REMINISCENCES

EMORY FISKE SKINNER, 1908: VESTAL PRINTING COMPANY, CHICAGO
 
(Pages from the Skinner book, courtesy of The Penton Collection, Anne Penton Pinckard and Joyce Penton Schnoor)
 
The following are excerpts from Skinner's book, published in 1908, which have descriptions particular to the Pace Area and the opinions of that time.

Chapter XI,
A Beautiful Forest,
pg. 134-

I was informed by Mr. Johnson, who was still at Escambia, that yellow-fever was epidemic in Pensacola and that it would not be safe for me to come down there with my family until after a frost.

It was therefore in early November, 1874, that with my wife, my son and my partner Ebenezer H. Hubbard, I started for Florida. I do not recall the incidents of that journey until we reached Decatur, Alabama. At that time the road between Louisville and Pensacola, now known as the Louisville and Nashville, was composed of short, independent lines. I think the road from Decatur to Montgomery was known as the Alabama Southern; from Montgomery to Mobile, as the Montgomery and Mobile, and from Flomaton to Pensacola as the Pensacola and Louisville Railroad.

We missed connections at Decatur and stopped at the Polk House for about twelve hours. Our train did not arrive until about 12 o'clock at night, and we sat up in the parlor of the hotel waiting for it, the daughter of the landlord. Meanwhile amusing us by entertaining her beau. At this time there were no Pullman cars on this route; the coaches were very plain, and usually dirty, but we had to content ourselves as best we could with the accommodations at hand.

The next day about dark we arrived at Oakfield six miles north of Pensacola, and were informed that it was not safe to go any farther. Several colored people were awaiting our arrival to take us to Escambia. I was suffering with a terrible headache, and so my wife and I stopped at a large house where a number of refugees from Pensacola had made their home during the prevalence of yellow fever. These were seeking in various ways to amuse themselves and drive dull care away. Ill as I was I found much to divert me in the stories of a certain gentleman; they were impossible and humorous; one of the stories I recall even now. It was of a dog, born without any forelegs and the owner to mitigate somewhat this misfortune had a couple of wheels made, and placed where the dog's forelegs should have been. The dog after that propelled himself with his hind legs, would chase chickens and pigs with great zeal, and also guard his master's front gate against intruders.

The next morning our teams came for us and we went to Escambia, about six miles across the country. On arriving there we examined the house and found that it had eleven outside doors, each fastened with only a button; that the openings where the windows should have been, were filled by solid wooden blinds; one room had four small glass windows,which had evidently been appropriated from some schooner. I do not recollect how we provided ourselves with board and lodgings until my household goods arrived from Wisconsin.

I found the mill sawing out a cargo of Rio deals for South America. We bought our logs from people who lived back in the country, who put them in cribs of about seventy logs each, by pinning a pole across each end of the logs. In this manner we secured all we could saw until about the year 1879. I then learned that there had been in 1873 a great depression in the lumber and timber business at Pensacola; that the shippers had met with great losses that year and that some of them had become bankrupt.

It was the custom in the port of Pensacola, at that time for the merchants to buy timber and lumber from the producers and ship it to ports all over the world, where they could find a market. The merchants usually sold cargoes of lumber or timber, delivered. at destination; the buyer would name about the amount of cargo wanted, the merchant would charter a suitable vessel, load the cargo and ship to its destination. In selling these cargoes there were three items which the merchant hid to take into consideration; these were cost, insurance and freight. What he was paid above these items was his profit. It was necessary that he be a man of considerable means, as there were no banks of large capacity, in Pensacola at that time, the bank of Hyer Bros. being in process of liquidation. These sellers assumed the role both of shippers and bankers. These three items---cost, insurance and freight were matters of much variability. The merchant after selling his cargo, had to buy it of some mill; if hewn timber he had to contract with some timber getter to deliver it within a certain time, at a certain price. The matter of insurance was a variable quantity, which depended upon the rating of the vessel; and the month of the year in which it sailed. The freight also was an unknown quantity, governed by the scarcity of vessels seeking freight or the abundance of vessels unchartered. So you will perceive that the seller took chances which might cause him great loss, but he usually took these risks with the nerve of a gambler.

