February 12, 2004

Anecdotes of Dryden Village

I'm not sure these anecdotes are as funny as George Goodrich seems to think they are, but I suspect that humor's changed a bit since 1898. The "swear your fill" one does makes me smile.

Chapter XXVII

Anecdotes of Dryden Village

It was the privilege of the writer some years ago to spend an evening in a small company of former Dryden men at Fargo, North Dakota, with John Benton, formerly sheriff of Cortland county, and afterwards for a few years one of the proprietors of the Dryden Hotel as a partner with Peter Mineah. On that evening Mr. Benton entertained the company very agreeably by telling Dryden stories, which he can do to perfection, and after keeping his listeners in convulsions of laughter for an hour, he concluded by saying that there was no place on earth where he had ever been which provided such a fund of anecdotes as Dryden, and among his many excellent characters for humorous stories he placed John Tucker, of Dryden, with his innocent smile and stammering tongue, head and shoulders above all others. If my readers could have listened to the genial ex-sheriff on the evening in question while he was giving his recollections of his sojourn in Dryden village, I think they would readily accede to the truth of his conclusions.

It is designed in this chapter briefly to give a very few samples of some of the true anecdotes which are connected with the history of Dryden village.

The first one concerns Parley Whitmore, who, as we have seen, was the postmaster and justice of the peace located at the "Corners" in pioneer times. Among the numerous attendants at his court upon the occasion were the two McKee brothers, James and Robert, who lived north of the village and who are the ancestors of many of the present inhabitants of Dryden. In some way these two brothers were ery much displeased with with something which occurred before the justice at this time and they had not much ability or disposition to conceal their displeasure. So excited did Jimmy become that in giving vent to his feelings upon the subject he used profane language in the very presence of the court. This could not be tolerated or overlooked, and the justice arraigned the culprit on the spot, imposing a fine of one dollar upon Jimmy for contempt of court. This produced quiet in the court, but the two brothers were more angry than ever, fairly ready to burst with suppressed indignation, when Robert, who had the most money but who was the less fluent in his speech of the two, stepped forward and laid down on the table one dollar in payment of the fine, and started to put up his pocket book; but upon second thought he opened it again, taking out this time a five-dollar bill which he plumped down before the court and turned triumphantly to his brother, saying, "Now, Jimmy, swear your fill."

It was before the same Justice Whitmore that at one time in the early days of Dryden a rather pompous individual whom we will call Mr. T., stepped up in the presence of a crowd of spectators and asked, "'Squire, how much will it cost me to knock down Jim Beam?" Justice Whitmore, who seems to have have had some common sense as well as a knowledge of the rules of justice, answered rather officiously somewhat as follows; "It would be improper, Mr. T., for me to fix in advance the penalty for such an offense, but I will say that in my judgment an attempt on your part to commit the crime which you mention would cost you among other things a good threshing."

As illustrating the state of school discipline in our early times, which we are happy to be able to say has sustained some improvement since then, we relate an incident which occurred in the old schoolhouse on Mill street, which was located where the John Gress house now stands. A "man" teacher was commonly employed in the winter, whose duty it was to train the older boys, many of whom could attend only in the winter season, and lucky indeed was the teacher who was not turned out of the schoolhouse before the first warm days of spring called them back to their work on the farm.

One winter over fifty years Nehemiah Curtis was the name of the teacher, and so faithful had been his work and so gentlemanly his bearing that all the scholars liked him and the last day of school approached without any serious difficulty. In view of the fact it was decided to have some special excercises upon the last day and the scholars on the day before trimmed up the school room with evergreens procured from the woods, which were then not far away. But on the morning in question when the teacher and pupils, dressed in their best apparrel for the occasion, entered the schoolhouse they were met at the door by two cows, one belonging to Abraham Tanner and the other to James Patterson, which had been locked in over night and had browsed and trampled down the trimmings and mussed up the school room generally. The good-natured teacher's high hopes of ending the term prosperously were thus suddenly crushed and he was about to give up in disgust when the better disposed pupils offered to take hold and repair the damage so far as possible and clean out the school room for the exercises, which they did. Of course, no one knew who the guilty culprits were who caused the mischief, although great efforts were made at the time to ascertain, but one of our present peace officers of the town now admits that he then persuaded his "best girl" to falsely represent to his inquiring parents that he spent the evening in question with her in order to shield him from the suspicion of having been among those who introduced the cows into the schoolhouse.

One short story must be told of John Tucker as a sample of his ready wit and stammering tongue, although we cannot undertake to convey to the reader who has not seen it an adequate conception of the innocent smile which lights up his countenance upon these occasions. The incident which we shall attempt to relate has in its repetition been associated with different individuals, whic his immaterial, for in all versions of it the part of the essential character, John, is the same. For the benefit of those readers who are not acquainted with him it must be stated that John is a great trapper and his favorite game is the skunk. He is thoroughly acquainted with the haunts and habits of these peculiar animals and derives no little revenue annually from the sale of their pelts which he thus collects and which are quite valuable for fur.

One day in the spring when John was looking over his stock of skins in company with a friend, his next neighboor, Mrs. Dupee, happened out at the back door near where they were and inquired incidentally of John how many skunks he had caught that season, to which he replied, "Twenty." She went in-doors and a few minutes later her husband, William Dupee, came along and he asked John how many skunks he had caught that season, to which he readily replied, "F-f-forty-five." After William had disappeared his friend remonstrated with John for showing such disregard for the truth and giving such contradictory statements concerning the result of his winter's trapping, when he replied with an innocent smile on his face, "Why, B-b-ill can stand more s-s-skunks that she can!"

Goodrich, George B. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, 1797-1897. Dryden: Dryden Herald Steam Printing House, 1898. Reprinted 1993 by the Dryden Historical Society. Pages 105-7.

(The Dryden Historical Society, which sells this book, may be reached at 607-844-9209.)

Posted by simon at February 12, 2004 9:36 AM in ,
Note on photos


Frank Malone said:

Nice to see the story of my McKee ancestors. I think the McKees were related to the Tuckers as well.