Read CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE of Watch Yourself Go By , free online book, by Al G Field, on ReadCentral.com.

In the land of the sage and the cottonwood,
The cactus plant and the sand,
When you’ve just dropped in from the effete East
There’s a greeting that’s simply grand;
It’s when some giant comes up to you,
With a hand that weighs a ton,
And cries as he smites you on the back;
“Why, you derned old son of a gun!”

Texas, quoting Col. Bailey of the Houston Post, “is a symphony, a vast hunk of mellifluence, an eternal melody of loveliness, a grand anthem of agglomerated and majestic beneficence. Texas is heaven on earth and sea and sky set to music.”

With ample room to spare, Texas would accommodate either Austria-Hungary, Germany and France; and if it were populated as thickly as is Belgium it would have a population of over 265,000,000.

The State of Texas could accommodate comfortably the people of all the European nations.

Texas was wild and woolly when Alfred first toured it with a wagon show. Weatherford was away out west; Dallas was in its swaddling clothes and Houston was a village. Hunting was good just over the corporation line and there was no closed season on anything. Charley Gibbs and Henry Greenwall owned the State. Charley Highsmith was a schoolboy; he had never owned a dog or looked along the barrels of a double-barreled gun. Mike Conley was setting type in a printing office run by hand, and Bill Sterritt was the printer’s devil, excepting when ducks were coming in. Ben McCullough was the only railroad man in north Texas, and George Green the only Republican in the State. Jake Zurn had not left Germany and Jim Hogg was a cowboy.

A pair of Texas ponies, an open buggy, a doubled-barreled shotgun, two dogs and an invalid, were Alfred’s constant companions on that tour of Texas. The invalid who was touring Texas for his health, was a relative of the managers, a German, refined and scholarly, a high class gentleman.

This was the introduction:

“Alfred, Mr. Smith is not well. The doctor advised that he live in the open. He is my guest and I want him to ride with you. I am sure you will like him. I want this trip to benefit his health. You have the best team with the company. You can make the route in half the time it requires the show to drive it. Sleep late in the morning.”

Despite this advice, the invalid and Alfred were well on their way by daylight almost every morning, nor did they make the routes in half the time the show did. It was more frequently the reverse, particularly if the shooting was good. The invalid was the wellest sick-man companion ever toured with. His cheeks were sallow, low in flesh, but the spirit was there. It was a case of the invalid looking after the nurse. The vast plains were covered with cattle Texas steers. The invalid marvelled at their numbers. While Alfred was scouring the prairie with dog and gun the invalid would stand erect in the buggy, on the road side, computing the number of Texas steers within sight. How the cattle men separated their droves, claiming their cattle, was a wonderment. Cowboys and Texas steers was a theme on which the invalid never tired talking. Texas steers were a hobby with him. He would talk with cowboys for hours, collecting information.

Many nights the circus people in making long drives between exhibiting points were compelled to sleep in their wagons, tents, or anywhere they could find shelter. This sort of life soon brought bronze to the invalid’s cheeks and strength to his body.

Pidcock’s Ranch, embraced several thousand acres of land, a house with four rooms and porch or veranda. All the house was given over to the ladies. Alfred explained to the manager of the ranch that he had in charge an invalid and requested the ranchman to do the best he could for them in the way of sleeping quarters. The ranchman arranged a comfortable bed on the porch for the invalid and Alfred, advising they would be compelled to sit up until the ladies retired. All had long retired ere the invalid put in an appearance. The invalid invariably found congenial company cowboys, cattlemen or rangers. Each night finding his way to bed he would awaken Alfred to explain something new as to Texas steers. The invalid had dispatched two cowboys thirty miles for refreshments. The invalid did not part from his guests until late. Alfred’s wife had sent him a birthday present, a pair of night-shirts worked with red braid, and he was very proud of them. The invalid on retiring commented again on the beauty of Alfred’s hand-painted night-shirts and the immensity of the droves of Texas steers.