The conditions of this trade were such that it necessarily partook of the nature of gambling. The buyers in Europe were kept well posted as to the conditions of the local market, having parties here who were their employees, or were interested with them in the business. About this time and after I came here, the brokers in England who made the sales to buyers in Great Britain and on the continent, assumed the right to make sales whenever in their opinion it was advantageous to themselves to do so. I remember the case of a mill company which came here from Chicago and had bought something like one hundred and fifty thousand acres of land in the state of Alabama at the nominal figure of a few cents per acre. The men were wealthy Chicago lumbermen and they understood the lumber business in Chicago. They came to Pensacola and built an immense mill capable of sawing two or three hundred thousand feet of Michigan white pine per day. They sent a merchant to England to make sales for them, paying him a commission on such sales as he might make. He went there and sold a good many thousand feet of lumber and chartered between twenty and thirty vessels. After making these large sales he came home and informed the mill men of his success and they were happy to think that they had such a prosperous season before them. In the early winter the vessels began to drop in on them. In the sawing of the pine it is necessary that the lumber should have a chance to dry out, for if the sap were wet the lumber would stain blue in the vessel and damage its value on delivery, for which the buyer would demand reclamation from the shipper. In such cases as these the broker selects an arbitrator and the buyer does the same; these two select a third and the three decide the amount the shipper must allow the buyer as damages, either on account of the cargo being injured in shipping, or not being as specified in the contract. The award of such arbitrators is usually liberal to the buyer.

At one time I believe these mill men had twenty vessels in port for cargo. A vessel, when chartered for a cargo is usually ready as soon as she has her ballast out; then she is allowed so many days for loading. When such days have expired the vessel is on demurrage, the amount of this depending upon the tonnage, or size. This demurrage is a part of, and collectible with the freight from the cargo, amounting usually to from one to two hundred dollars per day, and upwards. The lumber shipped in a vessel must be of the character, size and quantity sold; if it is not it may be rejected in toto, or a new price agreed upon that the buyer may choose to make, or damages may be claimed for non-deli very of goods bought. The result of the experience of these men the first year, selling their lumber in such ill-advised manner, put them in such financial straits that they were compelled to close down and eventually to sell out their plant at a price that put them out of business.

I recall another instance similar to the one mentioned, in which a partner, a reckless, character who should have known better and done better, one fall chartered all the vessels he could find in Europe, probably getting a commission on the vessels' charters. The ships arrived at Pensacola, until I think the firm had thirty vessels in port at one time, and though,quite wealthy, they were reduced to bankruptcy by the bad conduct of this partner.

I have mentioned these two instances of bad management, in order to show that a vessel when engaged must be loaded as prescribed in the charter-party. Still greater losses have been made by ambitious merchants attempting to comer the market in the supply of sawn timber. The loss of a dollar on a stick of timber amounts to a large sum of money in the purchase of two or three hundred thousand. In the height of business at this port, one firm, if I remember correctly, loaded and dispatched as many as one hundred and forty vessels in one year, and the cargo of each would average a million feet of lumber.

The law governing these transactions is very complex and intricate. The merchant should know the kind of lumber required in every port to which he ships lumber, for scarcely any two countries require the same dimensions or quality. Lumber for shipment abroad is usually sold by St. Petersburg standard, which is nineteen hundred and eighty superficial feet and the price is usually specified. to be in English sterling pounds, shillings and pence. Freight and insurance are also, generally payable in English money. Timber, both sawed and hewn, is sold by the load, being sixty cubic feet. Drafts, for the payment of cargoes are paid in English sterling as stated above, and are usually drawn in sets of three and on time. Sometimes, however, buyers wish to pay in the currency of their own country. During the time that I was engaged in this trade, the buyers so disliked to lose anything on a cargo, that they would use any means to, place the loss on the seller, just or unjust.

