CHAPTER II: TARZAN'S BIG
One year later, James Hubert
Pierce was born on August 8, 1900, on that farm in Freedom (population
500) when all the relatives were home for Christmas. I weighed in at 10
pounds with Dr. Gantz presiding (he was also the village dentist). My grandmother,
Julia McIntosh assisted since the closest hospital was miles away.
Not all women were as lucky with childbirth as I was a pretty husky
infant, but my mother had no trouble. In one situation, the doctor was
unable to travel in his horse-drawn buggy due to a heavy snow storm. He
rounded up several men from the village, including my father, to go on
foot to bring a woman in the doctor's office. The men took off a barn door,
wrapped the woman in blankets, then walked several miles out of the back
country to the doctor's office, saving her and the baby. It was a breech
birth and the baby was bruised terribly by the doctor's instruments, but
they managed to save it.
My grandfather, Perry Commodore McIntosh (named after Commodore Perry)
had married Julia Defoe, his sweetheart before the Civil War.
He never forgot the bitterness that existed between the North and the
South, always calling anybody from the South "damn rebel." I was ten years
old before I learned that "damn rebel" was not all one world. He would
tell people about the great battle of Chickamauga where all the volunteers
from his little community fought together. They were overrun by 55,000
rebels, under General Braxton Bragg, but won despite being greatly outnumbered.
On every memorial day as long as my grandfather lived, which was until
age ninety-two, the war was remembered. Twenty or so of those veterans
would meet at the church in their well-preserved uniforms. After a ceremony,
with their rifles and swords they would march to the graveyard and decorate
the graves of their buddies. This number dwindled until only my grandfather
was left. He would go to the church on Memorial Day, go through the ritual
as if they were all present, and conduct the graveyard service.
My grandfather never missed a church meeting, even in the days of circuit-riding
preachers. Every fourth Sunday the preacher came to Freedom. The rest of
the Sunday meetings were carried on by my grandfather, who was a great
Bible student. He never smoked or drank, and could quote scripture prolifically.
One preacher not quite so devout was named Slater, a big, brusque fellow
who boarded with different families where he was to hold services. Such
preachers were paid mostly in farm produce and Sunday dinners.
But Reverent Slater was interested in liquid as well as solid nourishment.
He would clear his throat and say, "Sister Pierce, I think I have a cold
coming on. Could I have a little peruna?" My family didn't drink but did
have a patent medicine cabinet filled with epsom salts, iodine, castor
oil, paragori, and peruna -- all the things that the traveling peddler
sold. Later, I discovered that peruna contained about 80% alcohol. After
a couple of shots of peruna, Reverend Slater would really preach hellfire
My grandfather became rather prosperous because he had several things
going for him. He had the only furniture store and undertaking parlor in
the whole township, as well as a good insurance business. One of my earliest
recollections is of his office with its old roll-top desk and a Hartford
Insurance calendar, with a picture of an antlered deer, hanging over it.
My father used to loan grandfather's horse and buggy from the farm to
make the circuit of his policy holders to write their insurance and fix
their losses. I often went with him and he allowed me to drive which was
a great thrill. When he had a funeral, I'd get the horses ready, shine
the harness, and clean the windows of the hearse.
My grandfather was also a great hunter and fisherman. I would often
accompany him on hunting and fishing trips. He taught me how to shoot and
use all kinds of fishing tackle. I was influenced more by my grandfather
than anyone else. That's not taking anything away from my dad, but he had
less time to spend with me.
Grandfather often told me about his experiences as a young man; for
instance, floating logs down the river to the market in New Orleans. The
virgin country around Freedom was heavily wooded with oak, elm, hickory
and birch. Lumber was the prime building material in those days and owners
needed to clear their land for farming. The trees were cut and the logs
were stacked and hauled away to nearby towns. Since railroads had not yet
ventured into this back country, the best way to move logs any distance
was by water. The landowners would hire men to haul the logs to the river
where huge rafts would be made by wiring and tying the logs together.
A crew of men would launch them downstream from one river to another
until they reached New Orleans. Starting on the White River near Freedom,
they would drift their rafts to where it emptied into the Wabash, on to
the Ohio, and then to the Mississippi, and on to New Orleans.
