latter."  "But, what became of the pine knob?"  I asked Grandpa.  "Fred took that with him, and well he might, it won him his freedom."  And when Grandpa got home, poor old Grandma had a chance so dear to a woman - man, to, sometimes - "I told you so, William."  And William said, "Well Betsy, that is my last.  Others my catch runaway Negros, I'm done."  But, Levious, up to the time I brought the pine knob into it I hadn't a scratch fighting on the wrong side, but bringing that pine knob into it was my undoing," and poor old Grandpa couldn't smile a bit when he said that. 

I will say a word about Grandma.  She was three weeks younger than Grandpa, and died at 77 - not a grey hair in hear head.  She died of dropsy.  It is said that she could not have weighed over 25 pounds.  Everything went to water .  I was about three years old when she came to our house the last time.  She had on the prettiest dress I had discovered in this little old green world, which is perhaps what made me remember it.  Grandfather believed that really good 'matches' were made in heaven or by some unknown power.  "If they were not I never would have married Betsy," he said.  "I loved another girl better, and I'd say to myself, I'll go home and not have an appointment, and so it went until I married her - and a mighty good thing I did.  We always lived 'at the top of the pot'. "Grandma's maiden name was Daggett.  She had a hunch-back  and was universally loved.  "Just the one for William," I have heard Grandpa say many, many times.  

Grandpa was a cider drinker - never any other kind of drink.  He said he has had from one to twenty barrels of cider in his cellar.  He had won in pitching a game of horseshoe for a barrel of cider - about as small a thing as one would want to wager on a game and put up anything at all.  A barrel of cider was worth $1.00 and the barrel.  Now the barrel is $2.50 and cider, I guess is thirty to forty cents a gallon.  In Grandpa's time, if one had a barrel they could go to almost anybody's orchard, gather the apples, and run them through the press and fill your barrel.  When you would ask how much, the owner would say, "Oh, come again!"  The work was considered the only cost.  Apples were free. 

Financially, Grandpa always made money, but it went too freely.  He gave away more than a fortune.  He was always industrious.  When he was near 90 he wanted a blacksmith bellows and anvil.  He would make the balance of his tools.  We tried to dissuade him.  Father said it wouldn't pay for the little time he would use them, but he met that argument with, "Yes, Tommie, but I shall not take them with me when I go.  You'll have them left and can use them."  No knocking it out of his head.  Lumber was got, shop built and bellows and anvil and hammer and a pair of tongs and Grandpa went to work making other tools, and he would work just as though he had too.  I have seen him with his pocket full of gimlets and four to six 'Nogans'.  (A nogan was a wooden dishpan with one stave on each side funning up, say three inches higher than the balance.  In these two staves he cut an oblong hole and worked it up to fit the hand.  This was used for a handle in carrying the water.  It was about the size of a dishpan and had two hoops on the bottom and one on the top.)  With the gimlets in his pockets and the nogans on his back he would start out on what he called his circuit and say, "Now Mary he (that was Mother) don't look for me until you see me."  And that circuit was no small thing - six to eight miles either way.  When he sold out he would come back for another load, and you might as well buy a gimlet and nogan today as tomorrow, for buy you would before Grandpa would let up.  And the children in that circuit were just as tickled to see him coming as though he were their own Grandpa - and many didn't know the difference.  He would make their fathers buy gimlets and nogans, then give the money or most of it to the children, and when he left they would say, "We'll go with you, Grandpa, and help you carry your things," - and they would go to the next neighbors or part way, depending on the distance.  In those days, farms did not all join each other - usually from a quarter of a mile to several miles apart. 

If ever an old man had friends in Southern Iowa it was my old Grandpa.  Old and young loved him.  After tin dishpans came they set the nogans out in the yard for the chickens to drink from.  I've seen three and four of them at one place.  And gimlets - I'll bet there were families in that circuit that had half a dozen of them - nogans at $1.25, gimlets 35 cents.  What of it, the money went back to the children.  Grandpa kept up this practice until he started having what he called weak spells and would fall in the road when he would walk so far and Mother would not let him go alone. Mother had good control over him. He thought that whatever Mary said was law as well as gospel. I have heard him say many times, “It is a mighty fine thing, Mary, that I cast my lot with you and Tommie.

