XIII

 

In this chapter I am going to try to describe a country dance that was held away back in the early seventies, out in the part of the country where our people lived.

 

The old house in which it was held is still standing. Another room has been built on, and the whole house weatherboarded on the outside. It now looks quite different from what it did back in the summer of 1873. The people who gathered there over fifty years ago did not have a lot of room in which to swing their partners. But if you think they didn’t have a good time, or that there were not many people in attendance at that dance, why, all I have to say is that you have another think coming. I am quite sure there must have been close to a hundred people there that night and many of them came a distance of twenty or more miles.

 

The house had been built by a Mr. Feeler who came down to this part of the world from Lake County, California. I think they came in 1869. Mr. Feeler brought a wife and nine children and another son was born a year or two later, making a family of six sons and four daughters.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Feeler were religiously inclined and I remember very well how, through their efforts, a little country Sunday School was organized. Mr. Feeler acted as teacher. It was not such a small Sunday School either for as I have before stated, the four families, the Feelers, Adams, Harts and Kellys of which it was constituted, could at that time muster thirty-one children. The Feeler family had nine, the Adams family with ten, the Hart family with four and the Kelly family with eight. Some of the members of these four families were at that time men and women grown and some were babies in arms. This Sunday School was organized I think, in 1870. And as there was at that early date no other place for them to meet they met at one of the family homes. Mr. and Mrs. Hart lived in between the other three families and so being more centrally located, their house was the usual meeting place, as I remember it.

 

Mrs. Feeler died quite suddenly in the year 1871 leaving Mr. Feeler with a large family of children to look after. The next spring he moved over to the Poway Valley leaving the ranch on which they had been living to his son Eb. About the same time, the Harts left and went back to Texas from whence they had originally come.

 

Eb Feeler lived for a number of years at the old Feeler place in what is now called Green Valley and is located about three and one half miles northeast of the town of Encinitas. He usually had some of his brothers living with him and not infrequently other young men made his place their headquarters. And as they were all unmarried, the place came to be known as Bachelors’ Hall. So it was at Bachelors’ Hall that the dance of which I am writing was held.

 

I think the room in which they danced was about 14 by 16 feet though Eb Feeler who still lives on Boulder Creek in this county told me a short time ago that it was sixteen feet square. Whatever the dimensions of the room were, though, I can testify to the fact that all the floor space there was thoroughly occupied that night. I can also testify to the fact that for small boys to attempt to go through that room while the dancing was going on was a very dangerous undertaking for said small boys. And I ought to know, for I tried it.

 

Well, the dance that was to be held at Eb Feelers, or Bachelors’ Hall, had been the talk of the country for some time. All the big girls and young ladies had been saving up “tea lead” and hiding it where their brothers would not find it and melt it up to make bullets. The “tea lead” would be used to curl their hair – provided the boys didn’t succeed in finding it.

 

The day before the eventful night of the dance all the children were sent to school dressed in their best. And after school was dismissed they would walk over to Eb Feeler’s instead of coming home from school.

 

Clint Adams came up to our place very early in the afternoon with a span of mules and a spring wagon ( they called it a “Hack”) and took Mother and me and my baby sister Jane, also a big box of good things to eat, over to Bachelors’ Hall. Father was out in Nevada with a drove of horses. Mrs. Adams was already there when we arrived. She and Mother began talking over plans for the supper. I very well remember her saying to Mother, “Now, Mrs. Kelly, you and I will just take charge of things here as far as the supper is concerned.” And they did.

 

Later in the afternoon various other people began to arrive, most of them coming in big farm wagons. Some coming from San Luis Rey and others from up the San Luis Rey River at what is now called Bonsall.

 

The young folks from our school all came in the late afternoon. Before dark there were teams unhitched and tied to wagons all about the place. Every family brought a big box of eatables. There was a long carpenter’s work bench in the yard that was used as a table. Additions to it were made by some loose boards supported at the ends on boxes or saw horses.

 

Mother and Mrs. Adams had spread table cloths on these boards and work benches early in the evening and set them out with what they had brought. Everybody had to stand while they ate and as the benches from which the eating was to be done were higher than the heads of a lot of us small boys, we certainly didn’t consider the feeding plan a success. All we got was what some of the grown-ups handed down to us. And what they handed us was not always what we wanted either. As soon as one crowd had eaten, the tables were cleared and reset and another crowd took their places. And so it went on until all had eaten.