Sleeping in the open on the porch, their slumbers were deep. Awaking late, Alfred’s face felt drawn up. It was as though it was puckered out of all shape. Placing his hand on a substance as large as a hulled hickory nut, it was with some little difficulty peeled from his face. A dozen other lumps of similar size were scattered over his ample countenance. Glancing at the invalid whose face was adorned with a full set of whiskers, Alfred discovered they were liberally sprinkled with the whitish-grayish substance that adorned his own face and the front of his decorated night garments. Prying loose another lump, Alfred, holding the substance at arm’s length, scrutinizing it closely, endeavoring to analyze it. A “cluck-cluck” caused him to look aloft and there, on a beam, sat ten or twelve contented “dominicker” hens. He could discern but half of their bodies that part that goes over the fence last. Rudely awaking the invalid, Alfred brushing, picking and pinching the white and greenish bumps from face and night-shirt, indulging in language not proper even on a Texas ranch, he slowly worked his way to the watering trough (the only bathing facility), followed by the invalid, who was parting his whiskers to free them from the hidden lumps, meanwhile endeavoring to console Alfred: “Never mindt, Alfred. Never mindt. Your shirt vill vash all right, und my viskers, too,” parting his whiskers and dumping a few more deposits, he remarked: “It’s purty badt I know, but, Alfred, it might a bin wusser. ‘Ust s’posin’ dem schickens roostin’ over us hadt been Texas steers.”

“The sooner a man goes into business, the sooner he will be able to retire; that is, if he is baked done. If he ain’t, he better let somebody do business for him. My boy, it’s better to go into business too young than too old. If you happen to spill the beans, you’ve got the vim to pick them up again.”

“Well, Uncle Henry, if I have good luck this season, I’m going to make a break for myself.”

“Good luck, huh? If you’re lookin’ for luck to help you, you’ll be so near-sighted you can’t see a business chance across a narrow alley. If luck got you anything you might. There ain’t no luck coming to any man that waits on it. Every man that’s got any get-up in him always has bad luck. He brings it on himself, then he just beats luck out. There ain’t no good luck. It’s grit and judgment agin dam-fool notions. And grit and judgment wins out nearly every time. I’d rather drive a bad bargain than drive a dray. You can drive a dozen bargains a day. You can drive only one dray. One of your bargains may buck, the other eleven win out. A minstrel show is alright, but, mind, it’s a lifetime job, going into business. You ought to know what you’re doing. But, I’d thought you’d go into the circus business.”

“Well, I would, Uncle Henry, but I haven’t got the capital. It takes more money than I ever hope to possess. Besides, I want a business wherein I can make a reputation for myself.”

“You better go into a business where you can make money. The reputation will make itself. If you can’t make money, you can’t make reputation.”

“But it’s my ambition to have the biggest minstrel show in the country.”

“Well, you do that which you feel would be the most agreeable to you. When I went into the grocery business in Burlington, everybody behind my back predicted I would lose out. Everybody told me to my face I’d win out. Make up your mind to stand on your own judgment.”

Sam Flickinger, editor of the Ohio State Journal, wrote the first mention of the Al. G. Field Minstrels. He gave Alfred desk room in the job office of the Journal, of which he was manager and editor. The first advertising for the Al. G. Field Minstrels was printed in the job office of the Ohio State Journal. The dates and small bills have been printed in that office, or the successors of it, ever since.

Almost every one of Alfred’s friends advised him to abandon the idea of entering the minstrel business. His family were all opposed to it.

This was the manner in which Alfred’s declaration as to going into business seemed to be received by his friends.

Col. Reppert of the B. & O. assured Alfred he would send him a ticket to any point he might require it from. Billy McDermott, probably fearing the Colonel might not get the ticket to him, presented Alfred with a pair of broad-soled low-heeled walking shoes.

There was one staunch friend whose words were always encouraging. “You’re right, old boy. I wish you all the success you so richly deserve. Never mind the knockers. You’re in right. You’ll make it go.” Thus did Bill Hunter of the Penna. R. R. encourage Alfred. Alfred often declared Bill a level-headed man, one who would be heard from later.

Frank Field was the city passenger agent of the Penna. R. R. Frank and Bill were very kindly disposed towards show folks. They carried a troupe on their own account over the Penna. Lines. They were security for the fares to the amount of a couple of hundred dollars. The troupe stranded Bill held the musical instruments. The instruments were taken to the city ticket office, concealed under the counter. Bill and Frank were “stuck.” They endeavored to dispose of the horns to Alfred. Alfred joked Bill frequently, advising him to organize a band, and learn to play one of the horns. This “guying” did not alter Bill’s attitude towards Alfred’s enterprise. He was even more optimistic as to its success. Bill would slap Alfred on the back, saying: “Never mind the salary you are leaving. You’ll make more money with this minstrel show in a year than you would on salary in two.”

Alfred from the first day he began his minstrel career sought to introduce new ideas; not to do things as they had been done. He was the first to uniform the parade. The costumes were long, light-colored, newmarket overcoats, black velvet collar, stylishly patterned. They were very attractive overcoats, contrasting effectively with the red broadcloth, gold-trimmed band uniforms.

