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My Hometown, Gekelemukpechunk

By D.B. MOORE Contributor, NCTnews Published: April 5, 2017 12:00 AM
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#13 --Sorrel Billy, Tom Watkins, and Ol' Man Smith

 

Captain Ad Miller was a veteran "Canaller." His wife had been dead many years and he had for a housekeeper/cook, Mag Simpkins, who also would take her turn at the tiller whenever the captain had to leave his post.

The captain had one son, Warren, who in early childhood was unfortunate in that he swallowed a piece of egg shell which lodged in his windpipe. Surgery was necessary, and in those days it was quite crude. The operation consisted of cutting his windpipe to remove the shell. The operation was a success, but it left Warren with a very husky voice, making it hard to understand him at times.

Warren did not like canal life but he did like horses and that was very understandable, as his father was a lover of fast horses all his life. The captain bought Warren a few old plugs of horses and Warren started training and driving them at the county fairs. Once in a while, he would finish in the money, and I tell you it was exciting to see Warren driving a race. The "sulkeys" in those days were five-foot-high wooden-wheel affairs; very cumbersome and heavy compared to the present "Bikes," which weigh only thirty-five pounds. When Warren would be coming down the home stretch, yelling at his horse with that lion's roar voice and using the whip copiously, it really was something!

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On one of the captain's trips north, he heard of an ungainly colt called "Sorrel Billy." He looked the colt over, purchased him for almost nothing, and turned him over to Warren to train. From almost the beginning, the colt proved that he would be a good racer and soon was recognized as one of the fastest racers in Ohio and Warren was winning plenty of purses.

The captain thought so much of this horse, that when he (the captain) died in 1901, he made a provision in his will that there should be a bronze statue of "Sorrel Billy" made and placed on top of his tombstone. This was done and today, if you visit the cemetery on West Street, you will see the statue of "Sorrel Billy." A bronze figure about twenty inches long by a foot high standing proudly on the monument.

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Tom Watkins, a colored man, had a barbershop on Main Street about where the Egler Bakery is located. In those days, there were no screen doors and Main Street was lined with hitching racks for the horses, so you can imagine how bad the flies were in the summertime.

Tom had arranged a contrivance in the shop, both to keep the flies away from his customers and to provide a little air circulation. It consisted of a two-bladed fan fastened to the ceiling with a belt running to the back room where his son Dallas sat astride of a frame similar to our bicycle frames of today. The belt from the fan ran around a wheel probably two feet in diameter. The more Dallas sat there and pumped, the faster the fan went, but it was not a very pleasant job on a hot day.

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Tom was also a practical joker. I remember my father going to the shop one hot afternoon to get shaved. Tom had father all lathered ready to shave, however, before he started, he dipped the razor in some ice water and drew the back of the razor across father's throat. Dad was sure that his throat was cut and he yelled. Tom thought it was a good joke, but Father was not so sure.

The barber was a great fisherman and on Sunday mornings you would see him going to the river with a long cane pole and a can of worms. However, his fishing backfired on him one morning. He came down the road past our house with his pole over his shoulder and the other hand very carefully holding the hook that had gone entirely through his lower lip. He was on his way to get the hook cut out. I'll bet that was the biggest thing he ever caught, and why he did not cut the line loose from the hook I'll never know.

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Smith and Dickenson had a general store on the corner of Bridge and Main Streets (where the Baltimore Clothing store is now located), the first floor being devoted to the store, while the second floor was a grain elevator from which they loaded canal boats with grain. There was a small basin just back of the store, where the boats would tie up to take on their loads. The store had a full supply of goods, from needles and pins to dress goods, also a full line of groceries.

One morning, an eccentric old gentleman whose name was "Jockey" Thompson came in and purchased a half-dozen eggs from Mr. Dickenson. His eccentricity was that whatever small purchase he made, he would put it in his "plug hat" and put it back on his head. He disposed of his eggs in this manner and went back to join the customary crowd of loafers gathered around the big pot-bellied stove. The men were mostly tobacco-chewers. So rather than have them spit on the stove, a few small boxes filled with sawdust were placed strategically for their use. The management had also put up a sign saying, "IF YOU EXPECT TO RATE AS A GENTLEMAN, YOU WILL NOT EXPECTORATE ON THE STOVE OR FLOOR." Some of the old boys could score a bull's-eye at a distance of six feet.

Mr. Smith, also a practical joker, had noticed where the old man had stowed his eggs. After "Jockey" had got comfortably settled, he walked back and hit him a good wallop on top of this hat, driving it down over his ears and breaking all the eggs. The poor old man must have been a funny sight with the eggs running down over his face into his beard.

All the old fellow did was to look up pathetically at Mr. Smith and say, "Garrett, I'll never forgive you for this."

