The suffering of the county papers
was acute. They had supported the “incumbents”
for so long, and had derived a reciprocal support so
long, that they could not bring themselves to a decision.
The Democratic paper, the Call, was too feeble
to be anything distinctive at this stage of its career
Chard Foster had not yet assumed control of it.
It lent a half-hearted support to the Independent
movement, and justified its action on the ground that
it was really a Democratic movement leading toward
reform, and it assumed to be the only paper advocating
reform. The other paper, unequivocally Republican,
supported the regular ticket with that single-heartedness
of enmity, born of bribery, or that ignorance which
shuts out any admission that the other side has a
The Oak Grove schoolhouse was the
real storm-centre of the election, and there was a
great crowd there all day. It was a cold, raw
day. The men and boys all came in their overcoats
and stood about on the leeward side of the schoolhouse where
a pale sunlight fell and scuffled, and
told stories, and bet cookies and apples on the election.
Some of the boys made up fires out
in the woods near by, to which they ran whooping whenever
the cold became intolerable. They crouched around
the flames with a weird return of ancestral barbarism
and laughed when the smoke puffed out into their faces.
They made occasional forages in company with boys
who lived near, after eggs, and apples, and popcorn,
which they placed before the fire and ate spiced with
Horsemen galloped up at intervals,
bringing encouraging news of other voting places.
Teams clattered up filled with roughly-dressed farmers,
who greeted the other voters with loud and hearty shouts.
They tumbled out of the wagons, voted riotously, and
then clattered back into the corn-fields to their
work, with wild hurrahs for the granger ticket.
The schoolhouse itself roared with
laughter and excited talk, and the big stove in the
centre devoured its huge chunks of wood, making the
heat oppressive near it. No presidential election
had ever brought out such throngs of voters, or produced
such interested discussion.
Bradley had been made clerk.
His capital handwriting and knowledge of book-keeping
made him a valuable man for that work. He sat
behind his desk with the books before him, and impassively
performed his duties, but it was his first public
appointment, and he was really deeply gratified.
He felt paid for all his year’s hard study.
About two o’clock, when the
voters were thickest at the polls, a man galloped
up with an excited air, and reining in his foaming
“Deering has withdrawn in favor
of Russell!” The crowd swarmed out.
“What’s the matter?”
“Deering has withdrawn in favor
of Russell. Cast your votes for Russell,”
repeated the man, and plunged off up the road.
The farmers looked at each other.
“What the hell’s all this?” said
“Who was it?”
“I don’t know.”
“He’s a liar, whoever
he is,” said Councill. “Where’ve
I seen him before?”
“I know it’s Deering’s
“You don’t say so!” This seemed
like the truth.
“I know who it is it’s Sam
Harding,” shouted Milton. “But that
Deering’s horse. It’s a Republican
trick. Jump y’r horse there,
Councill.” He was carried out of himself
by his excitement and anger.
The men leaped upon their horses.
“Some o’ you fellers take
his back trail,” shouted Councill. “He’ll
come from Shell-rock and Hell’s Corner.”
The men saw the whole trick.
This man had been sent out to the most populous of
the county voting places to spread a lying report,
trusting to the surprise of the announcement to carry
a few indecisive votes for Russell.
Other men leaped their horses and
rode off on Harding’s back trail, while Councill,
Milton, and old man Bacon rode away after him.
Bacon growled as he rode:
“I’m agin you fellers,
but by God! I b’lieve in a square game.
If I kin git my paw on that houn’”
They rode furiously in the hope of
overtaking him before he reached the next polling-place.
Milton was in the lead on his gray colt, a magnificent
creature. He was light and a fine rider, and forged
ahead of the elder men. But the “spy”
was also riding a fine horse, and was riding very
When they reached the next polling-place
he was just passing out of sight beyond. They
dashed up, scattering the wondering crowd.
“It’s a lie! It’s
a trick!” shouted Milton. “Deering
wouldn’t withdraw. Cast every vote for
Deering. It’s all done to fool yeh!”
The others came thundering up.
“It’s a lie!” they shouted.
“Come on!” cried Milton,
dropping the rein on Mark’s neck, and darting
away on the trail of the false courier.
The young fellows caught the excitement,
and every one who had a horse leaped into the saddle
and clattered after, with whoop and halloo, as if
they were chasing a wolf.
The rider ahead suddenly discovered
that he was being followed, and he urged his horse
to a more desperate pace along the lane which skirted
the woods’ edge for a mile, and then turned sharply
and led across the river.
Along the lane is the chase led.
There was something in the grim silence with which
Milton and Bacon rode in the lead that startled the
spy’s guilty heart. He pushed his horse
unmercifully, hoping to discourage his pursuers.
Milton’s blood was up now, and
bringing the flat of his hand down on the proud neck
of his colt the first blow he ever struck
him, he shouted
“Get out o’ this, Mark!”
The magnificent animal threw out his
chin, his ears laid flat back, he seemed to lower
and lengthen, his eyes took on a wild glare. The
air whizzed by Milton’s ears. A wild exultation
rose in his heart. All the stories of rides and
desperate men he had ever read came back in a vague
mass to make his heart thrill.