 

No doubt there were lots of good things to eat there that night as every family brought of the best they had. But I don’t at this late day remember what anybody brought with but one exception. Juan Ortega, who then lived at the Old Adobe ranch house on the Encinitas Ranch, which was a couple of miles east of where the dance was held, brought a big box of delicious Mission grapes. I got some of them and they were by far the best grapes I have ever eaten. I shall remember them as long as I live.

Joe Foster, who is now the president of our County Board of Supervisors, was at that dance. He was at that time a young fellow of some fourteen or fifteen years of age and doubtless remembers the event very well. I could name a lot of others who also were in attendance that night. But the majority of those who were at that time grown up are now dead. It is now over fifty years since I made my “debut” into society.

 

But to return to my story. It was scarcely sunset when the fiddlers began to tune their instruments and as they say now of the horses at Tijuana, “They were off.” The dancing began. And they kept it up until daylight the next morning with very little time between dances. Those old-fashioned honest country people came to have a good time, and they were having it.

 

There were many babies and small children and their mothers made beds on the floor in the kitchen and as the little ones grew sleepy they were tucked away in all sorts of places. The married women sat in the kitchen and visited until they got their little ones to sleep, and then they joined the dancers and had as good a time as the young ladies had. None of them wanted to be assigned any task that might prevent their dancing if the opportunity offered.

 

I well remember one young matron, not long from Texas, who was sitting in the kitchen trying hard to get her baby to sleep so she could get out among the dancers in the other room. Her husband came and unbuckled his belt and laid it and an old dragoon six shooter down among a pile of the same kind of weapons that had already been laid aside by other men who had come in earlier than he. As he laid it away he said to his wife, “Keep your eye on that for me, will you?” But she said, “Now Johnson, I shain’t do it.” Evidently she didn’t propose to be cheated out of any dancing while she sat there guarding her husband’s six shooter.

 

In this day and age it would seem strange to see men come to a dance armed in that way, and all disarm before joining in the festivities. But in those days nothing was thought of it. Many of those men had only recently come across the plains, and through the Indian country and in fact many of them had lived all their lives in an Indian country so had gotten so accustomed to carrying their weapons that they didn’t feel as if they were entirely dressed unless they had a big six-shooter on.

 

Now many people of this day will think that because those men came to the dance armed there must have been a lot of rough stuff pulled off there that night. But there was not. Those men were as peaceably inclined and as well behaved as any like number of men would be now. In fact I feel quite sure that any girl or young woman would have been far safer among those big rough fellows than she would be among a like number of city men of today.

 

Along about eight or nine o’clock in the evening I was in the kitchen and my brother Will, who was three years older than I, and a boy of about his age came in. They each had some cookies which they were eating. The other boys’ name was Dick Adams. I was hungry and asked them to give me some of their cookies. But they said there was a big pan of them outside on the table and if I wanted any to go out and get some the same as they had done. The outside door of the kitchen was jammed with people sitting in it for want of any other place to sit, so I couldn’t get out that way. The only other way of getting out was to get through the front room where the people were dancing. I was bound to get out and get some of those cookies, so I decided to go through the front room.

 

The people were dancing a square dance of some kind. Captain Foster, who lived for many years at San Dieguito, was calling in a very loud voice, and the dancers were going forward and back. I watched my chance (or at least I thought I was watching my chance) and when they all went forward towards the center of the room, I made a run to get through behind them. But I evidently mis-timed my charge for they came backing up onto me before I was half way across the room, and of course I was swept off my feet. (A man on horseback would have had no chance where I was). I was pushed back against the wall, where I lay at full length on the floor with a big stout woman dressed in black standing on my jacket in such a way that I couldn’t get up. If the dancers had been ordered to go forward again I would have gotten out of the scrape pretty well. But they backed up and stopped and I was underfoot. I shouted to the big stout woman to get off of my coat. But my voice was of course drowned by the noise of the other people dancing. (It used to be the proper thing, you know, for everybody to keep time to the music with their feet during the time they were not actually going through the various figures of a quadrille.) The big woman was the only one in the room I think, who didn’t keep her feet in motion in time to the music. Well, when I found she paid no attention to my shouting, I decided it was going to be as the saying is, “a survival of the fittest,” if I didn’t do something desperate and that very quickly. So I bit her a couple of times, which brought forth a very violent exclamation and sudden change of position which released me from my terrible predicament. And you may be sure I didn’t waste any time getting back to the kitchen. I had forgotten all about those cookies that had been so much desired only a short time before. I was so sore and bruised that I crawled into a corner and slept until morning. It was broad daylight when the dance broke up and everyone went home. But it continued to be the talk of the neighborhood for many weeks.