Mary Timms (Robertson)Harding
Rev. Thomas Sharp Harding M.D.
Born: August 19th , 1816
Born: July 30th, 1803
Died: January 19th, 1885
Died: December 21st, 1880

None of my other boy’s wives would have done for me as you have. And  Rowena, my youngest sister, four, nearly five years older than I – she was God’s best.” And let me add, Grandpa was correct. When Grandpa did argue a question a bit with Mother, let Rowena appear on the scene and Grandpa was done for at once – when Mary and Rowena both said so. I shall never forget the time Grandpa took a notion he wouldn’t change his under ware oftener than once every two weeks, for no other reason but to keep Rowena from washing them. Mother was not at home – at my oldest sister’s, Lemira. Rowena did her best, told Grandap she would rather wash them every week than every two weeks as they would wash so much harder but Grandpa could not see how one washing could be as hard as two – anybody ought to know better. Then Daughter (as we called her) went into the room where Father was and told him Grandpa’s notion, and asked him to try to get Grandpa to change. He came in with a book in his hand and specks on his nose and leaned down over Grandpa, who sat at the old fireplace and said, “Father, you must change your clothes. It isn’t healthy to sit around in clothes so long, even if they are not so dirty, and Rowena says she would rather wash every week than every two weeks for you. They wash so much harder by wearing them so long. (There was but 25 years between Father’s and Grandfather’s ages, and Father was about as white as Grandpa.) Grandpa raised himself up, looked at Father and said, “Tommie, I’ll let you  know I am your Father yet , even if  you are white-headed.” And neither shall I forget the look on Father’s face, He straightened up, book in hand, looked over his glasses at the door from whence he came and started for it – like a little boy the calf ran over – hadn’t a word to say and Victory  perched on Grandpa’s Flag, at least until Mary came, which was the next morning. Mary went at him with her best  arguments and Rowena joined in, but for the first time they both failed. Grandpa knew one washing wasn’t as hard as two, and even Mary and Rowena needn’t  tell him that. Mother says, “Well Grandpa, it’s been a long time since I have had a baby, and if I’ve got to take one in my old days, why here I go,” and she threw him on the bed and commenced stripping him. Grandpa said, “Ah, Mary, there’s no getting away with you nohow, I’ll change. You are a devil anyhow.” Mother sat down and cried. Grandpa changed his clothing, went and sat  down in his place close to Mother’s. He tried to twirl his thumbs and hum a tune  and pat his foot and let on the war was over. But those thumbs wouldn’t  twirl; his foot didn’t work right; and the tune didn’t fit the meter, and he couldn’t help but watch Mary cry. Finally he got up, stepped over to Mary, leaned down and put his hand on her head and said, “Mary, honey, did I hurt your feelings?” “Yes you did Grandpa – to think what I have done for you and be called a devil for pay, hurts me.” It didn’t take Grandpa long to set Mother all right. War was over, and no more trouble on that score as long as he lived. Grandpa was always willing to do anything for Mary and Rowena, This was the hardest round I ever knew them to have, and it was meant for kindness by both or all three, and Father thrown in.