A few years later Mr. Smith retired from the store and he and his wife, Elmira, lived in the home which had originally belonged to her father, Colonel Nugent. The home (located at the corner of what is now Pilling and State Streets) and about a hundred acres of land had been left to her in her father's will. In fact, part of the original home has been moved onto State Street and serves as a filling station operated by Mr. Bliss. The original home was a large one, having many rooms and porches, sitting back quite away from either street.

It's a good thing that the house was large, as there was a large family consisting of six children, Robert, Howard, Jennie, Sarah, Christine, and Jessie.

Mr. Smith kept a few cows and it was his duty to drive them to and from the pasture fields across the canal morning and evening. It was also my task to drive our cows along the same road to the fields.

One hot summer morning our cows happened to meet at the crossroads intersection and the usual hooking and bumping ensued. Mr. Smith, disgusted, ran up and took a mighty kick at a cow. Unluckily, he missed her. His other foot went out from under him and he sat down in the dusty road. The dust rose around him in a cloud and I laughed. I knew that I should not but it was funny and I really laughed long and loud. My laughing did not particularly please the old gentleman. so he got to his feet, jumped up in the air, cracked his heels together and said, "By Gad, sir, I can do it again!" He ran up and kicked a poor old cow in the ribs who was not even in the fighting. His vanity satisfied, we drove the cows on the pasture field without any more trouble.

Mr. Smith was an excellent story teller. Many a winter evening he would come up to our house and spend the evening, sitting in his favorite chair (a straight-backed one which I believe in these modern days is called a "Captain's chair"), with my mother, father, my sister Anne, and I all gathered around in front of the large open fireplace enjoying his tales of the early days in Newcomerstown.

One which he told was in regard to the early horse races. Practically every Saturday, young fellows would race their horses from Wolf Station to the Globe Hotel in Newcomerstown; a distance of about four miles. On this particular Saturday, a young man came riding up to the hotel, the winner. When he dismounted he said, "There has been a bad accident up the road. Was anybody killed but me?"

His favorite story, however, was the killing of the postboy, so-called because he carried the mail from Cadiz to Coshocton on horseback, having the mail in two saddle pouches.

The killing occurred on what was then known as the Cadiz Pike, a road leading from Cadiz to Coshocton south of Newcomerstown about four miles. On this morning, the postboy was shot from an ambush, killing him instantly.

The sheriff, after a thorough search, arrested on suspicion a man from that neighborhood, who admitted that he had been hunting in that vicinity on the morning of the murder but who denied the shooting. His story was that he had heard the shot and then saw a man emerge from the underbrush and approach the dead man. Also, said he could identify the killer if he saw him.

The sheriff, half-believing the accused's story, ordered that all able-bodied men from Newcomerstown and the vicinity of the murder appear at the Tuscarawas County jail and pass in single file before the accused man's cell, thus giving him an opportunity to identify the killer. It was winter, and the only means of transportation was by sled. Many had passed the poor man's cell but he had been unable to identify the killer.

The last load of men was preparing to leave for the jail. There was room for one more and someone asked a man by the name of James Funston to go along. Funston swore that he had no business at the jail but after a few drinks and with the insistence of some of the men, he decided to go. Upon reaching the jail, the men filed one by one past the accused man's cell. Funston was the last in line and when he got opposite the cell the accused man cried out, "There is the man!" Funston very profanely denied the accusation but the prisoner said to the sheriff, "Seize that man and pull back his right coat sleeve. See if there is not a long scar extending from the back of his hand to his wrist."

The sheriff and his deputies did as requested and sure enough, there was the scar. The prisoner then explained that when Funston came out of the underbrush he had his rifle on his right shoulder and that his coat sleeve was pulled back, exposing the scar.

The innocent man was freed and Funston placed in jail. He confessed the murder and was tried for murder in the first degree. He was convicted and hung in the courthouse yard. This was the only execution in Tuscarawas County. His body was claimed by his relatives and was buried about three miles east of Newcomerstown in a hollow, just north of U.S. 36 and 16. After the body was placed in the grave, the grave was filled with heavy stones and two large trees were felled across it. This was done to keep grave robbers from exhuming the body and selling it to some medical school for dissection.

The Funston family lived in what was known as Stark Patent, one of several squatter families living there. When my grandfather Pilling would run short of logs for his sawmill, he would shoulder a three-gallon keg of whiskey and go up and make a deal for so many logs for the whiskey. The logs would be cut and floated down the Tuscarawas River to the saw mill.

Stark Patent was a large tract of land about three miles east of Newcomerstown, named for General Stark of Revolutionary War fame, who was given this tract of land as payment for his services in that war.

Next week's story: Street Names. Oxen named Buck and Berry. Ol' Rankin Frame. Stories are reprinted from a series is stories by former NCTnews contributor, D.B. Moore. The historic tales are from Moore's book, My Hometown, Gekelemukpechunk. The book is a collection of true stories that Moore recalled from growing up in Newcomerstown.


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