“POSSUM RIDGE,” South Carolina, January, 1840.

I say, stranger, did you ever spend a Christmas on Possum Ridge ?--Well, then, you don’t know what’s what. I reckon there isn’t just such another set of fellows in all this country. There’s no getting round sport, if you’ll only look on. The very oddities of human character will yield you fun enough. There’s old Jack Dikkard, the Colonel--and Bill Dikkard, the Parson--and Si Dikkard, the Poplar head--and Wanzy Dikkard, the bully, and all the other Dikkards, with their swarthy complexions--brown hair--cold, dancing grey eyes--knock knees, and straw hats ; and then old Tom Wiggins and his tribe, who hunt the whole enduring winter, and cooper it when the sap rises ; and then all the Sitoms, who make their own English in despite of Walker and Webster and then all the Kalefs, and a hundred others, who eschew especially all book learning, and go the “ whole conception” by the light of Natur. I say it agin, there aint just such another set in the world. It was on last Christmas Eve I met old Jack Dikkard--(always called the Colonel)--about 3/4 drunk, in a straw hat, red coat, copperas trowsers, and blue stockings.

“ How are you, Major ?” says I.--“ Colonel, Sir, is my name--I’se riz, sir--big I, great U--little I am, as the schoolmaster says.”--“Well Colonel, then, how are you ?”--“ Pretty much at random, sir, as Frank Duffy said when he slept in the big tavern. How do you rise ?”--“ Oh, very well ; what’s the news, Col. ?”--“ News, sir ! why money’s scarce, times hard, the pumpkin filly (his mare) is fat, simmons ripe, and possums plenty. Didn’t hear me, did you ? Did you hear me ? I say, Capting, ain’t you coming down to-morrow ? there’s to be great doings at the ‘ niggers rest.’ ”--“ The niggers rest ! why where in the devil is that ?”--“ Why, down on the frontiers of Possum Ridge, on the head waters of Tinker River, just below Stocking town, and this side of Tug paw and Bottle Alley.”--“ Well, Col., what’s to be done ?” [1]--“ Why, there’ll be a barbacue, a chicking fight, a rattle and snap, prehaps a horse race, and all to wind up with a fight or a foot race, and divers out-breakings of the carnal spirit, as the preachers say !”--“ Well, I’ll try and come down, Col. ; good evening.”--“ I say, Capting, be sartin to come--look here--got any small change past you--just fork out a quarter to fill the tickler for an egg-nog for the Hen Robin and the boys to-morrow. No mistake in me--old South Carolina never tires. Free trade and States’ Rights--them’s my sentiments. Didn’t hear me, did you ?”

Exit Col. singing

‘Twas in January on the seventeenth day, When brave General Morgan at the Cowpens did lay, Tidyum a day--tidyum day--tidyum, tidyum, tidyum day !

At 10 A. M. I dismounted at the “ Niggers Rest,” and hitching old Ringtail to a Persimmon bush, walked towards the crowd ; and there they were, lots on ‘em, full of fun and frolic, just ready for any thing that might turn, and not caring a damn which eend foremost. Cross legged on a work-bench were seated four rusty looking fellows, scoring away at all fours, 50 cents a game--these were the aristocracy of the “ Rest.” Hard by, on the head of an old barrel a carroty headed larkin was going it on his Rattle and Snap. Not far off were some dozens engaged in a raffle for lots of blue and spotted stockings, sevenpence a throw. A peep into the wood would show you other parties of pleasure, while in the corner of the fence might be seen on a 1/4 dollar handkerchief spread upon the leaves, a game of three cards sewed together by a waxed eend, upon which a half dozen rale simmon blossoms of fellows were going the whole possum at a sort of chuck-a-luck, with pewter buttons in a tin cup. “ Ring your bell agin, I’ll try the tray.”--“ Damn the luck, I might a knowd it.”--“ Go it, Bill--you’re right !”--“ Shell out the pewter, Mister, I reckon I know a thing or two. Here goes--let me see--lucks all, bait or no bait. I’ll try the ace agin--whew !--what a d--d fool I was. Well, I’ll draw out the old eelskin for better luck--here goes a sev. on the------“

A tap on the shoulder drew my attention. “ How are you, Capting, how are you ? well, I told the frontiers you would come over to Macedony and help us. Just stick to the frontiers, and as ‘ Moses lifted [2] up the servant in the wilderness, so shall the son of man be lifted up.’ Didn’t hear me, did you ? I’m nothing but a boy, but I’m a growing.”

