The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

The following old time amusing anecdote was written to me by Hon. S. W. Peel of Bentonville, Benton Co., Ark. The letter is dated July 19, 1904 and relates to the ways and manners of a saloon keeper and his customers at Carrollton Carrol Co. Ark. in an early day. In giving an account of it Col. Peel who is so well known in Ark. and who served in Congress a number of years said that the incident occurred when he was a small boy and that he was present at the time. Here is how Col. Peel states it. "I knew personally well all the characters mentioned and the facts given are actually true" said he. "The village of Carrollton come into notice in the pioneer days and was among the oldest trading points in Northwest Ark. The first saloon - as called now but then by the most refined grocery store - stood on the north side of the public square. The house was 14 feet square and built of round logs and covered with oak boards 4 feet in length. The boards were held down by round logs called weight poles, the door was in the south end of the building and the door shutter was made of oak slabs, at night this door was made fast after being closed by tieing it with paw paw bark which answered in place of a lock. The floor was composed of native earth. A huge puncheon which reached two thirds of the way across the house formed the counter. The fixtures and merchandise consisted of a barrel of cheap whiskey, one tin quart and one pint measure, a greasy deck of cards; a fiddle and a flint lock rifle. John Potts better known as "Pitcher" Potts was sole owner of the building and outfit. In those days Mr. Potts was considered a shrewd business man and his customers lived far and near. Peltry furs and bees wax were the principal articles of exchange. In one corner of the house was stacked the cakes of bees wax. In another corner was piled the peltry and furs consisting of deer skins, coon, catamount, wild cat, otter and fox skins. Around this noted establishment the male population gathered day after day bringing the above named commodities to exchange for whiskey. Some times trade was quite brisk at other times exchanges dragged along slow. One gloomy rainy day customers did not come in very fast and business was rather dull until in the afternoon when those that had arrived in the forenoon had remained and the few coming in later on made up a fair crowd for a wet day but trade was slow. Though as stated several had collected but about all the exchange done for some time was talk. Among the party who lived in the neighborhood was Bill Mitchell afterward known as Col. Mitchell and who was the first commander of the 14th Ark. (Confederate) regiment. This man was endowed with plenty of wit and humor and enjoyed all the fun loving jokes he could pass off on his friends. He was also one of Potts regular customers. The crowd that day was not flush with money nor furs and peltry and soon exhausted their means in buying whiskey and drinking it. After their funds had run short trade dropped to a low stage and the conversation grew monotonous. Finally a hunter come in with a small deer hide and laid it down on the counter. "Pitcher" who was rather a polite and courteous fellow and was always on the lookout for a good trade ask the hunter if the hide was for sale and the hunter replied in the affirmative. "Well what do you want for it" said the grocery man and the hunter who looked like his mouth was dry said that he wanted something to drink which the proprietor readily interpreted as meaning some of his rotten whiskey and Pitcher promptly weighed the deer hide and told the hunter that it ‘come to a quart’. And after tossing the skin in the corner where the other hides lay in a pile and drawing the amount of liquor equal to the price of the deer hide and handed it to the man who in turn passed the adulterated stuff around among the crowd until the contents of the cup was exhausted. But it was not enough and it was not long before the men were licking their lips and getting thirsty again for the want of more whiskey. To purchase more of the stuff was a puzzle for "Pitcher" Potts abhorred the credit system and refused to trust his customers with a drink on time. But soon afterward Mitchells fun and wit began to crop out and whispering to a few of his associates he stepped out of the building and passed around to the corner where the peltry and furs were deposited. The openings between the logs in the corner where these commodities lay was rather large, the owner being careless and not taking time to chink the cracks and Mitchell catching an oppertunity while the proprietor was not looking toward that part of the house reached in and pulled the same deer hide out and stepping aside he carefully rolled the hide up and tied a cotton string round it without "Pitcher" seeing him. Though a light rain was falling but Mitchell did not enter the house until a newly arrived countryman came to Mitchell and after the latter explained how it was the man took charge of the deer hide and walked into the saloon and sold it to the proprietor. After the hide was weighed Potts said it "Just come to a quart" and threw the hide back in the same corner and drawing a quart of the liquid he gave it to the new arrival, who passed it around until the cup was emptied of its contents of course Mitchell got in the house in time to share his part of it. By this time all the men but "Pitcher" understood it and he was ignorant of the job put up on him. It was all some of the men could do to keep from laughing outright but they managed to keep quiet and after the expiration of a half an hour Mitchell went out again to the corner and pulled the same deer hide out the second time without being observed by the owner though the other men saw the trick but kept perfectly mum. Mitchell rolled the hide up again and tied it with another string that he had prepared himself with and gave it to a different man that was on the outside who went in and sold it to the dealer for another quart of whiskey and a division was made of it among the settlers immediately. This was repeated again and the crowd was nearly ready to give in with loud rejoicing but a shake of Mitchell’s head quieted them and soon after this Mitchell took the same deer skin out for the fourth time and sent it into the house and the man who took it in the house told Pitcher he had brought him a deer hide. The proprietor took the hide in hands scanned it closely for he had become suspicious that a trick had been played on him. He looked at it keenly and turned it over and untied it and unrolled it and after a thorough examination and hesitating a little he remarked that it was very strange that all the deer hides brought in that day were of the same size and weighed just the same number of pounds and was worth each exactly one quart of whiskey. This was more than the crowd could stand and they all laughed outright like the roar of a lion. It was now that Potts caught onto the game that Mitchell and the other men were up to and he joined in the fun and amusement at his expense and told the men that they had beat him for once and that it was his treat and stepped to the barrel and drew an extra quart of whiskey and passed it around free of expense. After this was consumed "Pitcher" informed his customers that he had better stop them cracks before he purchased any more deer hides."

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