CRACKERISMS ; A SKETCH OF FLORIDA SERVICE.

Howsoever correct and delicate may be one’s conceptions of human nature, especially of the ludicrous, it is a task of no ordinary nature to delineate them with fidelity and effect for the amusement or instruction of the through-going world. I once had the pleasure to know a sweet little French gentlewoman, whose perceptions of humanity, especially the humorous portions of it, were keen and sensible beyond measure. Not only could she perceive the mannerisms of people, but when you chanced to be in her company, it should go hard but you were compelled to laugh, nolens volens. Whether or not she was able to paint or describe her comical conceptions I could never learn, but I must heartily wish she could be witness to some of the few “ crackerisms” daily perpetrated in our journeyings over the sand plains of ----. “ Pray what would you mean by Crackerisms [1] ?” Crackers are of several kinds. “ Boston Crackers” were the delight of our juvenile days, when oysters were excellent taken from the chafing-dish. “ Soda Crackers” are the solace of the invalid and the toothless. “ Ginger Crackers” are more pleasant to the tongue of the school-boy, than sin to a man of the world. Our “ Crackerisms” are not manufactures of paste. There are “mountain crackers” (vide description of life on Cro’ nest, by Simon Crowell), there are “ Western crackers,” and there are ----“ Crackers” of whose “crackerisms” we propose to speak. The Lexicon says, “ Cracker, --a hard biscuit ; a barbarous wagoner from the interior of the southern states.”

On the 20th, we arrived at Fort ----. Not long after we had pitched our tents, in the manner of the Israelites during their wanderings through the wilderness, we were waited on by Squire ----, a most notable specimen of a “ ---- cracker.”

“Gentle-men,” said he, (with a most peculiar emphasis on the ultimate)----“ I onderstand you perpose disbanding the bridge across the rivyer at this place. I am sorry to hear this, for that thar bridge cost an ‘mazin deal of labor. I seed the men when they was buildin’ on’t, and I reckin if this station is broke up, and the dod-durned vermints allowed to break onto us, and disband that thar bridge, it’ll take a considerable length of time to put her up agin !”

“ The station will not be altogether broken up, Mr. H. A few men will be left here, although with ordinary vigilance the inhabitants might eat every Indian who made his appearance within ten miles of this place.”

“ Why, gentle-men, I don’t know ! dod everlastinly dod-durn thar yaller hides, they are a most deceptious set of critters ; they are most interruptious when you an’t looking for them. Didn’t they come right spang up to Jeph Jones’ place, and shoot him from his plough-handle ? Dod-drat thar skins ! didn’t seven of ‘em come to my house just afore the break of day—when we was all asleep, and didn’t the blue pills fly through the chinks of my cabin, right smart ? I reckin they did. Jest as soon as I could fairly onderstand the natur’ of the case, I picked up my old shootin-iron, and I blazed in among the bloody villyans, and I kept the whole eight at a reasonable distance until I could get help.”

“ You must have had a very warm time of it.”

“ I reckin I did. I should like to move out onto my place, and make some hominy if I could be sure the durned critters wouldn’t prove savagrous.”

“ Where is your place ?”

“ It’s jest about seven miles from this on the road to ----, a monstrous good chance of a place it is too—only just alongside of my largest and best field, there is prehaps one of the most dan-ge-rous precorons ! (hammock) in the whole country. It has always been a good hidin place for the blasted varmen, dod evengefully burn thar yaller skins !

“ I do not think the Indians will trouble any of the inhabitants after the posts now in contemplation are established. I have never known a country so well protected as this will be, in the course of a month or six weeks.”

“ I tell you gentle-men, they are the most deceptious and interruptious people on the face of the yearth ! They come onto you when you an’t expectin on em. The first year of the war, my brother Jess, away up in ---- county, was a ploughin’ his field a little off from the settle-ments, and his son was a layin alongside the fence with his shootin-iron a-lookin out for the Indians ; for ten chances to one, said Jess, the dod-blasted varmin may crawl on to a feller as they did on Jeph Jones, and slam away at him while he’s ploughin. Wall,--my nephew was alayin along-side the fence jest on the aydge of a pretty considerable precoron, when he seed three of the blasted critters workin along from tree to tree up towards the old man who was whistlin away at his plough ! “ Essentiously my sinnificant skin," says the boy when he seed them, "if you dron't drap dod-durn them there utensials (rifles) I’ll make you faint !” No sooner said than done--spang went the boy’s iron, and down went one Indian--squat, was the word with the other two--they didn’t know whar the pill came from that settled their leader ! Whoop ! yelled the boy ! Hallo ! says Jess, whats the matter ? Varmint ! says the boy, who had loadened his iron again, whar ? says Jess--Whar ! says the boy, and off he went over the bushes like a deer, to see what the two squattin varmin was a-doin on ! Would you believe it gentlemen--in that excessive short time they had crawled clean out of sight !--you could see whar their trail was--and whar they had dragged the dead varmint—Jess and the boy followed them just to the aydge of a large precoron —but they are such a deceptious set, you can’t place no manner of dependence on ‘em.”

