10 Years Ago
Week of January 2, 2014
Silver Fox Fur Business… And a Trial
By Joe Teter
“The silver fox fur business did pretty well until World War II came along,” Fort Seybert’s Eston Teter recalled in a conversation with his son, Joe. “Then during the war years, furs were considered an unnecessary commodity, so there was no market for them. Even after the war, the market for them never returned. It was also very difficult to get the feed that we fed them.”
That was how the conversation unfolded the time Joe Teter’s cousin Steve Teter, asked his Uncle Eston to tell Joe the story of when Eston and his younger brother Byrd Teter, “killed the wrong horse.”
Joe Teter, along with many other folks, loves to hear his father “tell his yarns and stories about growing up in Fort Seybert.”
“My dad,” Joe Teter says, “is full of stories, mostly about quirky characters he has known during his lifetime in rural West Virginia. Some people might think he is poking fun at the lack of sophistication of the folks in his stories, and that may be part of it, but all of the yarns are spun simply to relate a humorous event about a quirky, rural character, who is sometimes far wiser than you might expect. In his stories, these otherwise unsophisticated folks often express themselves in a simple, direct way that contains a bit of basic wisdom the world could use more of. I also think that most of the individuals in his stories would be flattered to know that they live on in my father’s memory.”
Joe Teter submitted this story to the “Times.” What follows is his first-person account.
My father, his brother, Byrd, and their father (my grandfather, Papa Teter) were in the silver fox fur business in the 1930s. Dad couldn’t have been much more than a teenager at the time. Some of the remnants of the old fox cages can still be found on the property near the house where I grew up in Fort Seybert. The foxes were kept in cages and, when they reached proper maturity, were put to sleep with an injection of strychnine and skinned, with the pelts sent to auction houses as far away as New York and Wisconsin.
The animals were raised on a diet that consisted of a feed mixture (mostly soybeans) and horsemeat. I don’t mean beautiful Clydesdales or those sleek, breathtaking animals that win the Kentucky Derby. I mean broken down, toothless old nags—horses worthless to anyone but the most compassionate animal lover and certainly of no value to a farmer who needed horsepower to work his fields.
And that is where our story has its quite inauspicious beginning—with a “toothless, old, broken-down nag of a workhorse.”
At that time there were a lot of workhorses in the county, but when they reached an advanced age, especially when they had lost most of their teeth, they were no longer of any value to a farmer. “An old horse that has lost its teeth can’t eat anymore,” dad explained. “If a horse can’t eat, it can’t work.”
Horses that had lost their value in that way were the types my dad’s family received for free from local farmers who were glad to be relieved of the unpleasant job of disposing of them. “Old horses in the last stage of life don’t lie down,” my dad said. “When they do, they never get back up and have to be put down and disposed of, a job most farmers did not relish.”
So, when Papa Teter received a message from a nearby farmer, “Mr. J.,” that he had an old mare to get rid of, it was business as usual. My dad and his brother were sent to bring the old nag back to be slaughtered. When they arrived at old man J.’s house, they were told to go down to Sweedlin Valley to the 100-acre-plus pasture and there they would find an old, white mare.
The two lads did as they were told and, just as the farmer had said, found a toothless old mare that fit his description. There were no other horses in sight. She was taken back home, slaughtered and prepared as food for the foxes. However, the next day, an unexpected visit was paid by “Mr. R.,” another farmer whose land bordered on the farm where they got the horse. “You killed the wrong horse!” Mr. R. protested. “That was my horse!”
My dad was willing to discuss the matter and make reparations for the mistake, even though the horse had actually been grazing on the wrong property when it was taken. “She was worth at least a thousand dollars,” farmer R. said. My dad knew when he was being taken advantage of, and refused to pay such a sum for an old horse. They parted company with the situation unresolved.
My father recalled. “I anticipated trouble out of it, so we kept the horse head in the cold storage we had for the horsemeat.” Sure enough, Papa Teter soon received notice that Mr. R. was suing for the alleged value of the old horse and was summoned to appear before Dewy Moyers, the justice of the peace (this was in the days before the magistrate system), in the county seat for the trial.
My grandfather was working away when the day of the trial arrived, so dad and Uncle Byrd went to Franklin to represent the defense and had an item with them that would prove to be of great importance in the trial—the horse’s head in an old lard can. Since it was summertime and hot, the boys took the horse head to the only grocery store in town, the Franklin Meat Market, and asked for it to be kept in the walk-in-refrigerator until needed for the trial!
The trial was to be held in the justice of the peace office on the second floor of the Dyer building across the street from the courthouse. However, so many folks had arrived as bystanders, especially high school classmates of Uncle Byrd who were curious to see their friend in court, that Moyers moved the proceedings to the courthouse.
My dad had retained council from a local attorney, Mr. Cunningham, and the attorney for the prosecution was Mr. William McCoy, the county’s prosecuting attorney. When Mr. Cunningham was presenting the case for the defense, he instructed dad and Uncle Byrd to go get the horse head. He then went to one of the courtroom windows and waved, apparently to someone outside. Shortly my dad and uncle reentered, carrying between them, by the two handles, the lard can containing the horse head.
They were followed by an unknown gentleman.
“This is Mr. Compton, a horse trader, respected in his profession, who has bought and sold many horses in his day,” Mr. Cunningham announced. Turning to the two boys, the defense attorney asked, “Have you gentlemen ever seen or made the acquaintances of this individual?” Mr. Compton was totally unknown by them, since he was from “away from here,” as the locals would say, and even, as per Mr. Cunningham’s astute instructions, had waited outside until needed, so as not to taint his testimony. “Please let the record show that this witness is a total stranger to the defendants, which should remove any suspicion of partiality in his statements,” Mr. Cunningham declared.