 

I frequently pass that little house in which the dance was held for it is still standing. It has been added onto a little, and has been weatherboarded on the outside, but the same room in which the dance was held and the same little kitchen are there. And as I drive by I frequently point it out as the place where I first went out in society.

 

One of the very interesting things at that dance, and one that chiefly interests the young ladies and young gentlemen present, was a new schottische that someone introduced there that night. It was called the Seven-up Schottische or Seven-step Schottische. To be able to dance the “Seven-up” was to be strictly in the swim.

 

I have dwelt on this little country dance more than some may think necessary perhaps. But an occasional dance was the only entertainment that was to be had in those days. I wonder what some of the young people of this day and age would think of such an existence? Those women and girls in the back country of San Diego County went on year after year at the same routine of house and ranch work with almost no diversion of any kind.

 

There were very few light driving rigs of any kind in those days. Big heavy farm wagons were about the only kind of wheeled vehicles that the various ranchers had. A Spring wagon of any kind—no matter how old and dilapidated it might be, was called a “hack”. And to be taken for a drive in a “hack” was the very last word in the way of style.

 

Most of the young people, both young men and young women rode on horseback when they went out anywhere for pleasure. And some of the married women too were splendid riders.

For many years our post office was at San Luis Rey, which was twelve miles from where we lived. We used to saddle our horses and ride there to get the mail, thinking no more of the trip than we do now in going a few city blocks.

 

But the most convenient mail delivery we had in early days as I remember it was when our post office was at Old Town or North San Diego as it was called. The mail was carried by Stage from San Diego to Los Angeles and these Stages passed through the ranch on a road that ran about a mile and a half west of our house. Louis Rose, an old time resident of Old Town was the post master and he knew our people very well. My Father nailed a candle box on the top of a post by the side of the road and Mr. Rose, instead of putting the mail for the Kelly Ranch in the regular mail bag, tied it in a bundle and gave it to the driver. When he came to our mail box he stopped and deposited in the box any letters or papers there happened to be for us. To have your mail delivered within a mile and a half of your home was like having it delivered now at your door. Some of the time the stage coaches passed along by our ranch in the day time and at other times they came by in the night. The Stages were the world famed old Concord Coaches. If the passenger business was good they ran four horse coaches. But when business was dull, they used but two horses.

 

Once when Father was out in Nevada with the horses, my oldest sister who was teaching school had to take the Stage at a time when it passed the ranch in the night. On such an occasion the whole family would walk down to the road before dark and wait there until the Stage came along. On this occasion my mother and several sisters were in the party that went down to the road. They carried an old fashioned lantern with a candle in it. When the Stage finally came along they all got up from where they had been waiting behind some bushes that protected them from the wind, and walked out to the road, where the Stage came to a stop and my sister got aboard. The next day the driver told some of our folks that a passenger on the Stage the night before had his revolver ready when we came out to the road as he thought we were Stage robbers. He said they saw the light as they came near to where we were waiting and then it suddenly disappeared—probably from being swung around back of the skirts of some of the women. The driver, and the man on the boot with him, immediately became suspicious as robbers frequently carried what were known as dark lanterns. That was a lantern from which the light could be suddenly switched off by means of a shutter. After that when any of the family had to take the Stage in the night, they were more careful how they held the lantern. For some people who traveled on those old coaches had a way of “treating them rough” when they thought they were dealing with Stage robbers. Shoot first and ask questions afterwards. And some of those old sawed off shotguns loaded with an enormous load of buckshot in each barrel that were carried on the stages when Wells Fargo’s box was unusually heavy, were death dealing affairs. A revolver might miss or get only one at best. But one of those old Messenger guns might get a half dozen at one shot.

 

So, if any one had to stop a Stage at night, it was a good policy to select an open space for doing it, and thus give the occupants of the coach as little cause for suspicion as possible.