Grandpa was a soldier in the War of 1812, and so like many in that day he could not read or write. The paymaster took advantage of that and had a number of them sign a receipt (or his mark) that they were paid, telling them that went into the Government that their money would come. But being a receipt for their pay, he drew it and kept it, meaning to leave the country before he got into trouble, but was taken sick and died within three weeks – and the boys, soldiers, did not get their pay. I do not remember the year, but believe he was near 90 when the soldiers were pensioned, if they were so fortunate as to have lived that long. He went to Osceola, Iowa, and employed Billy Wilson, an attorney, to look after it for him. They kept sending for him to tell a thousand impossible lies, wanting the signatures of men who had been dead 50 or more years, and all such red tape, the old man got his Virginia blood up and asked us to write a letter for his attorney to send to Washington. I would give considerable to have a copy of the letter that he dictated. I will give the words as best I can from memory: He told them he had served his country to the best of his ability; that his paymaster beat them out of his pay and he never got a cent. Now he had lived all these years without any pay. He wrote – “And now you ask me for the signatures of men who have been dead for 50 years or more – my Captain and Chaplin who died shortly after the war, and I don’t know of one comrade living. I have furnished you evidence. I am William Harding and the records at Washington will show my birth and age, agreeing with what I have sworn to, and have given you sworn statements, and witnesses that I am the man that answers to this old Family Bible record. And now, if the Government Can live with my pay and pension I can finish up the few years I have left without it, and I am done with it. I will not go to anymore trouble or have anything to do with it. I am done.” He dictated the letter and had it sent to his attorney, Billy Wilson, and he fired it into Washington – I think to our Congressman – and in a short time here came his pension. It had run so long it amounted to $155.00 before it came. I was talking to him about it  and he said he would never get anything. I asked him what he would take for the chance. “One dollar, Levious, - yes, give me a dollar and you can have what I get.” I gave it to him and he held it in his hand and said, “Now, Levious, is it right for me to take this dollar? You’ll never get anything.” I said, I’ll risk it , Grandpa, that’s all right.” “Well, he said, “maybe it is, if you get anything, but I don’t think you will.” I knew it had come and was waiting for some of us to go after it – an eleven mile journey then. When it came I counted it out to him on his knee. “There it is Grandpa,” wondering if he would say any thing about its being mine. He gathered it up in his hand , shook it and said, “Well Levious, there’s the first cent I ever got for my services, I worked pretty hard for it but it’s yours – you bought it”. “No, no, Grandpa, I won’t take it “. “Yes,” he says, “A bargain is a bargain. I never went back on my word in all these years and I am not going to commence now – it’s yours”. And he handed it to me, I told him I knew it had come before I bought it. Then his countenance changed and he said, “Ah, well, Levious, it wasn’t a fair bargain then, so it’s mine”. But he did not forget my dollar. The next thing was what to do with his money. After studying it over several days he couldn’t think of anything but Mary and Rowena, they could use a new dress each and himself a soft pair of shoes. So Father was going to Charlton [Chariton], Iowa, for some family supplies and to pay taxes, etc., and Grandpa was going along – 17 miles, an all day job. So that morning we ate breakfast by candlelight and off they went. About 10 p.m. they got back, and for Rowena’s whit dress he had whit bleached muslin, and when Mary told him what it was he was going to walk to Charlton alone and tell that merchant what he thought of him, and if he did not make it right he would teach him a lesson with his cane. Mother told him she would give him the money for it as she had plenty of use for it, and he could get Rowena’s dress some other time. So it was fixed up that they would go to Osceola soon and get it there. They didn’t want Grandpa to see that Charlton merchant, because Grandpa had told him he wanted the finest white truck  he had in the store, and to serve him that trick must be settled for. The Osceola trip was a success. Rowena had the best whit dress that could be bought in Osceola, and Grandpa had quite a roll left and didn’t know what to do with it. Finally he turned it over to Mary to keep for for him, with instructions to want for nothing as long as it lasted, and that there would be more coming in before she and Rowena would want another dress – “or me a soft pair of shoes”.

To tell all I remember about Grandpa would make quite a book. I just give you some of the stories to let you know something about your Great Grandpa, who was, up one side and down the other, a good man. Very “set in his ways”; when William thought he was right. Stood his ground and yielded nothing when he thought he was right. I told you he was a cooper. He had worked up enough oak trees to know what an oak tree was by looking at it. In his day a cooper took the tree whole, sawed staves, reefed out with a frow and a one-handed mall; split out whatever he wanted, from a nogan to a hogshead (a large barrel, equal to 3 to 6 barrels). He would reef out the staves so straight and  even that they needed little but slight shaving with a draw knife on the “horse”, a machine to hoed the staves.

Grandpa, in addition to his prairie land, had ten acres of timber, and there was one very large oak tree that he saved and watched for years. Finally he went down to look at it and  “build castles in the air” about how much more it was worth each year it grew, and when he would cut it, etc., and it was gone! That tree was worth $500 to him and some thief had stolen it. “Huh! Can it be possible anybody would do such a thing?” He would make it a very dear tree to them if he find who had cut it down. He walked and talked and offered a reward for the one who stole it. He went to the small sawmill to fine who had brought the biggest  and finest oak tree there, but all in vain. No one would tell him if they knew as they did not know what Grandpa might do. There was a young married man living half a mile north of us by the name of Milt Ashpa. He and his wife both thought Grandpa was the best ever, and there was no love lost, for Grandpa thought “Brother and Sister Ashpa” were not to be beat. He would go over and they would keep him two or three days. After supper they would give Grandpa the big armchair. They would take a seat on either side, facing him, so each could talk in his ear and get Grandpa started on the stories of “when I was young”. There were three happy people.