The company rehearsed in Columbus and opened at Marion, Ohio, October 6, 1886. The opening day was a dismal, rainy, fall day, just verging on winter. Alfred’s good friends gathered in the union depot at Columbus to bid the minstrels Godspeed, although they traveled on another line. Bill Hunter was at the depot to see them off. The genteel appearance of the troupe, especially the overcoats, were favorably commented upon. Bill shook hands with each member of the company as they entered the car. When the last man was aboard, when the last good-bye had been spoken, Barney McCabe remarked to those assembled: “I don’t know what kind of a show Alfred’s got, but they have the finest overcoats that ever went out of this depot.” Bill, winking at Barney, said: “I’ll have ’em all before two weeks. If he makes money with this troupe, he can ketch bass with biscuits.”

Another of Alfred’s innovations was a large amount of scenery and properties. Each piece of baggage was marked with bright letters, “The Al. G. Field Minstrels.”

The afterpiece, “The Lime Kiln Club,” was quite a pretentious affair for a minstrel company in those days. The stage setting, representing the interior of a Lodge, required antiquated furniture such as could not be hired in the one night stands. Therefore, the minstrels carried all this furniture, a large sheet-iron wood stove with lengths of stovepipe. Not until the last trunk was loaded onto the baggage wagon, did Alfred leave the depot that first morning. Walking slowly along the street, keeping pace with the heavy wagon, proud of the new trunks with the plainly painted names on each, the furniture for “The Lime Kiln Club,” with the stove and stovepipe atop of all, the wagon passed up the street.

While passing a building in course of erection, the workmen ceased their labors to gaze at the wagon. A plasterer with limey overalls gazed at the wagon intently until it passed by. Turning to his fellow workmen, pushing his hands in his pockets deeper, and shrugging his shoulders, he sympathetically remarked: “Hit’s mighty cole weather fur flittin’. I allus feel sorry for pore folks as has tu move in cole weather.” Looking down the street from where the wagon came he continued: “I wonder whar the folks is. Walkin’ to keep warm, I reckon. I hope they hain’t any children.” Thereafter, Alfred ordered the odd furniture, stovepipe and stove loaded in the bottom of the wagon.

A heavy rain interfered with the attendance the opening night. In the excitement, Alfred did not realize that he had lost money. It was only after the second night Upper Sandusky that he figured the first two nights were unprofitable. Chas. Alvin Davis, of Alvin Joslin fame, and his manager, were visitors the second night. The receipts at Bucyrus were very light, and to pile up troubles for the new minstrel manager, a boy connected with the theatre stole from Alfred’s clothes in the dressing room all his private funds. The empty pocket-book was found in an ash-barrel at the rear of the boy’s residence, yet the police did not feel it was sufficient evidence to warrant the arrest of the young scamp.

The fourth night, at Mansfield, rain, hail, sleet and snow, such as Ohio had never experienced at that season of the year, (October 10), made the streets impassable. The minstrels played to a very meager audience. After all bills were paid the company had thirty-seven dollars in the treasury.

Several friends in Columbus assured Alfred that if he ran short he could draw on them. Alfred had learned six weeks was the most lengthened period any of his friends gave him to keep the company afloat.

“He’s ruined. All his savings gone, he will be worse off than when he began life.” This was the comment of one of his dearest friends.

Leaving Mansfield at midnight, arriving at Ashland, Alfred, that he might not have the night lodging to pay, sat in the depot until daylight, then sauntered to the hotel. Thirty-seven dollars in the treasury, cold and snowing. Alfred debated in his mind as to whether he should telegraph his friends in Columbus for assistance. His decision was: “No, I will not humble myself. I’ll pull through some way. Besides, I have invested my own money in this concern. If I lose it, it’s gone. I can earn more. If I borrow money and lose, I’m in debt.”

He didn’t know he could do it. He wasn’t sure he could pull the show through. He had heard and seen the sneers and smiles of incredulity. He remembered Uncle Henry’s advice:

“If you haven’t got the stuff in you to stand alone and fight for yourself, you’re wasting time trying to do business. Being smart is only half of it. Being game is the other half. The biggest persimmons are atop of the tree. You’ve got to climb to get them. There are times when you’ll have to hold on by your finger tips. But if you’re not game enough to take the risk, you don’t deserve what’s up at the top. The cowards are standing under the tree waiting for the persimmons to fall. There’s so many of them they have to fight harder to get those that fall to the ground than the game fellow that climbs the tree. Men will pull you down, tramp on you, in their endeavors to climb over you. It’s the selfish idea of many men they can build up more rapidly if they tear down. They’ll block your game, they’ll lie about you, they’ll not only throw you down but they’ll sit on you, and hold you down, until you gather force to squirm from under. You’ll never suffer as much when you have the least as you do when the grit has leaked out of you. The man who climbs the tree from the bottom to the top is never licked. If they pull him down he will start from the bottom again. Poverty cannot ruin him. It’s only a check. He has less fear than those who have had a ladder placed against the tree for them to climb up. Believe in yourself. Take everything that belongs to you. Take your licking but don’t sell out to cowardice. When your grit’s gone you’re done for.”

