Friday, July 07, 2006

My Quackenbush – part 1

by Tom Gaylord

Although my family was from New York where I was born, I grew up in Mission San Jose in California in the 1880s. The schools were primitive at that time, so I stopped going when I was fifteen, having gone as far as possible in our little community.

California was such a wild place in those early days. There were still plenty of old 49ers around and they would tell you their story (or any story) with little encouragement. I listened to them all, because they were the most interesting entertainment we had. Tales of Joachin Murietta and Black Bart the Po-8, and how they rampaged through the gold fields around Mokalumne and Hangtown. Many of the old gentlemen were inveterate liars, having only recently arrived in the territory and therefore knowing as little as I did, but every once in awhile I got to meet the real thing. Some crusty old hardtack panner who had lived through the days of the famous gold rush. The stories they told made the impostors worth the trouble.

My family started a small orchard of plum and pear trees just outside of town. We bought 160 acres from a Mr. Campbell, who told us the land was ideal for fruit trees, and, indeed it was. Of course you don't start picking fruit from first year trees, so we also planted an acre of strawberries, which can be picked as early as the second year. We also raised several vegetable crops like lettuce, corn, squash and beans. It was those crops that sustained us those first few years while the orchard grew.

I was the general farmhand of the place. I had two younger brothers and a sister, and together the four of us worked on that farm as hard as the draft animals. But it wasn't all work. My father knew what it took to raise more than just crops, and he had us kids doing things we liked to do along with the rest of the chores.

My brother Bobby was the family fisherman and my special job was pest eliminator. I had to get rid of the thieving pigeons and rats that threatened our corn crib. For the job, I got to use a Quackenbush air rifle, perhaps the only one of its kind in the territory. Father had bought it in Herkimer before we left, and he said it was a good investment, since cartridges cost so much in California.

I could drop a rat from twenty feet away with that gun. All it took was a head shot. Sometimes they weren't completely dead when I got to them, but I dispatched them as quickly as I could.

The pigeons were a different story. They could take a direct shot and fly away as if nothing had happened. They were always a little farther than the rats, because of the way the place was laid out, but I still would have figured that a bird would have gone down before a rat!



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