“ How are you, Colonel ?”--“ Up and arising. I’ve broke from ‘ the strong hold--no longer a prisoner of hope.’ D’ye see here--I’ve got on the red coat the Hen Robin made me, black choke rag round my neck, and lambs-wool hose. Old South Carolina never tire. Capting, come along with me ; (singing) ‘Oh come along with me ! ’ Choose ye this day whom ye shall serve--as for me and my house”--

“ Oh, Col., you have a great many folks here to-day, hav’nt you ?”--“ Yes--d--d sight of trash too, sir. See that crowd there--well, jist take out little Tom and Elijah the prophet, who was lifted up in the whirlwind, and the whole damned poplar shinned set aint worth a simmon in August--they’ll swear out of Jail, rob a duck-roost, or steal a barrel of goslings. Ha ! ha ! ha !”--“ Well, Col., who’s that fellow strutting about there so strong ?”--“ What, that child in the pearl buttons and spectacles--who looks as stiff as if he lived on ram-rod soup.”--“ Why, he’s Mr. Jeremiah Snigginbottom, our schoolmaster, who took the first honor at the last loafer show. Think he didn’t turn Sal out of school because she carried dinner to eat ?--said ‘twas contrary to his principles to eat twice a-day, and scholars could’nt learn fast what was high fed.”--“ Why, he must be a devil of a fellow, to be sure ; what did you say to him, Col.?”--“ I told him he was a little like my aunt in the country, no dam great things--that he didn’t know dissolve from resolve, and to get wisdom, and with all his getting, to get understanding, as Solomon said.”

A bustle in the crowd directed my attention to another quarter. “ Oh yes ! oh yes ! gentlemen injuns, I’ll be a V Commercial that Spitfire can lay it on to any named horse, mare, or gilding on the ground, from a quarter up to six hundred yards, my weight on each ; who will or dare ?” sung out a little dapper fellow in a green coat, brass buttons, bead guard, and twig whip. “ By crimes, I’m your man,” replied a long-legged cock-eyed fellow, of most equivocal expression, in striped round jacket and copperas breeches, “ if you’ll bar mules and jackasses.”--“ Good ! I’ll bar anything, and give 10 feet and double the bet for a quarter.”--“ I’ll see you d--d first. Even and even is my way of doing--put up and put up who will or dare !”

On this intimation Spitfire, in response to a kick in the flank, sprang forward, switched her tail--kicked, pawed, snorted, and the crowd took to their heels, falling over each other in all manner of confusions. “ Wo, Spitty, wo !” cried the dapper fellow, loosing the reign and patting her neck--but it was no go--Spitty wouldn’t wo--she was all fidget, and perverseness and Spitfire. “ Well, Jim, here’s at you for a quarter, if you’ll double the bet.”--“ Name your nag, Sir !”--“ Davy Roggins.”--“ Good as hell,” cried the dapper gentleman, sloping off his mare--“ Plank up your shinplasters, and here goes my larkin ; the way I’ll walk into your soap gourd aint particklar.”--“ Well, now, don’t holler fore you get out’n the wood, my christian friend--I reckon I know what I’m after,” said the striped round jacket, “ if I don’t cool you and Spitty off bout right fore long, damn my leggings if I don’t give up I aint a Pea Ridger.”

The money was staked. Old Uncle Billy Barnett lifted up each rider to tell his weight, and Sally Spitfire and Davy Roggins were brought to the polls, and the way the people began to crowd together, and the way half dollars and half gallons and half pints and whole gingercakes were bet was a little peculiar. Many were the conjectures among the knowing ones, when Spitty came up biting and kicking rearing and jumping. “ Damn the mare--wo, Spitty, wo ! Clear the road, fellows, you’ll make her fly the track,” sung out the dapper fellow. And then the little fellows thought she was the nag, and planked up their small change, and the old ones winked at one another, and said, “ we’ll see therectly.”--“ Cant you come it, Spitty ?” says the striped jacket on Davy Roggins who took it all as cool as frozen cider. “ Clear the track !” cried the dapper fellow. Sally came up to the scratch. “ Go,” and away dashed Davy Roggins and Spitfire like a “ kornado.”

“ A quarter on the mare !” cried Poplar head. “ Done,” says the Col., “ I say Capting, got any more small change past you--damn my soul if Spitfire don’t soon run her capital out. I aint a fool. I’m nothing but a boy, but I’m a growing, as I told old Billy Raus tother day !” The money was staked. “ Spitfire’s ahead !--Hoorah !” cries the little fellows, “ did’t I say so ?” They rise the hill--hundreds are on tiptoe to watch the changes. The dapper fellow begins to kick--Spitfire begins to wabble. They descend the hill, Davy taking it cool and easy, begins to creep up--the gap shortens. “ Hooray for Davy !” cries the Roggins men. “ Didn’t I know it ?” said the knowing ones. Fifty yards more, and all would be over--legs, heels, and arms and whips were doing their best on Spitfire, but she couldn’t come it--her “ capital was out.” Davy tasted the whip, and began to show his heels--a short struggle--all is over. Davy Roggins is victor by twenty feet, and Sally Spitfire and the little dapper fellow are as cool as a cucumber. “ Damn that fool mare,” said the Spitfire party. “ Damn that long-legged Pea Ridger and Davy [3] Roggins,” said the dapper gentleman of the bead guard and green coat. “ Hoorah for Pea Ridge, Davy Roggins, and Striped Jacket,” cried the Roggins men, and they all went back to the house to talk it over and fight it out. PEA RIDGER.


Source: New York Spirit of the Times 10.1 (7 March 1840): 8. University of Virginia Alderman Library.

Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.

[1] Original text omits quotation mark here.
[2] Original text reads “liifted.”
[3] Original text reads “Davp.”

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