A thin, a very thin partition between the room he occupied and that of two of his principal people, Alfred was compelled to play the rôle of eavesdropper again.

“He won’t pull through. I am sorry I joined the show, I throwed away a good engagement to accept this one. I’m stuck again. This thing won’t last a week. I’m going to get away at the first opportunity.” It was one of a talented team of musicians. They not only did a fine specialty but doubled in the band. The one talking was the manager of the act. Alfred held a contract with the trio. He had fulfilled all the requirements of it and they owed him considerable money, advanced for hotel bills during rehearsals, railroad fares, etc. He lay on the bed debating with himself what to do, enter the room and throw the talker out of the window, or have him arrested.

“I heard Field tell his treasurer he had no money. I’m going to skip. Take my word for it, we’re all up against it.”

The other replied: “Well, I owe the company a lot of money. I’ll stick until I see how it goes.”

Alfred was on fire. He would die rather than fail. The following day was Sunday. This would entail extra expense. Basing his calculations upon receipts in other cities, he feared he would not have funds to carry the company to Akron, the next exhibition point.

He accidently met a Columbus man, a minister, Reverend Messie, the pastor of the church where Alfred’s family worshipped. He had recently officiated at the wedding of Alfred’s sister; he felt he had met a friend from home. He decided to lay his troubles before the good man but weakened at the beginning. Instead he inquired as to whether the minister was acquainted with a banker in the city. The minister accompanied Alfred to a bank and had Alfred requested him, to make a favorable talk for him, the good man could not have said more.

“This is Mr. Field, a friend and neighbor of mine. He has not acquainted me with the nature of his business with you, but he is responsible, owns property in Columbus and bears an excellent reputation.”

The banker invited the minstrel into his private office. Alfred made a statement of his affairs, dwelling strongly on the robbery at Bucyrus, exhibiting newspaper clippings to substantiate his statements.

“Let us see what your liabilities are. Going over them, there were none. Nearly all of the company were indebted for money advanced. I can’t see where you are in any financial trouble. You have no debts following you, have you?”

“None,” answered Alfred.

“Well, what is the trouble?”

“It’s like this,” the minstrel explained. “We’ve done no business since we opened. I have lost money at every stand. I have but thirty-seven dollars on hand. It’s a big jump to Akron. I am sure, I’ll require a little money, not much. If it hadn’t been for that touch at Bucyrus I’d be all right.”

“You’ll do business here. It’s the best minstrel town in Ohio. Primrose & West did fairly well, although our people didn’t know them. Hi Henry packed the house.”

“I fear people do not know us,” sighed Alfred.

“Well, I’ll introduce you they will know you.”

Alfred had ended every statement with the wail that if he had not been robbed in Bucyrus he would be all right.

“The bank closes at noon. Come around, take lunch with me, I’ll see you to Akron. Don’t worry. I fear you’re a bit shaky. You are just starting in business, you require confidence.”

“If it hadn’t been for the touch at Bucyrus, I’d have been all right,” ruefully remarked Alfred.

The President and Alfred made a round of the business houses of the town.

“This is Mr. Field, the minstrel man, one of our people. His home is in Columbus. I just bought four seats. The seats are going pretty fast. I want you to be there tonight. Have you got your tickets?”

No one seemed to have taken the precaution to buy seats in advance although all declared they were going. Rarely did the callers leave a place until those called upon had reserved their seats. It was not long until the seat sale assured Alfred it would not be necessary to negotiate a loan.

“I would have helped you out if you had needed the money,” declared the banker, “but I knew we could hustle a bit and fill the house.”

The gentleman was a good story-teller. Alfred was in a rare good humor. He had a fund of stories new to the banker. The fact of the robbery in Bucyrus was detailed to every business man they called upon. All sympathized with Alfred. “Bucyrus is a tough town,” several remarked. “You’ll never get your money,” another declared. “Be more careful if you ever go there again.”

