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The Life of John W. Johnson
Chapter 4
Beyond the Forest - 1847 to 1848

Transcribed - June 1998 - by Ne-Do-Ba

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The man that I come to Boston with was a fast young man, who looked upon money in no higher light than what habits or passions it might gratify; and as I had not accustomed myself to many of the habits which a large portion of the Indians and which my associate had, he was not a very congenial companion. We boarded together, and our things were packed together. We had been in Boston but a short time, when the young man finding that he had some moneys and that he was doing pretty well, thought he must have a little enjoyment, therefore one day he hired a team, and taking a lady with him, went to ride out to Roxbury. But having imbibed too freely of "firewater" to manage the horse with skill, he drove him into a carriage, which frightened the animal, and he started off at a fearful rate, but the carriage striking a team, it was overturned, and the occupants thrown out. The horse, disengaging himself from the vehicle, ran back to the stable, whilst the lady was carried home in a hack. I was acquainted with the hackman that carried the lady home, and meeting him upon the street, he told me the circumstance, and finding that the carriage and the horse were both damaged, and that the young man would have quite a bill to settle, I hurried to my boarding-house and selecting out my share of the baskets, and settling my bill at the boarding house, I went to New Bedford, Mass. I did not start any too soon, for an officer came as soon as I left, and carried away the remaining articles belonging to the young man.

I stopped at New Bedford a few days, and sold some of my baskets, and then went to Fall River, Mass., and from there to Providence, R. I., where I stopped about a week, and then went to New York, where I disposed of the balance of my stock. The quill boxes that I carried would pack very snug, one inside of another, so that I had some five or six hundred dollars' worth of goods, about three-quarters of which amount was my own.

[1847 to 1848]
From New York I took the steamer for Halifax, having been gone about two months. I stopped at Halifax, N. S., a few months, and then as Tomah and his family had a great amount of fancy work, some twenty of us left for New York arriving there about the first of August. In New York we hired a tenement, as there were quite a number of us, and leaving the children at home, the older ones went out and sold baskets and boxes. We sold out about one-half of our stock while here, and purchasing four horses and two large express wagons, we packed up our goods, and started for Philadelphia, Penn., camping out as we went along. After arriving there we bought some cloth and made us some tents, and after securing a place, we set them up, and some of us manufactured baskets, while others sold them. This was the first time that I had lived in a cloth tent, and I found it much inferior to the other tents that I had lived in, for when it rained hard, the water would soak through, making it very uncomfortable. We stopped here about three months, manufacturing and selling baskets, and then we started for Springfield, Mass., camping out upon the sides of the road as we went along. At Springfield we camped out all winter in a place called "Pine Woods," where we built a shed for our horses, and put up our cloth tents, boarding them up at the sides, which made them quite comfortable.

We made and sold many baskets while here, and in the spring we went to Bristol, R. I., remaining there two weeks, and then went to Newport R. I. where we stopped all the summer. As this is a great summer resort, we did very well, making fancy baskets and other small articles, and disposing of them to the boarders at the taverns. The Indian boys here also made many an "honest penny" by shooting at money. We next went to New Bedford, Mass., where we put up our tent, and stopped all the summer pursuing our usual routine of business. We camped near the depot while here, and were troubled exceedingly with drunken sailors, who would come to our tent with the intention of provoking us, and getting into a quarrel, but we did not while here get into any trouble with them. We went next to Roxbury, Mass., camping back of the Catholic Church, by the consent of the priest, who are generally pretty accommodating to the Indians, knowing that they are mostly Catholics, and that they can pick considerable money out of them. We stopped here but two weeks, as we were troubled by the Irish so such that we could not eat or sleep, as our tents were surrounded by quite a number of them at all times, and we then moved to Boston, and pitched our tent upon the Common, where we sold many baskets, and made something shooting at money. We next went to Lowell, Mass., and camped on "Pine Hill," where we made up a great many baskets. While here we were troubled greatly with Irish. Very often they would cut our tents, and in various ways endeavor to provoke a quarrel.

In the fall we went to Boston, and hired a house in Endicott St., where we stopped all the winter, Tomah practicing medicine, and others making baskets and selling. The company did well while here, and made considerable money, but as for myself, I fared rather poorly, for when Tomah and his family left Halifax for New York, I lent them what money I had, as the fares for the company with their bill for baggage amounted to some five or six hundred dollars. I did not have very good clothes, and no spending money, although I had to work quite hard in making and selling baskets.

Whilst brooding over my hard life one day as I was passing down Washington St., I met an Indian who accosted me, and asked me if I had ever traveled with a company giving entertainments. I told him I had never traveled with any company, but had often danced for the amusement of the people. He said that he would give me a chance, and would pay my fare to New York, where we should hear in regard to the rest of the company. Thinking that I could better my condition, I left Tomah without his knowledge, leaving what things I had behind, and went to New York, in company with the Indian called Frank Loring. When we arrived at New York, Loring found a letter for him there from Oldtown, Me., where he had written to obtain some actors. He received word that there were some Indians belonging to a company that had just arrived there, and that if he wished to secure them, he had better come immediately.