The pine belt that at one time existed on the gulf coast and lower Atlantic, at the close of the civil war, was a forest of great extent. Its area was practically level and streams were found in almost all its parts. Where the timber was not in easy haul of the streams, it was an inexpensive thing to build railroads to the timber. The pine, at this writing (1907) in comparison with 1865, is practically exhausted. Of course there is a great deal of it still left; enough to give employment to lumber men for several decades; but the end is in sight. It seems incredible that these millions of acres of pine should have been cut off, transferred through the channels of commerce to other climes, and so few people have been enriched by the process. I have lived in Pensacola thirty-two years and more; I have seen a great many people with small means engage in this lumber business, the manufacturing lumber from these pine woods, and this port of Pensacola for a great portion of that time has shipped on an average three hundred million feet of lumber and timber per year, but out of the men engaged in denuding these forests, I cannot at present writing recall more than fifteen who have accumulated over $100,000 in the business. A great many engaged in the business have not only become bankrupt, but have lost large sums of money which they had borrowed from merchants, still others lacked practical knowledge of lumbering or ability to learn it. I mention these principal items of risk, for the purpose of showing the hazards encountered by a stranger in entering this region and business, without any prior know ledge of the conditions which surround it. Almost every person coming here from the north who had been a successful lumberman in the white pine districts of Wisconsin or Michigan and had amassed a fortune there, greater or less, would naturally have a good deal of confidence in his own judgment and experience, as I discovered upon meeting them, and it would usually cost such a person about a hundred thousand dollars to learn how to do business in the south. I remember, a gentleman from Michigan who had bought mills and a large tract of pine, and whom I casually met on the street in Pensacola. He asked me to meet him at Millview and instruct him as to the proper method of manufacturing his lumber. I expressed a willingness to do so, as I did not like to have men come down from the north and lose money. He said: "I will write you when I get ready, and ask you to come over. I wish first to get a million feet of lumber piled in the yard." I replied: "You have then a million feet of lumber sold?" He rejoined, "I have no lumber sold, but a yard looks so much better with lumber piled in it." I said to him: "My dear sir, it is right there you are making a mistake. In the north you may safely manufacture any amount of lumber of certain dimensions, and it is always salable and in demand in that market; as much so as a barrel of flour or a barrel of pork, but in this country it is different; you should sell your lumber first, and then manufacture it. You may have a million feet of lumber in your yard, and you probably would not get a chance to sell it in a year, and in the meantime the lumber would decrease in value one-half, from the effects of sun and rain." This idea was so different from his experience in the north that evidently it did not impress him much. He continued doing business in an unsatisfactory manner for about a year, when he sold out for a lump sum to a syndicate in England. The buyers told me that the lumber he sawed (a million feet) was still in the yard unsold, and that they would be glad to get $6 per thousand feet for it. The former owner had paid that price to a contractor to cut the logs off his own land and deliver them to his mill. It was customary then for log-contractors to require of the mill owners sufficient money or supplies to enable them to hire men to cut, teams to haul and men to drive the logs before they would go to work. Perhaps they did with these supplies or money as they promised or possibly they did something else with it, which would never be known. These log contractors were good talkers and good promisers; many of them were playing a game they were familiar with, but which the "tenderfoot" does not know.

The "cracker" population as a rule were irresponsible in a financial transaction. In the seventies, soon after the war, it was a sentiment prevalent among the crackers, owing to their prejudice against the colored people, to hobnob with the more educated and cultivated class of whites, who thought it no harm, if not indeed a praiseworthy and loyal act, to cheat and bankrupt the man from the north who came here to get rich out of them, as they thought, and whom they called yankee, as a term of reproach. When I was asked if I was a yankee I always replied: "That I was a born and bred yankee." Of course, at the present time, after thirty years of experience and enlightenment, that prejudice exists only to a limited extent, and that principally among the women. I found, then that this prejudice existed against myself to a considerable degree, but when a man tried to do an unfriendly thing, I attempted to convince him that it was a game that two could play, and that he would gain little by so doing. I think I did not suffer from this sectional prejudice for more than six years after my arrival; it died out soon after the white population got political possession of the state. The people had suffered so severely through negro legislation, dominated by carpet bag influence, that the irritation was natural; when the source of the injury was removed the irritation vanished. During the first few years of my residence at Escambia, I found difficulty in getting, many of the best logmen to cut for my firm. In 1876 I think it was, the lumber market was very much depressed and it was almost impossible to sell lumber at a profit. Two or three men who bought logs on the Escambia River closed down their mills and refused to take any more from their loggers, refusing even those they had contracted for. These men came to me in their trouble, to sell their logs, though they had formerly refused to sell to me. I said to them: "All right, I will take your logs as long as I have money to pay for them, but when my money gives out I shall have to stop buying."