“ Very true, Squire, Indians have been always considered a very ferocious and cruel people. Their nature prompts them to such deeds as you have related. What we look upon as courage, they view as cowardice—sneaking cunning is more honorable in their estimation, than the most exalted magnaminity "--

“ I know it gentle-men, dod blast ‘em, I ought to know ‘em. The way they cut up Zeke Billins’ family just on the aydge of the Ekonoyar* scrub was truly ludicrous ! You’ve hearn tell of that massacry havn’t you, gentle-men ?”

Well, you see, Zeke Billins lived on a place jest on the road to ---- which passes close to the aydge of the Ekonoyar ! Zeke had some business to do in the “ up country,” just afore the varmin broke loose ; and he left his family on his place, never suspicimen that he shouldn’t see any on ‘em again !--There was his wife, four children and three niggers. Wall, Zeke goes off, to the “ up country,” fixes his business and gets as far as ---- on his way to his place. He sort a-hearn before he got home, that some kind of devilment had been goin’ on ! Howsomedever he gets on his creetur and “puts out” to know the worst. He got two or three of the neighbors to go along--and gentlemen when he got thar --they found his house burnt even to the ground, and the bodies of his wife and children scattered around ?

“ Where were the negroes ?”

Wall, nobody has rightly concluded on that pint—but people mostly suppose that the Indians tuk them into the precorons !—

“ But Squire might not the family have been murdered by the slaves who ran away of their own accord, and may not have met an Indian since ?” “ Wall, now that may have been the case--but how the niggers should be so hostile, dodburn me if I know ! they were always well treated. Zeke never misused his niggers ! Besides niggers would never have scalped any body ?”

Thus we were amazed with “ Crackerisms” for a good hour and more, by a man who had been raised among the poor Indians.

Chancellor Kent in his commentaries when speaking of the title to Indian lands, very justly observes

“ The restless and enterprising population on the Indian borders, and which, in a considerable degree partakes of the fierce and lawless manners of the hunter state, are exempt no doubt from much sympathy with Indian sufferings, and they are penetrated with perfect contempt for Indian rights. If it were not for the frontier garrisons and troops of the United States, officered by correct and discreet men, there would probably be a state of constant hostility between the Indians and the white borderers and hunters.

Our Squire H. is of that class of men described above. He believes that Indians, who when not outraged have been justly called “ generous barbarians” are no better than Vermin--that they are without souls, without sensibility, without feelings and incapable of possessing any natural or acquired rights ! Such is the perfectability of human nature ! Selfishness knows not affection !

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A dance was “ gotten up” on the evening of the ----, which might have put Terpsichore to the blush, and the music of the sable Paganini, I am confident, would have thrown Orpheus literally in the shade. I cannot call this exhibition a “ bal costume,” nor yet a masquerade, nor was it in every sense a fancy ball, although I doubt exceedingly whether Almacks, or the courtly assemblages of St. James, can at all times boast the presence of many such fancy characters as graced the frolick on the night of the ----. At “ early candle-light” the company began to assemble, and

“ By two-headed Janus,
Nature hath framed strange creatures in her time.”

A Mr. C---- came into the room, habited in a dress like Joseph’s coat of many colors. Capitally he wore a mass of bushy hair—an ample shirt-collar supported his head by the ears, strangely reminding me of a tutor at whose feet I once humbly sat, and whose collar equalled a calendar in every respect. On Sunday it was close under the ears—on Monday the top of his cravat ranged along the graduated scale at division number two—on Tuesday at number three—until about sun-down on each successive Saturday no vestige of the long-tried linen was visible ! Such a collar as this now graced the visage of Mr. C----. His was a peculiar coat. His nether man was habited in white cotton trowsers, ornamented along the seams with large bows of blue ribbon. Think of this, ye exquisites, and never more presume to “ wear such blushing honors thick upon you !” About his ancles he had tied blue ribbons, with bows pendant ! In his own view, he was decidedly the greatest and best dressed man in the room. As for the room, it was enclosed with logs, without ceiling, wainscotting, or any other civilized appurtenance. The dancing was peculiarly “ cracker,” consisting of those movements of the pedestals generally known as “ double trouble,” “ juba,” and other equally energetic and graceful steps. The dancers appeared to “ go in” not so much for fashion as for exercise. S---- politely requested the honor of Miss Lydia Ann’s company in a waltz ! “ In a what ?” modestly inquired the blushing damsel. “ In a waltz,” repeated the anxious swain. “ I never heard tell of such a thing ; is it a game two can play at ?” This was too much for poor S----, and he retired with feelings indescribable.

For people surrounded by a savage enemy, liable at any moment to be fallen upon, perhaps at the still midnight hour, and cut to pieces, I never saw such merry men, women, and children. Nothing but continual laughing, feasting, and merriment.

W. G.

* Et-a-ni-ah Scrub, --a large district of country covered with scrub oak, black-jack, &c. † Georgia.


Notes:

Source: New York Spirit of the Times, 10.42 (19 December 1840): 499. University of Virginia Alderman Library.

Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.

[1] Original text reads “Crakerisms.”

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