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Grandfather Tales


The following is part of a letter written by my father, Robert Orloff Dragoo, to my daughter, Susan Kerns, for a High School family history project.

In the former treatise, oh Grandfather Prodder, I have dealt with most of all that I did or happened to me up to the time I was about fourteen except for three stories that were typical of some of my weird experiences while herding cows.

  1. In a bend of the river bottom, a few box-elder trees had grown and in one of them, growing at an angle of less than 45 degrees, a pair of eagles had made their nest each year. I made the mistake of tormenting them, then climbing up the sloping trunk, daring them to come at me. I trained them to be really vicious, coming to meet me and Old Ben when we were a half mile from their nest.

There was a big prairie dog town about a half mile away, and one day as I was going across the dog-town the old eagle spotted me. He must have been in a particularly vicious mood that day, for he swooped down time after time, getting closer and closer with each swoop.

Finally he came so close he knocked off my hat. I got off and hunkered under Old Ben for protection and there he came again. Old Ben got scared, jerked the reins out of my hand and took off for home, leaving me standing in the middle of that dog-town. No protection whatever, and here he came again!

I had no place to go except down a prairie dog hole, so down I went! The eagle was so frustrated and so angry, that he grabbed the top of the hole in his talons, gave a few desperate flaps of his wings, and pulled that hole right out of the ground with me in it and started to carry me off for a mid-day lunch for his little ones.

Luckily I had a knife in my pocket. I took it out, cut a slit in the middle of the prairie dog hole and slid out. I landed right in a deep hole in the river, swam out and went home to get Old Ben. I guess the eagle was so disappointed when he got to the nest and found the prairie dog hole empty, that he gave up the fight and left the country. I never saw him again.

But my hair would not lie down for a week after.

 

  1. The time I got sick

Along the bluffs of the river, maybe some 500 feet high, were sand rocks sticking out of the clay banks, and under the clay banks and under the rocks were holes that the cottontail rabbits used for dens.

One morning as I left with the cows, Old Ben and Shep, Mother asked if I would go over to the bluffs and see if I could get a rabbit for breakfast the next morning. It had rained that night and the clay bluffs were very slippery. I climbed around, up and down, and up nearly to the top before I saw one.

I had been quite careful until that time, but I got excited, made a misstep, slid and started to roll. As I rolled I hit cactus, mud, gravel; it stuck to me; a ball like a snowball began to form--with me inside. It got to the bottom; its momentum carried it several hundred feet out onto the flat, and there I was in the middle of that cactus mud ball 10 feet in diameter. I was sick and dizzy; I lay for a while and began to wonder what would happen next.

But I had a blowtorch in my pocket; I lighted it and burned a hole through the cactus and mud until I could get out. I had to go home that night without a rabbit.

But about six weeks later, I was by the mud and cactus ball again, and would you believe it--the rabbits had come down from the bluffs, made their nest in the hole I had made. That solved the rabbit problem. After that when Mother wanted a rabbit, all I had to do was tie up Old Ben, tell Shep to watch the hole, and go to the other side and hit the ball and Shep had a rabbit!

But I never really got over that roll down the hill. It left my brain a little bit off-balance.

 

  1. My ingenuity
    I have never been afraid to work; but I have been accused of spending three days of figuring out how to do something easier that could have been done in a day if I had got at it.

But once my figuring paid off. It was toward the fall of the year and the buffalo berries were beginning to ripen. Now buffalo berries are small and they grow on tangled bushes that are alive with long, sharp thorns.

One morning as I left with the cows, Old Ben and Shep, Mother came out with a gallon pail in her hand. "You don't have anything to do all day; pick me a bucket of buffalo berries."


Well. I thought of the thorns, I thought of the small berries; I thought of how many it would take to fill that pail; I thought surely there must be a better way to pick them than one by one. So I figured. And I figured. And I figured some more.

I figured until noon. I had eaten my sandwich and was feeling rather desperate when the idea came. I found a buffalo berry bush that was heavily loaded with berries about 50 feet from the foot of the bluff. The bluffs right there were steep, almost perpendicular, but a little gully was washed down the face of it.

I told Old Shep to stay put; then I carefully lined up Old Ben, the loaded bush and the gully, with Old Ben's head toward the gully. When everything was lined up accurately, I pulled a bunch of peppergrass and shook it in front of Old Ben's nose. He took a deep breath and came up with a terrific sneeze. A sneeze so hard that it blew just about every berry on that bush over against the bluff where they rolled down the gully and lay in heaps.

All I had to do was lay the bucket down and scoop handfuls of berries into it until the bucket was full. I couldn't begin to get them all. Mother sent me back the next day with more pails but a little shower that night had washed all the berries into the river. The river was not running, only water holes along it.

The berries fermented; strange tales began to come in from those who fished about the strange antics of drunken fish. I could never believe those stories. I'm trying to give facts so I'll not repeat those stories.

And Mother would not believe me when I told her how quickly I had picked those berries for her.

 (Shep, Old Ben, the cows, the eagles and the settings are real; as to his adventures?? Well, my Dad was a preacher and preachers wouldn't lie...)


And now the next period of my life, from about 15 to 21 Ray (Note: Dad's brother) got married when I was 15. Since Dad was in poor health, that left the burden of the farm on me. I worked, sometimes harder than I should have.

I remember the sinking of the Titanic, partly because a man from up on the Big Nasty was one of the survivors. There was no radio or TV in those days, but Dad always took a Minneapolis daily newspaper. It got there two days late.

I remember in the fall of 1914 when World War I broke out. The ultimatums that thundered back and forth, the invasion of Belgium, the sinking of the Lusitania, and finally our entrance into the war. The last draft call was made in September before I was 18 in March. Then came Armistice Day. How we rejoiced out on the prairie even if the news did not get to us until two days late. 

My religious life began in this period. Preaching services were held every three weeks in the sod schoolhouse. A Sunday School was organized. Not a closely graded school! There were two classes, Adult and Primary. You fitted into one of the two. And I was chosen to teach the primaries. I hadn't the slightest idea of how to start in. The first Sunday was a hot day. One member of the class was my niece. I was struggling (and I use the word advisedly) to do something when my niece piped up, "My, Uncle Robert, you're sure sweating!"

 

 © 1997 Lily M. Kerns; Teachers may reproduce this material for their classes. All other rights are reserved.