When about to separate, the banker in a kindly manner assured Alfred that he was only too glad to have been of service to him. He spoke encouragingly of the future. “If you have a good show, you are sure to pull through. I wouldn’t carry a great amount of money on my person hereafter if I were you. Be careful. Do not have a repetition of the Bucyrus affair. How much did they get from you over there?”

“Sixty dollars.” The words were scarcely uttered until the banker bursted into a fit of laughter. Alfred had never been accused of destiny, but he could not realize what there was in the admission to so excite the man’s mirth. Had the gentleman known what sixty dollars meant to him at that time, it would not have seemed so funny. From the fact that Alfred had dwelt so strongly on the theft of his money, with the constantly repeated statement that “if it had not been for the robbery, he would have been all right,” the moneyed man had gained the idea he had lost several hundred dollars; hence his mirth.

At Akron the minstrels did capacity business. Warren and Youngstown were equally satisfactory as were New Castle and Steubenville. Wheeling was the first city wherein opposition was encountered. Wilson & Rankin’s Minstrels were billed at the Opera House, the Field Company at the Grand Opera House. When the Wilson & Rankin party started on their parade, the other company followed in their wake. Wilson shouted to the bystanders in front of the McClure House, “War! War!”

This opposition embittered George Wilson and for years the two companies waged a relentless war, which never ceased until Mr. Wilson disbanded his company. Carl Rankin, who was a Columbus boy and an old friend of Alfred’s called on Alfred. He advised that he was dissatisfied with his surroundings and a tentative partnership agreement was entered into for the next season. However, the arrangements went no further as Mr. Rankin’s health failed him rapidly and it was not long until minstrelsy lost one of the most versatile performers that ever adorned it.

Since the conversation overheard in Ashland, Alfred had not spoken to the manager of the musical act. The telegraph wires were carrying messages daily seeking an act to take the place of the dissatisfied one. At Zanesville, just before the matinee, (Zanesville was the first city wherein the Al. G. Field Minstrels appeared in a matinee), Alfred called the manager of the musical act to his dressing room.

“Mr. Turner, it has come to me that you intended leaving this company. Therefore, I have engaged an act to take your place; you can leave after tonight’s performance, or as soon thereafter as it suits your convenience.”

“Why, Mr. Field, I did not intend to leave your company. Who so advised you? I never told anyone I intended leaving.”

“Now Bob, don’t deny it. I heard you say you were going to leave the company, that you had no confidence in the stability of the enterprise. Your talk came at a time when I was feeling pretty blue and it hurt. Judging from your talk you are an undesirable man to have around and I certainly am glad to dispense with your services.”

The man threatened legal proceedings. Alfred was obdurate. The man was tendered his salary. He refused to sign a receipt. Alfred ordered the treasurer to give him his money without his signature to a receipt. The other two members of the act protested vigorously. They presented their case in this manner: “We were working for Bob. He owned the act. We like the show; we like you. It’s the middle of the season. We are liable to be idle for months. We don’t think we should be discharged for the threats of Bob. We can’t control his mouth. Mr. Field, if you discharge every performer who indulges in idle talk, you won’t have anybody around you.”

“Boys, I do not propose to discharge anyone for idle talk but I won’t keep a traitor in this camp. You remain with the company. I will pay you the same salary you have been receiving just to play in the band and sit in the first part.”

With varying success the first season progressed. But never a salary day that the “white specter” did not perambulate. Every obligation met promptly, a few folks began to take notice of the new show, persons who had held their faces the other way. The manager was forced to practice the greatest economy. There was a few weeks around Christmas time when his shoes leaked. After Christmas he purchased two pair of shoes, preparing for future contingencies. Smallpox was raging through Minnesota and Wisconsin, many cities were quarantined. At LaCrosse, Winona, Rochester and Eau Claire, the people would not go to the theatre; hence, the show was a big loser. At Hudson, Wis., a big lumber camp in those days, the gross receipts were the least the company ever played to just sixteen dollars a few cents less than the receipts of Alfred’s first show in Redstone School-house. Alfred requested the manager of the Opera House to dismiss the audience. The manager refused to listen to the proposition. He contended it was Saturday night, and that many would drop in. They failed to drop in or to be pushed in. However, Alfred has always felt grateful to that manager. No audience was ever dismissed by the Al. G. Field Greater Minstrels in all the years of their existence, although an engagement in Atlanta, Ga., was curtailed.