My father was always conscious of his lack of education. Although he
was a first-class farmer, he always wanted to be something better than
just a hired hand on somebody else's farm. He enrolled in a correspondence
school, and after five years, achieved the equivalent of an eight grad
education, which included typing, bookkeeping, mathematics, and English.
He also began to feel the lure of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which was
booming because of the shipping of farm products, logs, cattle, sheep,
and h ogs. It also led to the coal mining country in Southern India. The
Vandalia division of the Pennsylvania ran from Indianapolis to Vincennes,
Indiana, with Freedom about in the center. These little railroad stations
were always busy and occasionally needed new help.
My dad felt ready for something besides farming, so his brother-in-law,
Rose, gave him a chance to learn telegraphy and the railroad agency business.
Since the salary of these clerks and student telegraphers was meager, my
mother opened a restaurant next door to her father's furniture store, next
to the railroad station. All the trains that stopped there provided customers
for my mother who was a good cook and a jolly hostess.
About six passenger trains stopped daily each way at Freedom. It was
a single-track system and Freedom had a side track, so freight trains were
sidetracked for the passenger trains to pass as they had priority. The
crews had a lot of time to kill, so they would head for the restaurant
for some home cooking. A full meal was 25 cents!
In the meantime, my dad learned the agency end of the business, as well
as becoming and excellent telegrapher. He got a job as a regular clerk,
and learned all about the rates, ticket sales, tariffs, and bills of lading.
Soon a vacancy opened up for a second shift operator. These railroad
stations ran three shifts or "tricks." The main agent was usually the first
trick man. The hours ran 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., 3-11 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
When an opening appeared for a second trick position, Rose McIntosh, my
mother's brother, recommended my father for the job and he was appointed.
After a year in this position, along with the income from the restaurant,
my parents had saved enough money to buy a lot and build a two-room cottage
across the street from my grandfather's home.
Most of my time in that period was spent with my grandmother, whom I
loved dearly. My father worked from 3 o'clock in the afternoon to 11 p.m.
My mother did not close the restaurant until around 10 p.m. My dad bought
me a dog and a billy goat to play with. I would hitch the goat to a little
red wagon and drive it around. My parents would take me home after they
finished work. This arrangement continued until I was five years old.
About 100 yards from my grandfather's home, was a grammar school, which,
in those days, was known as "common school" - covering the first eight
grades. As the children passed each morning on their way to school, I would
tag along and play with them on the school ground until the bell rang for
school to begin. Many times I would go into the school room with them.
The teacher, Blanche Williams, a friend of my mom's, would have to send
me home as I was not yet old enough to e in school. It was a sad chore
for the teacher as I wanted to stay on so badly. So one day she sent a
note home with me for my mother, suggesting she enroll me in her class.
She said I was husky and larger than most of the children and it could
be their secret. My mother thought it was a grand idea, and as a result,
I got a year's head start in entering school.
Two years later, in 1907, my father was offered a promotion to take
over an agency. It was a first trick job in a small town, called Ramona,
15 miles north of Freedom. My dad was happy for the chance to step up in
rank and salary. They sold the restaurant and the house for a nice profit
and moved to Ramona. Here they rented a cottage, much larger than the two
rooms they had in Freedom.
When I was eight, my father decided to teach me telegraphy. He ran a
line from the depot to our house about one quarter of a mile away. Before
long, I was pretty good and could read messages as they passed over the
wires in his office as well as at home when he would call me there.
We spent two years in Ramona before another promotion came along, a
top job in a large coal-mining town, named Dugger, about sixty miles south
of Freedom on another branch line. This was a carload and trainload operation,
shipping coal around the clock to all parts of the country. He received
a higher salary and the company took notice of his efforts. Dad mixed well
with the people of the town, went to church, and became a Mason. There
was competing railroad, but in two years he had most of the business.
In 1912, my Uncle Rose, who had given my dad his first job as a railroader,
decided to go into the insurance business in Washington, Indiana. The company
gave my dad his job, and back to Freedom we went. We were very happy to
get back home and this time we purchased a larger home.