There was another too, an old man, who lived one and a fourth miles west of us by the name of Bartlett Burrows. He was larger than Grandpa, and some years younger. (The two oldest men in the county.) Mr. Burrows owned ten acres of timber joining Grandpa, and Milt Ashpa told Grandpa that Bartlett Burrows stole his tree. “Brother Ashpa, you don’t tell me!” “Well, I shall see Brother Burrows right now”, and away he goes to settle with Brother Burrows who happened to be standing out at his gate when Grandpa was within a Quarter of a mile of him. He looked at the man coming down the road and thought he looked like Grandpa, but his cane was going in the air and he was stepping as spry as a man going to get married. (And here I was down to see Grandpa the day before yesterday and he had such a pain in his back he “reckoned” he never would get out anymore.) The closer he came, the more sure, he was that it was Grandpa Harding, so he stood there until he turned to come to him. “I knew something was wrong. He came up, tapped me on the head with his cane hard enough to let me know he was there and said, ‘What did you steal my tree for?’ “Why”, said Mr. Burrows, “I didn’t steal a tree from you.” (I got Mr. Burrows’ story of this from Mr. Burrows himself.) He said he began to put more space between himself and the fence and Grandpa. Mr. Burrows said, “I backed out, begging him to tell me who told him I stole his tree.” “Milt Ashpa told me,” said Grandpa. “Why, Grandpa, don’t you know Milt Ashpa told you that just to see us old men fight?” (I am a bit fast. When Mr. Burrows first said he did not steal Grandpa’s tree, Grandpa said, “You are a liar and the father of a liar. Just come outside of that fence!”) Then, Mr. Burrows said, “Don’t you know that Will Ashpa is as full of mischief as his hide will hold and he said that just to get us two old men to fight? If I stole your tree I would pay you ten times for it. Grandpa! I wouldn’t steal anything from you. I’ll bet Milt is watching us right now to wee the fun.” Mr. Burrows said Grandpa’s face changed color and he said, “Do you reckon so Brother Burrows?” “Why, of course he did, Why, Grandpa, you ought to know I wouldn’t  steal anything from you. Now come in and sit down and let us talk about it.” “No ! I shall see Brother Ashpa at once”, replied Grandpa an he wheeled and away he went. Mr. Burrows said he was too glad to see him go to say anymore, and he thought the fence saved him from getting a caning. And Milt was doing just what Mr. Burrows told Grandpa – watching the fun. When he saw Grandpa starting back Milton took through the corn field for home and told his wife to tell Grandpa he came home form his house and went to the timber and would not be back till late – that he wanted to cut some logs. He slipped out to the barn, hitched up and flew. Grandpa stayed all night to see Brother Ashpa, but Milt skipped out in the morning before Grandpa was up. Grandpa tried hard and long to see Brother Ashpa, but Brother Ashpa would not let him. Finally, Milt came over after Grandpa cooled off and stuck his head in the window close to where Mother and Grandpa sat, and called to him, “Grandpa, Old Bart Burrows did steal your tree”. Grandpa said, “you devil, come in here”. “Oh, no! Milt says, “I haven’t time today, Grandpa, but say, you come over – Jennie wants to see you and so do I. Stay two or three days – yes, a month. Good-bye Grandpa, come over”. Over Grandpa went that afternoon, and Milt and his wife fixed Grandpa all right – kept him for several days. Grandpa was an entertainer. He could give you his whole life up to near 90; after that his memory of the ‘young days’ remained, but what happened last week did not concern him enough to remember it. But everything in “his time”, political, religious and social, he had indelibly fixed in his memory.

To know him was to love him, and children everywhere fairly worshipped him. The day he was 90 we had a big dinner, I cannot recall how many generations were there – and there were neighbors’ children. We went down to the creek, cut the longest switches we could find, marched up to the house and ordered him out to run the gauntlet. We formed two lines around the house. He was to run through between them. He came to the door and said, “Huh! Why, you will kill me!” All he got did not hurt him, but the children had great fun, and the old one in his second childhood was one of them.