The company opened to an over-flowing house. The advance sale for the remainder of the engagement was gratifying. Henry Grady, the famous journalist and orator, after delivering a speech that electrified not only the Boston audience that listened to it, but the nation, had died. Atlanta and the entire south was stricken with sorrow. The minstrel manager was intimately acquainted with Mr. Grady. Mr. Grady was one of the promoters of the Piedmont Exposition. Peter Sells was one of Mr. Grady’s admirers, and as a courtesy to him had loaned the exposition a flock of ostriches; which was one of the attractive features of that most memorable exposition. Alfred was entrusted with the details pertaining to the transaction. Mr. Grady had been very courteous to Alfred. There never was a man who knew Henry Grady that did not admire his charming personality. Therefore, when Mr. De Give suggested the engagement of the minstrels end and the theatre be closed out of respect to the memory of Mr. Grady, Alfred promptly acquiesced.

The closing of this engagement was a sacrifice that Alfred felt greatly at the time. It meant pecuniary loss that was embarrassing to him, yet there never was a moment he regretted his action.

It was the beginning of friendships that have endured all the years since. Not only the success attending his annual visits to Atlanta, but the associations are of that pleasant character that make a stranger feel he is in the home of his friends.

Capt. Forrest Adair, one of Atlanta’s foremost citizens, journeys each year to the annual banquets celebrating the birthday of the Al. G. Field Greater Minstrels. He is as well known and as greatly respected by every member of the organization as by Alfred.

The first season the profits were not great, although on the right side of the ledger. The opposition of family and friends continued. “Abandon the minstrels, go back to a salary.” Alfred was considered bull headed, contrary, without judgment, etc. However, nothing swerved him. He announced to all he would continue in the minstrel business.

George Knott, (Doc.) and Gov. Campbell were the agents of the Al. G. Field Minstrels the first season. Gov. Campbell’s folks once resided in Woodville. The citizens united in their endeavors to have him bring his minstrels to the town. There had never been a minstrel entertainment presented in the town previously and none since. The hotel man had undertaken the building of a hall. All sorts of inducements were held out in the letter received by Alfred. Terms were satisfactorily arranged, a date scheduled and the minstrels billed to appear in Woodville.

A narrow-gauge railroad, a train with a disabled engine and a disgusted minstrel troupe arrived at 3 p. m., six hours late. Charles Sweeny, the stage manager, came swiftly into the dining room, leaning over Alfred, he whispered: “There’s no stage, no scenery, no seats. Just a bare hall. No reserved sale. There’s ” only thus far did Sweeny get in his enumeration of his troubles until Alfred was searching for the manager. He hurriedly inquired of the hotel man as he left the dining room, without his dinner, as to the place of business of the manager of the theater. The hotel man gazed at him in blank surprise. Alfred, in his impatience, did not await an answer. Rushing up the principal street of the village, he inquired of several persons as to where he could locate the manager of the theater. Finally the postmaster, in answer to his impatient questions, said: “You will not find any particular manager as he ain’t got to that yet. He’s just built a room and thar’s nuthin’ in it. He’s at the hotel down yonder.” It began to dawn upon Alfred that the landlord of the hotel was the man he was looking for.

“Lord, young man. If I’d known you was lookin’ for me, I’d told you quicker, who I was. I’m no theater manager.”

“But you wrote me you had a theater. I am here with my company ready to give a performance and you have neither stage nor scenery in your hall. How do you expect me to put the show on?”

“Why! don’t you carry your stage and scenery?” the man asked, in candid surprise.

“Certainly not. And you should know it. You haven’t even got a seat sale on.”

The hotel man began to get excited. “What the hell have I got to do with selling tickets? If you don’t carry your own tickets you’re a purty cheap concern. I don’t propose to be brow-beaten by you. If you don’t like the place the road runs both ways out of it.” And he walked away from the minstrel man in high dudgeon.

Seats were borrowed from the Court House, the Methodist Church, the hotel, anywhere they could be secured. A half dozen carpenters were working on the improvised stage until the minute the curtain went up. The dining room of the hotel was converted into a dressing room. After supper was served the minstrel trunks were placed in the dining room. Pickles, crackers, ginger snaps, etc., were all in place on the table for an early morning breakfast. The minstrels ate the tables bare, ransacked cupboards and sideboards in kitchen and dining room, feasting and frolicking during the performance.

The bar adjoined the dining room. The minstrels blackened and in their stage attire, they said to the peg-legged barkeeper: “These are on me; I’ve got on my other clothes; I’ll settle after the show.”