In those early years of living at Escambia, it was my custom to go north when the hot weather came. During the time we spent away traveling, we closed down the mill. This year I told my bookkeeper when I left, to buy logs as long as he had any money in the bank, then stop buying. When I returned in the fall, I found he had paid out what money I had, and also had over drawn my account at the bank about $10,000; but I had a fine stock of logs on hand. I found that the market was much better than when I had left in the spring, I formed a shipping partnership with a Mr. Hooten, of Pensacola, who had had a long experience in shipping lumber for himself or in the employment of others. This partner had sold several cargoes to be shipped abroad, and had contracted for the lumber to be furnished by other mill owners. The price advanced on lumber from $1 to $2 per thousand feet, The mill owners had neglected to buy logs and could not get them at the old price, when the vessels arrived for their cargoes, they told my partner that I had bought all the logs in the market, knowing what was going to happen, and that I had the logs and could saw the lumber myself, while they could not furnish it. I had thought this state of affairs would come about and had gone to work preparing the lumber, and had it on hand. I did not let my partner know this fact, but kept him in "hot water" by asking him what he was going to do. He finally acknowledged his helplessness, that he could not buy the lumber anywhere. I said: "You represent your company; I represent Skinner, Hubbard & Co. I will sell you the lumber at $2 per thousand advance on the price you were to pay the other parties for it." He replied: "I accept your offer." I loaded the vessels all in good time. Then I said to him: "Mr. Hooten, you send those parties a bill for the difference in price between the contract price for the lumber and that which you had to pay for it; if they refuse to pay the difference, sue them." They did refuse; we sued them, got judgment and they paid the judgment.

When I came to Escambia we had no postoffice there. I arranged with the postmaster at Pensacola to give my mail to the mail carrier who carried the mail between Pensacola and Milton and I would send a messenger to Pritchard Field and get my mail as the carrier passed that point. C. L. Le Baron had a private telegraph line from Pensacola to Milton and I put a private line from Escambia to Ferry Pass. I hired several boy operators, but had much trouble with them and more with those employed by Le Baron. After continuing it for about a year I came to the conclusion that the line was more of a vexation than a convenience, and I gave it up. In 1878 my partner, having been accustomed to city life, with nothing to attend to, went home to his uncle and refused to come back.

I heard of the wonderful telephone (the telephone is as wonderful to me today as it was then), I received a letter from a cousin of my wife who was operating one, giving it unstinted praise. I had never seen a telephone myself; there were none in Florida so far as I knew. In 1880 I put up a line from Escambia to Pensacola, placing the Pensacola end of the wire in the office of my friend, Col. Geo. E. Wentworth. It worked very satisfactorily, and was a great curiosity, being the first telephone in that part of Florida, if not in the state.

I needed a light-draught tugboat to tow lumber and logs; one that I could run through the narrows in the sound up to Choctawhatchie Bay, as well as operate in Escambia Bay and River. I concluded to go to Oshkosh and buy a tug; one of those used at that place for towing logs and lumber. I bought a nearly new boat; one of the best, if not the best in those waters. My partner, Eben. Hubbard, went up to Oshkosh to take passage on the boat and come down with it, and he had quite an interesting trip. The tug went up the Fox River and through the canal which connected that river with the Wisconsin River, down the Wisconsin to the Mississippi, down the latter to the jetties and into the Gulf of Mexico. She then had to work her way northward among the Chandelier Islands into Mississippi Sound and through that to Mobile Bay, and from Mobile Bay to Pensacola Bay through the Gulf. This tug was built for use in fresh waters, and had no condenser, her trip through salt water caused her boiler to foam, which interfered with her steaming. When the boat reached Escambia the men were very much pleased that the trip was ended; the voyage having been made for them through unknown waters. To have made such a trip without accident and nearly on the schedule time (made previous to leaving Oshkosh) was very gratifying.

At that time it was customary for men employed on the inland waters of Pensacola Bay to amuse them-selves by telling frightful stories of sickness and death to tenderfeet just from the north. Capt Colburn, of the tug Hercules, was very susceptible to these fairy tales, and his fear being noticeable made him a shining mark, for the story teller. I kept him busy towing logs from Choctawhatchie Bay to the mill. A few months after his arrival at the port he was taken sick while at Freeport and was very badly frightened, and notwithstanding he was to be part owner of the boat and captain of it, he made up his mind to get out of the country while his life remained, and return to Oshkosh.