We therefore both started for Oldtown, and arriving there saw the Indians and procured their services, and also secured some dresses and outfit. We also purchased a couple of young bears, that were put under my care; they were about a year old, and were pretty tame. They were put in a car for Bangor, and after arriving there, were put on the top of a load of goods to carry to the boat bound for Boston. They were fastened upon the top of the goods by a chain, fastened to a collar that went around their necks, and the end of the chain fastened to the load. One of these bears was very uneasy, and would jump from the top of the load and hang by the neck, which was exceedingly provoking. I got somewhat displeased with his proceedings, as I had put him back a number of times, and I therefore took him into the road and gave him one or two good kicks, which made him growl rather fiercely. There was a gentleman passing at that time, who was somewhat afraid of "Bruin," and he said that I had better be careful. I turned to speak to the person, and as soon as my back was toward the bear he struck with his paw, tearing my pants, and scratching my leg rather badly. I put the bear on the load again, and hurried to the boat, where I attended to my wound which was not so bad as I at first anticipated, although one of my moccasins was nearly full of blood.

These two bears were unlike each other in their dispositions; one, the male, was very kind and gentle, and behaved with great credit to himself; the other was just the contrary; when whipped she would crouch at my feet and appeared very penitent, but the moment my back was turned, she would bound savagely at me, and endeavor to strike with her paws, but I was very careful to be beyond her reach before I turned my back upon her. I had the control of these two bears, and after taking the care of them a short time, they would allow no one else to come near, and quite a friendly feeling sprang up between us, especially between the male and myself, as he was exceedingly fond of me. The female never got over her snappishness, and whenever near her, I had to be on the alert, for the instant that my eye was off from her she would strike with her paw.

As soon as we arrived at New York, we commenced to travel. The proprietor's name was Horn, and Loring acted as agent for the company, there being twelve of us in number. Our tent would accommodate some three thousand, having a stage and curtain at one and, where we performed.

We were performing one day in Wilmington, Del., when our seats broke down, but fortunately not killing any person, nor seriously injuring any, but frightening the hole audience. The moment after the seats broke down the people made a rush towards the stage, intending to mob or frighten us. "Big Frank," as Loring was called, who stood six feet and a half in his stockings had just finished his part in a play wherein he represented an Indian warrior, and therefore was dressed in full costume. When the crash was heard by him he was in the act of taking out some dresses to perform the part of Captain John Smith in the play of Pocahontas. Hearing the tumult, and the noisy crowd crying, "Put them out," he came upon the stage, the rest of the company following him and asked the audience to make a passage for him and the company, to the door. "Big Frank" was finely formed, and of massive proportions, which gave indications of herculean strength, and being painted in Indian style, he looked extremely savage, while the tall black plumes in his head-dress gave him the appearance of being somewhat taller than he really was. The audience were rather awed by his formidable appearance, as he carried a huge sword in his hand. But the crowd behind pressed upon those before them, and thus forced they came pressing madly on around the stage. At this point of the proceedings I came upon the stage, leading my two favorites, one on each side of me. The two bears I led around the sides of the stage, and not being accustomed to have the audience so near, they growled rather savagely, which cowed the front ranks, and they began to fall back. "Big Frank," taking advantage of the falling back of the crowd, sprang upon a seat in front and demanded them to open a passage. The audience swayed to the right and left, and he passed on, followed by the others who were all well armed. As the leader passed on, and the others came along, the audience seemed disposed to gather a little closer, but I followed in the rear, leading my two bears, one on either side, who growled fiercely at the noisy demonstrations. As they did not wish to be embraced by the natives of the forest, as they would be likely to hug rather closer than would be agreeable, they very wisely fell backs and we passed safely out. We reached the street, and as soon as we were out, the audience quickly followed us. The tent was soon cleared out, and we went back and repaired the seats, and, opening the door, we soon had our house full, and gave another entertainment without any trouble.

After traveling with this company a few months, it began to run down, as we, the actors, could not get our pay, the proprietor proposed that we should take stock in the concern. I was to receive two dollars a day and traveling expenses, and as the company was owing me some considerable, I took the young bears, as I was the only one that could take charge of them. The bears were set off to me for forty dollars, and after traveling a short time longer, as I did not get my pay, I took a horse from the concern for seventy dollars.

The company still continued to run down, and having an opportunity to dispose of my bears, I sold them for one hundred and fifty dollars, and my horse for sixty, and then left the company. My bears, which I parted with rather reluctantly, were afterwards sold for a much larger amount, and are now, I believe, with Howe's caravan in England.

I had traveled some through the country, and although there were some pleasant features in this kind of life, yet the persons that made up the company, and make up most of these traveling companies, were ones who indulged more or less in intoxicating drinks, and were, therefore, not the person that I should have chosen for companions. I had not been accustomed to indulge in this habit, and, therefore, as I did not join in all of the "frolics" that they had, I was set down as a mean follow, and looked upon in a rather contemptuous light by them. I was therefore glad when an opportunity presented itself for me to take myself out of the way, although there were some noblehearted, generous persons among them, with whom I have passed many a pleasant hour.

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