The dressing, or dining room, was about twenty yards from the stage of the hall. As there was no stage door, (only a front door in the hall), the minstrel men were obliged to enter by a window. The sash taken out, leaned against the wall. In the piano chorus of a most pathetic ballad, both window sashes fell over. The crashing glass brought the entire audience to their feet. The hall owner stepped over the low footlights onto the stage, brushing the semi-circle of surprised minstrels to one side. Disappearing behind the curtain, he reappeared in an instant, bearing in either hand a window sash with shattered bits of glass sticking here and there. Crossing the stage, at the instant the interlocutor announced the singing of the reigning song success, “There’s a Light in the Window for You,” placing the sash in front of the stage, he seated himself.

The stage, or platform, was very low. The sash stuck up several inches above the footlights. Harry Bulger, in one of his dances purposely kicked them over again. Down they fell among the musicians. Mr. Hall-owner was again to the rescue, this time triumphantly bearing the sash to the rear of the hall.

Alfred looked after the front of the house as well as his stage work. Remaining at the door until he had barely time to make up, he requested the hall owner to take tickets until he returned, and not to permit any to enter without tickets.

The hall man promised not to permit any to enter without tickets. Alfred sang a song, “Hello, Baby, Here’s Your Daddy,” the title of it. The dozen end men, during the chorus, drew from under their chairs large dolls with blackened faces. Each burlesqued a person handling a baby awkwardly. As Alfred took his seat his eyes went anxiously to the door. It was closed. No one entered all the while he was on the stage. At the end of the baby song, it was customary for Alfred to cast a big ugly doll, with the words “Here’s Your Daddy,” into the audience. One of the company dudishly attired was seated in the audience to catch the doll, leave the house, pretending to be greatly embarrassed. The audience usually howled. The baby was flung in the direction of the member of the company. Unfortunately, it had to pass over the head of the manager of the hall. Jumping up, reaching into the air much as an expert baseball player does in pulling down a hot one, he pulled the baby down. Holding it upside down, he flung it towards Alfred. Anxious to save the scene, with all his force Alfred flung it towards the young man of the company, who stood waiting to play his part. But again the hall man jumped between and caught the baby. By one foot he swung it about his head a couple of times; the head and arms of the rag doll flew towards Alfred, striking the stage at his feet. The man holding the legs and all that part of the baby below the belt, waved it aloft. Meanwhile the audience was encouraging him with shouts of approval.

Concluding his stage work, hastening towards the door, not even delaying to change his costume or remove the black from his face, he vigorously beckoned the hall man to him. Walking towards the door, Alfred poured forth a torrent of peevish abuse:

“Why, you wrote me all sorts of letters that people were crazy mad for a minstrel show and there’s not fifty dollars in the house.”

The landlord doubted this statement. “Not fifty dollars in the house, huh? Why, there’s men in thar,” and he jerked his head towards the audience, “there’s men in thar with three hundred dollars in thar pockets right now. Don’t you think you’re in a poverty-struck place. Our people have all got money.” Thrusting his hands deep into his pockets, jingling keys and coins.

“I mean the tickets do not represent fifty dollars so far. I’m in good and deep and you are the cause of it.”

“I find nothing to do business with. I ask you as a last request to watch the door for me. You leave the door and every jay will walk in.”

“Oh no, they won’t,” interrupted Mr. Hall-man. “They won’t get in this hall without paying.”

“Why, what in thunder is to hinder them? The whole town could walk in without paying one cent.”

“I’ll be durned if they could,” ejaculated Mr. Hall-man, and he waved the key of the door triumphantly at Alfred. The man had actually locked the door. When opened, there were some dozen seeking admission. Many left in disgust.

There was a bill for lights of glass, and numerous drinks at the bar presented to Alfred. The glass he settled for, informing the hotel man he did not pay bar-bills. The barkeeper could not recognize any one of the performers in their street attire.

He assured Alfred “the hull pack of niggers with you jus’ drank and drank and only a few paid. The bill don’t amount to much, so far as enny one of the men is concerned; but one gal, one nigger gal, jus’ treated right and left. If we could get what she owes, I’d let the rest go.” The barkeeper referred to Harry Bulger.

Alfred’s great desire was to present his minstrel show in his old home town, Brownsville. The stage in Jeffries’ Hall was too small to accommodate the minstrels. Therefore, one of Alfred’s boyhood friends, Levi Waggoner, arranged to play the minstrels in the skating rink. Levi was one of the boys who had stood by the old town through all its changes and become one of its substantial citizens. Awake to every business opportunity, he had not only seated the floor space of the rink but builded circus seats against the rear wall.

Alfred was not in the old town an hour until it became imperative that he should seek protection from his friends. He delegated one of the company, one who was noted for his staying qualities, to represent him. Every man met, no matter how old, claimed to be a schoolboy friend of Alfred’s. “There goes another old friend of Alf’s” became a by-word long before night.

