During the last half of the 19th century, most folks looked upon the railroads as having plenty of money, and many of them figured out ways to get some of it for themselves, as did the Yankee farmer in the following story.
A horny-handed old farmer entered the offices of one of the railroad companies, and inquired for the man who settled for hosses which was killed by locomotives. They referred him to the company’s counsel, whom, having found, he thus addressed:
“Mister, I was driving home one evening last week –”
“Been drinking?” questioned the lawyer.
“Why, I’m center pole of the local Tent of Rechabites,” said the farmer. [The Independent Order of Rechabites was a Christian group dedicated to promoting total abstinence from alcohol]
“That doesn’t answer my question,” replied the lawyer; “I saw a man who was drunk vote for the prohibition ticket last year.”
“Hadn’t tasted liquor since the big flood of 1846,” said the old man.
“I will, ’Squire. And when I came to the crossing of your line – it was pretty dark, and – zip! along came your train, no bells rung, no whistles tooted, contrary to the statutes in such cases made and provided, and – whoop! Away went my off-hoss over the telegraph wires. When I had dug myself out’n a swamp some distance off and pacified the other critter, I found that off-hoss was dead, nothing valuable about him but his shoes, which mout have brought, say, a penny for old iron. Well –”
“Well, you want pay for that ’ere off-hoss?” said the lawyer, with a scarcely repressed sneer.
“I should, you see.” Replied the farmer, frankly; “And I don’t care about going to law about it, though possibly I’d get a verdict, for juries out in our town is mostly made up of farmers, and they help each other as a matter of principle in these cases of stock killed by railroads.”
“And this ’ere off-hoss,” said the counsel, mockingly, “was well bred, wasn’t he? He was rising four years, as he had been several seasons past. And you had been offered $500 for him the day he was killed, but wouldn’t take it because you were going to win all the prizes in the next race with him? Oh, I’ve heard of that off-horse before.”
“I guess there’s a mistake somewhere,” said the old farmer, with an air of surprise; “my hoss was got by old man Butt’s roan-pacing hoss, Pride of Lemont, out’n a wall-eyed no account mare of my own, and, now that he’s dead, I may say that he was twenty-nine next grass. Trot? Why, that’s the first time that old nag trotted since we plowed up a nest of hornets two-three years ago! Five hundred dollars! Bless your soul; do you think I’m a fool? It is true I was made an offer for him the last time I was in town, and, for the man looked kinder simple, and you know how it is yourself with hoss trading, I asked the cuss mor’n the animal might have been worth. I asked him forty dollars, but I’d have taken thirty.”
“Forty?” gasped the lawyer; “forty?”
“Yes,” replied the farmer, meekly and apologetically; “it kinder looks a big sum, I know, for an old hoss; but that ’ere off-hoss could pull a mighty good load, considering. Then I was kinder shook up, and the pole of my wagon was busted, and I had to get the harness fixed, and there’s my loss of time, and all that counts. Say fifty dollars, and it’s about square.”
The lawyer whispered softly to himself, “Well, I’ll be hanged!” and filled out a check for fifty dollars.
“Sir,” said he, shaking the old man’s hand, “you are the first honest man I have met in the course of a legal experience of twenty-three years; the first farmer whose dead horse was worth less than a thousand dollars, and wasn’t a trained champion trotter. Here, also, is a free pass for yourself and your male heirs in a direct line for three generations; and if you have a young boy to spare we will teach him telegraphing, and find him steady and lucrative employment.”
The honest old farmer took the check, and departed, smiting his brawny leg with his horny hand in triumph as he did so, with the remark –
“I knew I’d ketch him on the honest tack! Last hoss I had killed I swore was a trotter, and all I got was thirty dollars and interest. By gum, honesty is the best policy!”
– Sam Moore
The Old Farmer. [Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]