At the time of my arrival there was a great deal of malarial and break-bone fever. Considering the way the natives lived, the mystery to me was that they did not all die, and not that many of them were taken ill. Dr. John Brosnaham. moved to Gull Point, about three miles down the bay, the year after I came to Escambia, and was a great help to me in keeping my family and employees well. He made calomel pills with which he always kept me supplied. He had several grades of these pills, of different strength; the mildest pills he called "little cusses," next were the "royal Bengal tigers," the most powerful were "little hell." Either kind could be administered to the patient, as his condition might require. It was remarkable the uniformity with which these pills relieved the patient.

The principal diet of the crackers at this time was hog and hominy, intermixed with greens when the latter could be had. The hoecake was made by mixing cornmeal and water, with a little salt, putting it on a shovel and baking it over a coal fire; the bacon was fried in a skillet. In the fall they would make some cane syrup and when in funds some wheat flour, which they would mix and bake as hoecake. This was at times the principal food of the negroes and poor crackers, and sometimes the "little hell" pills were required to produce any effect.

Until 1878 I had kept myself in fairly good health with the contents of numerous bottles of Simmons' liver regulator. I went north that summer to New York, where I spent several days with a Mr. Colquett who was a buyer and shipper of pitch-pine lumber from the Atlantic coast ports. I was anxious to learn how they inspected lumber in New York when it arrived in cargo lots. He had several vessels which were unloading in New York harbor and he wished me to see a cargo which was unloading in Brooklyn. He did not seem to be very well posted as to localities in that city, nor as to car lines. We boarded a car which he thought would take us to the vessel; but it did not. He considered, however, that by walking cross-lots we would soon reach the vessel. It was a very hot, clear day and the sun's rays were scorching. The distance proved to be more than a mile. I have never had a sunstroke, but think I came pretty near it then. The next day I went up to New Haven, Conn., where I had a cargo of timber and lumber unloading, which I had sold to the New Haven Sawmill Co. When I arrived at New Haven I went directly to the vessel, but the heat of the day before I think had stimulated the malaria in me and I began to feel sick. I asked Mr. Booth, the agent of the buyers, to take me to a good hotel, which he did. When I reached the hotel I went to bed and asked the landlord to send for a good doctor. The physician came and looked me over. I do not know what his diagnosis was, but he put some "No. 1" in a glass of water and some "No. 2" into another glass of water and told me to take a teaspoonful of "No. 1" and in half an hour a teaspoonful of "No. 2," repeating till I got well, or died. The girl who waited on my room told the housekeeper that she believed the man in No. 22 was crazy; "Just think, this hot day he has kept calling for blankets till I have put six on his bed." During my life I have suffered terribly, with headaches, first and last, but I never had such a painful headache as I had that night. My reason appeared to be all right, but the pain was intense. I feared that before morning I would be out of my head if the pain continued. About twelve o'clock I touched the bell button for the night clerk to come to my room and in vigorous language I told him my condition. I directed him to bring me some crushed ice, put it in a washbowl, pour in some water, set it at the head of my bed and furnish me a towel. I then wet it in the ice water and put it on my head. When the towel would get warm I would take it off my head and put it in the water; then wring it out and put it back. By three o'clock in the morning the headache had ceased, and later I went to sleep.

About 9 o'clock the doctor came to see me again. I told him that I did not want any more "No. 1 and No. 2," but that if he would give me something that would not make my head ache I should be glad. He remarked: "You appear to know better what to do than I. I reckon you better doctor yourself." I told him I that thought so too, and bade him good day. I then called the landlord in and asked if he could recommend a good allopathic physician. He was careful to express no opinion as to the merits of any physician, but finally mentioned a Dr. Hubbard. I said: "Send for him; I never knew a Hubbard who was a fool." He came and put me under a treatment of calomel and quinine. In ten or twelve days I thought. I was all right and insisted upon going into the dining room to get my meals. This led to a relapse and I was quite ill again. After about two weeks more I felt that I had recovered and I made up my mind that I would go to my wife in Chicago; I was very impatient at the confinement and delay. Dr. Hubbard told me that if I took the journey then to Chicago it would kill me, but I paid my bills; settled with Mr. Booth as he dictated for the cargo of lumber, ordered a carriage and went to the railroad station. As I sat in the depot awaiting the arrival of the train for New York, I felt very ill and concluded that I would have to return to the hotel. I started to get a carriage to take me there, none was in sight, but the train rolled into the station and I got aboard. I kept getting stronger all the way to New York City, and then for some reason I crossed to Jersey City and took the Pennsylvania train for Chicago. I met my wife in the latter place, and accompanied her two or three days in the hot sun on a shopping tour, then we went to Oshkosh. My wife was an invalid and a local physician was treating her; he also prescribed for me, as I had not yet recovered from my late illness.