Mark’s terrific pace steadily
ate up the intervening distance, and Milton turned
the corner and thundered down the decline at the very
heels of the fugitive.
“Hey! Hold on there!”
Milton shouted, as he drew alongside and passed the
fellow. “Hold on there!”
“Git out o’ my way!” was the savage
“Stop right here!” commanded
Milton, reining Mark in the way of the other horse.
The fellow struck Mark. “Git out o’
my way!” he yelled.
Milton seized the bit of the other
horse and held it. The fellow raised his arm
and struck him twice before Bacon came thundering up.
“H’yare! Damn yeh none
He leaped from his horse, and running
up, tore the rider from his saddle in one swift effort.
The fellow struggled fiercely.
“Let go o’ me, ’r I’ll kill
Bacon growled something inarticulate
as he cuffed the man from side to side, shook him
like a rag, and threw him to the ground. He lay
there dazed and scared, while Bacon caught his horse
and tied it to a tree.
He came back to the fellow as he was
rising, and again laid his bear-like clutch upon him.
“Who paid you to do this?”
he demanded, as Councill and the others came straggling
up, their horses panting with fatigue.
The fellow struck him in the face.
The old man lifted him in the air and dashed him to
the ground with a snarling cry. His gesture was
like that of one who slams a biting cat upon the floor.
The man did not rise.
“You’ve killed him!” cried Milton.
“Damn ’im I don’t care!”
The man was about thirty-five years
of age, a slender, thin-faced man with tobacco-stained
whiskers. The fellows knew him for a sneaking
fellow, but they plead for him.
“Don’t hit ’im agin, Bacon.
He’s got enough.”
The fellow sat up and looked around.
The blood was streaming from his nose and from a wound
in his head. He had a savage and hunted look.
He was unsubdued, but was too much dazed to be able
to do anything more than swear at them all.
“What a’ yuh chasen’ me fur, y’
damn cowards? Six on one!”
“What’re you do-un ridin’ across
the country like this fur?”
“None o’ your business, you low-lived”
Bacon brought the doubled leading-strap
which he held in his hand down over the fellow’s
shoulders with a sounding slap.
“What you need is a sound tannun,”
he said. He plied the strap in perfect silence
upon the writhing man, who swore and yelled, but dared
“Give him enough of it!” yelled the crowd.
“Give the fool enough!”
Bacon worked away with a curious air
of taking a job. The strap fell across the man’s
upheld hands and over his shoulders, penetrating even
the thick coat he wore but it was not the
blows that quelled him, it was the look in Bacon’s
eyes. He saw that the old man would stand there
till sunset and ply that strap.
“Hold on! Dam yeh y’ want
’o kill me?”
“Yes, yes! My God, yes!”
“Climb onto that horse there.”
He climbed upon his horse, and with
Bacon leading it, rode back along the road he had
come, covered with blood.
“Now I want you to say with
y’r own tongue ye lied,” Bacon said, as
they came to the last polling-place he had passed.
The crowd came rushing out with excited questions.
“What y’ got there, Bacon?”
“A liar. Come, what ye goun’t’
say?” he asked the captive.
“I lied Deering aint withdrawn.”
They rode on, Councill and Milton
following Bacon and his prisoner. At the Oak
Grove schoolhouse a great crowd had gathered, and they
came out in a swarm as the cavalcade rode up.
Bradley left his book and came out to see the poor
prisoner, who reeled in his saddle, covered with blood
They rode on to the next polling-place,
relentlessly forcing the man to undo as much of his
villainy as possible. Milton remained with Bradley.
“That shows how desperate they are,” he
said as they went back into the schoolhouse.
“They see we mean business this time.”
All was quiet, even gloomy, when Bradley
and Milton reached Rock River. The streets were
deserted, and only an occasional opening door at some
favorite haunt, like the drug-store or Robie’s
grocery, showed that a living soul was interested
in the outcome of the election. There were no
bonfires, no marching of boys through the street with
tin pans and horns.
Some reckless fellows tried it out
of devilment, but were promptly put down by the strong
hand of the city marshal, whose sympathies were with
the broken “ring.” It had been evident
at an early hour of the day that the town of Rock
River itself was divided. Amos Ridings and Robie
had carried a strong following over into the camp
of the farmers. A general feeling had developed
which demanded a change.
Milton was wild with excitement.
He realized more of the significance of the victory
than Bradley. He had been in politics longer.
For the first time in the history of the county, the
farmers had asserted themselves. For the first
time in the history of the farmers of Iowa, had they
felt the power of their own mass.
For the first time in the history
of the American farmer there had come a feeling of
solidarity. They perceived, for a moment at least,
their community of interests and their power to preserve
themselves against the combined forces of the political
pensioners of the small towns. They made the
mistake of supposing the interests of the merchant,
artisan, and mechanic were also inimicable.
They saw the smaller circle first.
They had not yet risen to the perception of the solidarity
of all productive interests. That was sure to