“Spider” Pomeroy, six feet six then, when a boy, (he has grown some since), celebrated Alfred’s return more uproariously than any one person in the town. Alfred supplied him with a ticket early in the morning. By noon “Spider” had obtained six tickets, always claiming he had lost the other one. When the doors opened, “Spider” ran over the small boys in his way, brushed the ticket taker aside, entering without a ticket he perched himself on the top of Lee Wagoner’s improvised circus seats, his legs doubled up until his knees stuck up on either side above his head like a grasshopper.

He sat through the first part. The minstrel with the staying qualities was laboring with a monologue. “Spider”, after his strenuous day, was sleeping off his exuberance. At the dullest part in the monologist’s offering, “Spider” let go all holds. The skating rink was built on piles, over the river’s bank. One walking on the floor, their footsteps awakened echoes. When “Spider” hit that floor and he hit it with all his frame legs, arms, feet and head, all at one time, it sounded as if the building had collapsed. All were on their feet looking towards the back of the rink. As “Spider” lit, the monologist shouted: “There goes another old friend of Alf’s.” It came in pat. The audience grasped it and the monologist established a reputation for originality. “There goes another old friend of Alf’s” is a common saying in Brownsville until this day.

The property man that first season was a German, new in the minstrel game. He is now a capitalist and probably would not relish the disclosing of his name.

Chas. Sweeny, the stage manager, was a stickler for realism. In the burlesque of “The Lime Kiln Club,” one climax was the sound of a cat fight on the roof. The cats were supposed to fall through the skylight. Every member of the lodge was supposed to have his dog with him colored people are fond of dogs. When the cats fall into the lodge room, every dog goes after them. Fake, or dummy cats were prepared for the scene and used during rehearsals. The first night Sweeny ordered Gus, the property man, to procure two live cats. Gus, stationed on a very high step-ladder in the wings, at the cue was to throw the cats on the stage. Gus was heard to remark: “You all better hurry or send some von to manage one of dese cats.” The cat fight was heard on the roof. The glass in the skylight was heard to break. The cats were, with great difficulty, flung by Gus. They clawed and held onto him. The long step-ladder was rocking like a slender tree in a gale. One cat left the hands of Gus, alighting with all four feet on Sweeny’s neck, with a spring that sent it out over the heads of the orchestra to the fourth or fifth row in the parquet. The cat left its marks on Sweeny’s neck and the scars are there today as plain as twenty-seven years ago. As Gus flung the second cat the exertion was too much for him. He followed on the step-ladder, overturning Brother Gardner and the stove. Three dogs pounced upon Gus as he rolled over and over on the floor. Three of the largest dogs had followed the first cat over the heads of the orchestra, and a stampede of the audience was in progress, the dogs and cats under the feet of men and women, who were jumping on chairs or rushing towards the exits. The curtain went down without the humorous dialogue that usually terminated the scene.

“Mr. President: I moves you, sir, dat no member ob dis club hyaraftuh be admitted wid more’n three dogs.”

Alfred put his shoulder to the wheel wherever and whenever a push or a pull was required. Night after night, he assisted the stage hands in hustling effects from the theatre to the train. On one occasion the train was scheduled to leave in a very short time after the curtain fell. Alfred, without changing his stage clothes, busied himself assisting the stage hands. Gus, the property man, flung Alfred’s clothing into his trunk, not observing they were his street apparel instead of stage costumes. The trunk was sent to the depot. When Alfred prepared to follow he was minus everything except a large pair of shoes, thin pants, long stockings and undershirt. There was no time to be lost; grabbing up a large piece of carpet, Alfred wound it around himself and started for the depot on a run.

Doc Quigley, Arthur Rigby and several of the company stationed themselves along his route to the depot, hiding in the shadows of doorways. One after another shouted: “Good-bye, Al, good-bye old boy. You’ve got the best show ever. Come back again. Your show’s great.”

“All right boys, good-bye. I’ll be with you next season,” shouted the hustling minstrel as he sped for the train. Alfred was completely deceived. He imagined the compliments were coming from the towns-people.

The German property man, whose mistake was responsible for Alfred’s grotesque appearance, was stationed by the jokers behind a fence near the depot. As Alfred hove in sight with the old rag carpet flapping around his form, Gus shouted: “Goot bye, Mr. Fieldt. Goot luck. Your show iz great. Kum unt see us agen. I hope your show will be here nexdt season.”

“It will be, but you won’t be with it, you dutch son of a gun.” Alfred had recognized the voice.