About a week later I went to Ripon in order to place my son in school. While at the house of the president of the college, waiting for the return train, I was taken quite sick again, but I arose, in spite of the pain, and took the train to Oshkosh. My partner, Mr. Eben Hubbard, met me at the station and took me to the house of my wife's father. The next day I was taken with a terrible fit of vomiting. My mother-in-law came to me and said: "Don't you think we had better send for Dr. Osborne?" This doctor had been our physician before we went south. I replied that I would like to have him. He was sent for and came in the morning; talked with me awhile and went out of the room. In a short time Mrs. Hubbard came to me and said: "Mr. Skinner, may I tell you what Dr. Osborne told me?" I replied, "Certainly." "He says you are all used up, that he can't do much for you; whether you live or not will depend upon good nursing; that in any event you will not get out in six weeks." I had never suffered much sickness, I took no stock in the doctor's prognostications in my case, but following events proved him correct. Mrs. Hubbard was one of the dearest old ladies I ever knew, as well as the best friend I ever had. She nursed me faithfully, but it was six weeks before I became convalescent. I fully believe she saved my life. Dr. Osborne remarked that it would be some time before I would have another fever and I have had none, although I have lived twenty-seven years in Florida. The experience of that malarial fever has demonstrated to me that a person convalescing from it, should be very careful in resuming the customary avocations of life, and I have used that knowledge much to the advantage of my family and the health of my employees. As soon as I had fully recovered I returned to Escambia.

My experience in 1878 in buying logs led me to buy the log landings along the shores of the bay and river, where logs could be handled by teams and rolled into the water; then these landings could not be used without my consent while I owned them. Up to this time and for several years later, timber lands in Florida were valued at only fifty cents per acre, which price, of course, was ridiculously low. I was aware of that fact, but I think it was the general impression of the natives that these lands never would be worth more. They could secure government land by locating it under the United States Homestead law, but most of them failed to do so, because it cost fifteen or twenty dollars to locate the claim.

Most of the natives possessed a migratory disposition. They would see locations often which they thought superior to the one they occupied. It did not involve much labor to cut poles, notch them and build a log house; they could cut down a cypress, juniper or pine tree for shingles. Most of them had a little ox-cart or one-horse, four-wheeled wagon in which to move their wives, children and household goods, and they could drive their pigs and cattle to the new home. The man would girdle a few acres of trees and start a new plantation, perhaps a little richer and better than the former wornout garden spot. At one time I think as many as a hundred of these "squatters" were living on my land.

In the fall of 1880 my former partner, E. H. Hubbard, returned to Escambia and spent the winter with me. His eldest daughter, Mary, was born at my house. I had an option on some thirty-five thousand acres of pine land at seventy cents per acre. This land lay on, and tributary to the Canuch River, and was covered with very large pine trees. Mr. Hubbard had two brothers in New Mexico raising sheep, and about this time they sold out; their names were John Q. and Howard Hubbard. The mill property at Escambia still belonged to my father-in-law and I urged them very strongly to look at this pine land and buy it. If they preferred I would let them have the mill at Escambia and I would go somewhere else, but the three brothers decided to go to Mobile and embark in the lumber business there. Later this land was sold to a syndicate of Wisconsin men--a Mr. Wharton and others. Afterwards Mr. Wharton offered the land to me at $2 per acre, and he finally sold it to a Mr. Peters, who made a fortune out of it, and then sold it to Mr. F. C. Brent and others, who have also made a great deal of money from it.

 

 

 

 

 

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