Friday, November 12, 2010

Poetry Challenge :: Ballads of Blue River

Last month Bill West issued a call for submissions to the Second Great American Local Poem And Song Genealogy Challenge! We are to “Find a poem by a local poet, famous or obscure, from the region one of your ancestors lived in. It can be about an historical event, a legend, a person, or even about some place (like a river) or a local animal.”

The poet I've chosen would fit the “obscure” category. It is doubtful that anyone outside of Whitley County, Indiana has ever heard of J. D. Archer for few within the county have!

Josiah D. Archer (also known as J.D. or Joe) was born on the Archer family farm in Thorncreek Township, Whitley County, Indiana in 1877, the son of Josiah and Alice (Barney) Archer. The Blue River, which runs through a portion of their farm, played an integral part in the life of J.D. as well as his brothers and the other boys in the neighborhood.

In 1912, while living in Chicago, he published a small book of 26 poems titled “Ballads of Blue River” which relate mostly to his youth and growing up along the banks of the Blue River. Greatly influenced by the poetry of James Whitcomb Riley, many of Josiah's poems were written in the "Riley style" using Hoosier Dialect. Among the topics he describes are coon hunting, sugar making time, evening on the farm, and falling in love.

I don't have the original book as I think very few were printed but have photocopied it. An original copy resides at the Whitley County Historical Museum.

J. D. lived in Thorncreek Township. So did several of my ancestors and their siblings. The owner of Sherwood's Pond – the subject of the poem below - was John D. Sherwood and his wife Jennie Virginia Sherwood. She was my 1st cousin four times removed. Also mentioned in that poem was Foust's woods. It was owned by Franklin H. Foust and his wife Maxia Jones. Maxia was my 3rd Great Grandaunt and the aunt of Jennie Sherwood.

Sherwood's Pond
Nes'led snugly an' serene
In a quiet vale that stretched between
Two hills, on the eastward orchard crowned,
On th' westward woodland bound,
Where crooked pathways wind and creep
And fleecy patches mark the browsing sheep;
Banks with green grass fringed an' lawned,
Memory veiled, lies Sherwood's Pond.

We ust go acrost lots to school
Through th' fields an' orchards as a rule
An' had to pass by the pond on our way
An' I tell you, on a summer day
With sunshine floodin' things all over,
Fish a-flouncin' an' bees in th' clover,
It was jist like drivin' Swigart's mule
To git our feet to go t'ward school.

Seems like only jist last year,
With summer come an' dog days near,
That us youngsters, pleasure bent,
To that 'are pond at high noon went,
Sailed our boats an' fished an' swam
In th' deep hole by th' dam.

After we'd swum an hour or more,
Some, shiverin' cold, would wade ashore,
Quiet-like, an' start a-puttin' on their clothes,
When someone in th' pond would hold his nose,
Dive an' bring up clay-mud from th' bottom,
If th' fellers on shore wasn't watchin'—swat 'em,—
Smear 'em with mud till there was nothin' else to do
'Ceptin' wade back for another plunge or two.

Seemed like ever'body in the country knew
'Bout that 'are pond, an' knew Jud Sherwood, too.
He liked to hunt nuts in th' fall
In Foust's woods, an' th' tree was mighty tall
That he couldn't shin up to th' very top
An' slash till th' last nut would drop.

Could make bows an' arrows out o' hick'ry wood;
Shoot 'em, too, straight as any Indian could.
Jud was always makin' somethin' new
Like divin' boards ah' rafts fer floatin', too,
An' many a time we worked away till dark
To float some new concern that he called Noah's Ark,
Till his mother, kind o' worried, would call "Judd-e-e” about then
An' he clim upon th' fence an "Whoo-whoo-ed" back again.

In winter-time the ice was a foot thick
Then broke an' over-run an' re-froze slick.
Th' whole Beech Chapel crowd come down
With skates an' sleds; some come from town
An' after tumblin' 'round a heap a-tryin' fancy whirls
Th' big chaps kind o' edged around to walk home with th' girls.

In winter's cold or summer's heat
That 'are old pond was hard to beat
An' when I ponder o'er them days gone by
When Jud an' Sam an' Eve an' I
An' Bub an' Bill jist lived down there,
So to speak, Lords o' earth an' free as air,
I jist natur'ly can't help a thankin' God
For that 'are pond o' water an' them hills o' sod.

Pressler's Band
Talkin' about music in a kind o' off-hand way,
The kind that bears repeatin', as Father ust to say,
There ain't none any better'n a drum-band anywhere.
If I was needin' cheerin' and inspirin', I declare,
I'd jist like to take a walk down town an' stand
An' hear old Yankee Doodle played by Presslers' Band.

Durin' campaign season that 'are band was sure to play
An' then you'd see the crowd begin a-movin, that-a-way,
Boys would come a runnin' for four blocks or more
And old soldiers come a "heppin'" that could hardly walk before.
You knew th' Thorncreek Delegation was a goin' to be on hand
When you heard old Yankee Doodle played by Presslers' band.

Douglas Pressler was their fifer an' allays led th' band,
And his half a dozen brothers played the snares on either hand.
Lordy! How they made that old "Six-Eight" tune hum,
While Henry Egolf beat th' stuffn' out th' old bass drum.
Any feller that ain't heard 'em ain't supposed to understand
The glory o' th' music played by Pressler's band.

Presslers' band! Seems like I kin hear 'em yet
A playin' martial melodies, the kind you can't forget.
If I could choose my music for jist a single time
I'd say it was a privilege mos' pleasin' an' sublime
To elbow into Thorncreek's crowd an' stand
An' hear old Yankee Doodle played by Presslers' Band.


Bill West said...

Wonderful, Becky! Thanks for sharing these with us!

Judith Richards Shubert said...

Indeed! Makes one long for that time long, long ago one could spend hours and hours as a child playing with his friends in such a way. Loved these poems and your history with the author.

T.K. said...

When I was a kid, there was a woman who used to come to our school once a year. There would be an assembly in the gym, and we'd all go sit on the floor surrounding her chair, and she would read James Whitcomb Riley poetry to us. She was a great reader--in my mind I still hear lines from his poems in her voice. And so, when I read these poems, my mind read them as she would have read them aloud to us. What a pleasure, Becky!

Nolichucky Roots said...

The joy of the first poem is that though it's a specific locale it brings back memories of the pond I grew up skating on and wading in. Thanks so for the recollection.