The evidence was presented. Dad and Uncle Byrd placed the lard can on a table in front of the justice of the peace’s bench. Mr. Compton slowly and carefully examined the evidence, inspecting especially inside the mouth. You could have heard a pin drop in the courtroom. Mr. Compton at some length turned to the justice and said, “I wouldn’t’ take this horse home.”
“What is it worth?” asked the justice of the peace. “Whatever you can get for the hide,” Mr. Compton replied. “What’s the price of a horse hide?” Mr. Cunningham asked my dad. “Sometimes five but usually two or three dollars,” he was told.
“Judgment for the defense!” the justice of the peace bellowed. “Now git that horse head outta my courtroom.” He slammed his gavel down on the bench.
I don’t know where the horse head finally ended up, but my father said that Papa Teter did pay Mr. R. for the horse, and in an amount somewhat more than that assessed by the horse trader. Mr. R. and my grandfather continued to be friends in spite of their little dustup at the Pendleton County courthouse.
Week of January 9, 2014
Did You Know?
January is a time of change and new beginnings. People often look forward to January as a chance to wipe the slate clean, often resolving to make changes to improve their quality of life in the months ahead. Such traditions may date back to the ancient god for which the month of January was named.
January is named after the ancient Roman god Janus, who was the god of beginnings and transitions as well as the god of gates, doorways, and passages of time. Janus also was believed to preside over the beginning and ending of conflicts. Janus is usually depicted as having two faces that point in opposite directions. According to Roman mythology, Janus was able to see into the past and the future. There was no counterpart to Janus in Greek mythology.
When examining the many attributes of Janus, it is easy to see why the month of January would be named after this multifaceted ancient Roman god.
60 Years Ago
Week of January 30, 1964
100 YEARS AGO
By LON K. SAVAGE
Editor’s Note—The following is one of a series of articles on the Civil War. Each weekly installment covers events which occurred exactly 100 years ago.
January, 1864, was one of the quietest months on the battlefronts of the Civil War—something of a lull before the great and final storm that would begin with the spring. The struggle of the Northern and Southern armies 100 years ago this week was not so much against each other as against a common enemy: cold.
Both armies did remarkably well against this foe—so well, in fact, that many soldiers later told of enjoying their winters in the field. Both Yankee and Rebel showed great ingenuity in improving upon what their respective governments had given them for comfort.
For many soldiers, the government had provided tents, and large, tented cities were seen scattered across the country. Along the Rapidan in Virginia, Gen. Robert E. Lee looked down from Clark’s Mountain on such a city of Yankee troops and watched hundreds of curlicues of smoke lifting skyward.
But tents were not the final word—not by any means. Thousands of soldiers on both sides built little huts or log enclosures, topping them with tent canvases or wood and filling the chinks with mud. Some built fireplaces, frequently using bricks from abandoned homes nearby. A few even added Victorian gingerbread designs along the eaves.
Some soldiers built bunks in their huts, using barrel staves or boards from hardtack boxes. Others, even fancier, built spring beds with saplings and cushioned them with leaves or hay. They then stabbed their bayonets into the dirt floor and stuck candles in the handle ends to furnish light.
Therein, warm and lighted, they would pass away the time between tours of duty writing letters, reading, cooking, mending clothes, shaving or just talking.
There were, of course, less ambitious men. Some men would lay a bed of leaves or straw between two logs, lie down and cover themselves with tent canvas, and that was their winter home. Others would sneak off each night to sleep in a nearby barn or haystack, and a few lucky ones obtained regular sleeping quarters in a farmer’s home, complete with feather bed.
Whenever the quarters were erected, the soldiers would first take care of their own needs, then turn to their community needs. In each camp, soldiers would build a chapel, a stable and, of course, a guard house. In some camps, log sidewalks made their appearance.
As winter wore on, some soldiers turned to the finer things and made benches, chairs and tables, then whittled chess men and chess boards for recreation.
And so, the winter passed, with little fighting and much companionship. The Civil War soldiers were like soldiers in any day and time; they appreciated rest and friendship. But like soldiers in other days and other times, they knew their purpose was to fight, and eventually they would have to do just that.
Next week: From the Cradle to the Grave.
70 Years Ago
Week of January 28, 1954
A list of the teachers who taught school in Pendleton County in the year 1872:
- W. Arbogast, Christopher Armentrout, H. Lee Baxter, Jacob C. Baxter, John W. Biby, E. V. Blakemore, W. C. Blakemore, James H. Bland, Henrietta Boggs, John S. Bond, A. Kate Castleman, H. S. Cooper, J. H. Covington, Mannesseh Cowger, William J. Cowger, John G. Dahmer, Benjamin F. Day, John W. Dolly, Mordecai Dove, John Dunkle, Isaac W. Dyer, L. C. Fishback, Arthur A. Hahn, G. Hildebrand, William N. Hiner, Jonathan Hiser, Robert H. Huffman, Charles N. Judy, H. C. King, E. A. Lambert, John F. Masters, Lafayette Nelson, Solomon K. Nelson, W. T. Newham, Henry W. Pope, George W. Rexrode, John Roandebush, E. A. Samuels, W. M. Schmucker, Jay Sullenbarger, Fillmore Todd, A. P. Todd, George M. Vint, Martha H. Ward, M. A. Westmoreland, Jacob Harman, Samuel Harman, Nick Wheeler, and S. M. Wood. Cost of schools $6,724.08.