I have many times seen men who used tobacco pull out their plug to take a chew shake it, look at it and say, “I’d give the world if I could quit this ‘stuff’.” I will show you how easy it was for Grandpa , when he had used it ever since he was so young that ;Memory had not chalked it down. His father was a ‘tobacconist’ and he crawled about it and learned to eat it when a very young child. But when he was 84 years old, his native Virginia pride was aroused as he was primping before the glass to go see Mother Abrams, 78 years old, and was looking at his white beard stained with tobacco – a streak from each corner of his mouth. It did not look good, he thought, and took out his plug of tobacco and threw it into Mother’s lap and said, “There, Mary, you can keep that – I am not going to have those streaks of amber in my white whiskers.” “All right , Grandpa, I’ll keep it for,” said Mother, “but it won’t be long before you’ll call for it.” “Maybe longer than you think, Mary,” he said. ”My beard must be white, without the stains.” He lived about 14 years after and never called for his plug. The fact is, when a man wants to quit the least little bit more than he wants to follow any habit, the deed is done. The only trouble is to bring yourself to the point that you really want to quit. I used to smoke and chew too – fifty cents a day for tobacco, and it made me nervous. I propose to be ‘Boss’ of this body while I carry it, and it was, Oh, so easy to quit. I was ready to quit even before I began the job.

Well, Grandpa and Mother Abrams got to ‘buzzing’ like human beings will. Do you know, he would tike his hat and cane after primping and brushing up, and away he would go to Mother Abrams’.  The boys – her two baby boys were twins. Their father died and they ran the farm and took care of ‘Mother’. Of course they were men then, and always made so much of  Grandpa, he would sometimes stay there for days. While the boys were out working the farm, the old folks would ‘buzz’ and just how they did I don’t know, neither does anyone else except God, so I am without further information on that point. True, Grandpa would tell Mary how he would weed the garden and churn while Mother Abrams did other things, and that they got along “at the top of the pot”. One day Grandpa asked Tommy and Mary to sit down – he had something to tell them. He asked them what they thought of him and Mother Abrams getting married. They discouraged him and he said, “Well, maybe it’s better to let it go as it is – friends only”. So they did. Two years after, Mother Abrams died, and Grandpa was glad he mourned the loss as a friend and not as a wife, and that he did not change his home.

I did not tell you about his getting drunk on his wedding day. On the morning of his wedding he had to go ten miles for his license. He got several friends to go with him, all on horseback. At that time every grocery sold both hard and soft drinks, and there was a grocery at about every crossroad, and the boys with him got the grocer to put whiskey in his cider. Grandpa did not suspicion anything wrong until he got so much it nearly ‘knocked’ him. Perhaps you don’t know that whiskey and cider mixed is a ‘coming’ drink – keeps coming. He said, “When I got in sight of Betsy’s house I straightened up and felt of myself and I was getting drunk.  They put the horses into the barn and I slipped up in the loft.  The boys went to the house and told Betsy what they had done, and that William had got too much.  Betsy knew me and said, “Where is he?” They came out and found me hid in the hay.  They got me to the house.  Betsy says, “It’s too bad, William” and got a pan of cold water for me to bathe my face and head, so I did, and when I went to the glass to comb my hair I couldn’t part it good – there were two parts.  Betsy ran away for a minute and I slipped into the old Negro cook’s room, lay down on the bed and went to sleep.  I knew that would be the last place they would go look for me, so I felt quite safe.  But here was Betsy ready, dinner ready, the Parson ready and I drunk and hid away, but it was done and could not be helped then. So they put off the wedding till supper time- had to, as they couldn’t find me.  About three o’clock the old Negro cook came into her room for something, and there I was, on her bed asleep.  She hollered out – “De Lordie Godie Mighty, here’s Massa William!  Here’s Massa William! They got me out and I was drunker than when I lay down. But here came Betsy, got me into the kitchen and a pan of water again, and went out for something. I flew out the back door and into the back yard.  Her father was cleaning up four acres of brush piles and had it piled ready to burn.  I crawled into one of those brush piles and went to sleep and the old Negro cook found me about five o’clock and Betsy says “I won’t leave you no more, William!”  They got supper and called for Betsy and me to come out.  I don’t know where it was done on purpose or not, but when Betsy and I got to the door of the front room the old arm chair with a high back was near the middle of that chair, and with Betsy on one side and the old arm chair on the other I stood up and the Parson married us.  We got down to the table, of course the Bride and Groom were waited on first.  The first thing I did was to upset my plate with its load into my lap, then that muss was to be cleaned up.  But that seemed to sober me and we got along good after that, and it wasn’t late when Betsy and I went to bed.   Next morning I put her on a horse and took her home.  Had the cage all ready for the Bird.  Took her in.  Now, said I, Betsy, you take care of the inside and I will take care of the outside – and Betsy and I always lived “at the top of the Pot!!”  I could go on and on telling stories – but why?  I don’t suppose you think you are getting pay for the time you are reading them.   But to let you see how much Grandpa thought of me when I was a boy, I’ll tell you this:

Mother and Father were away from and I, boy-like, thought it my religious duty to make Grandpa vacate too – then I would be “Master of all I surveyed,” so I did.  He went over to Uncle Davy Danner’s a half mile east, and when anybody in the neighborhood was talking to him about Father’s family they would say, “What are they doing over at Tommy’s?” or, “How are they over at Tommies?” etc.   So Uncle Davy said to Grandpa, “How are all over at Tommy’s?”  “Well enough, Brother Dan(as he always called him) – well enough, but that Levious – Brother Dan, do you know what I would do with that boy if he were mine?”  “Yes, I do – of course I do, Grandpa, you would be good to him, of course.”  “Yes, I would be good to him! I would tie a rope around his two big toes and the other end to the tail of the wildest horse I could find and turn them loose on the prairie and set the dogs on them – that’s the way I would be good to him!”

I can’t forget how I used to plan that when I got to be a man I would tan his hide for him – but when I got big all I blamed Grandpa for was that he hadn’t killed me long ago.  If I had not lived or he either until I was big enough to know what a Grandpa was, our recollections of each other would not have been very pleasing of each other, or affectionate.  But I did live.  I was twenty-three when he died, and I would walk as far and dive as deep to see Grandpa as any man on earth, and I am not sure Grandpa did not make his first call to see me after he died.  He died at 9 a.m.  I was working in Osceola, Iowa, ten miles from home.  It was Court week and the landlord told me if I would sleep in the third story with his son Frank, it would be quite an accommodation to have my room and that it would not cost me anything as he could get two dollars a day for my room during Court week.   I did as he asked me, and on Sunday morning I generally lay abed until just time for dinner.  The bed Frank and I had was located back beside the banister around the stairway – come upstairs, turn to left and right straight back about six or eight feet, and there was our bed.  Grandpa came up those steps, turned around and walked back to my beside and said, “Hello, Levious, in bed yet?”  Never heard Grandpa’s steps or saw him any plainer  or heard his voice plainer than that at that time.  It was 9:10, and I was so wide awake I couldn’t sleep anymore and I got up.  All day my mind was on Grandpa.  There were no telephones then.  Next morning about ten o’clock, Dan Randolph came in the shop where I was working, “Grandpa is dead, isn’t he?”  “Yes,” he says, “and I came up to get a coffin.  Who told you he was dead?”  “Grandpa came to see me yesterday morning,” I said.  “At what time?” he asked.  I said “9.10.”  “Well,” he said, he died at 9 yesterday morning, so they told me.”  Dan (brother-in-law) lived in town and Grandpa died out home on the farm, a mile and a half.  Time pieces may vary some, but it would seem that Grandpa lost no time in looking up Levious.

Now the story of his death:  I was not home as you can see – about twelve miles away, but I got this from Mother:  He lived just like a machine until some part wore out or broke – that happened to be his kidneys.  They failed to carry the urine and it circulated in the blood and caused death in about 24 hours.  He wanted to get up and sit by the fireplace.  Mother went to help him dress. “Oh, no, “he said, May, I help myself yet.”  He put on his pants, slipped his feet into his slippers, through his coat over his shoulders and went and sat down by the fire.   Mother said he sat there talking to her for about a half an hour.  “Well,” he said, “I must lie down and this is the last time.”  Mother said that when he sat down on the side of the bed he had dropped his pants and was going to pull them off – and Mother grabbed a leg of his pants with each hand and pulled them off; grabbed each of his ankles with her hands and turned him around into bed and began to cover him.  As she finished covering him he muttered something and she asked him what it was and stooped to catch it, but he was gone. 

Now I am not short of material to write, but I am tired of writing, and I will gather up the remainder of those old letters, put them in the old Bible and “fire” them sometime, I think this week.  (“Fire” meaning he would send them.)

Uncle Leb

William Harding
– born May 29th, 1777
-born May 25th, 1852
- died Jan 3, 1874   
-died April 28th, 1931

Editors note - Barclay Burrows was a supervisor of Jackson twp. several times.

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