Read CHAPTER XV of Twenty Years of Hus'ling , free online book, by J. P. Johnston, on


Our next trade was made near La Grange, Ind., with a man by the name of Dodge. I remember the name on account of having read an article in a Sturgis, Mich., paper, wherein it stated that two patent-right men had recently dodged into La Grange, and after dodging around Mr. Dodge had dodged him out of a valuable horse, with which they dodged over to Michigan. This statement was perhaps correct enough, with the exception of its reference to our dodging over into Michigan, as though we did it to evade the Indiana laws. This was by no means the case, for we were authorized agents for the patentee, and always did a strictly legitimate business, even if we were, at times, “a little short financially.”

We took the horse over to Sturgis to try and sell him, stopping at the Elliott House. Mr. Elliott, Proprietor, has since become one of my most intimate friends, and is now running a hotel at Ludington, Michigan.

As we were sitting out in front of the Hotel, talking, one morning, I noticed a stranger coming towards us, carrying a pitch-fork and band-cutter in one hand, and in the other a large paper.

Mr. Elliott remarked:

“There comes Mr. Dodge’s son, now. Guess he is going out peddling your patent.”

I “supposed so.”

This was not the case, however, for as he stepped up to Mr. Elliott he inquired for Johnston, and when I was pointed out to him he made a tender of the deed and model, and demanded the horse in turn.

I of course refused, whereupon he threatened to replevy, and at once returned to his lawyer’s office.

At that moment a lawyer came up where we were, and Mr. Elliott helped me to lay the case before him as quickly and plainly as possible, when he advised that the best way for me, was to get the horse out of the county, where their papers would be of no avail. I immediately saddled the animal and started towards Branch County, taking a rather circuitous route for Burr Oak. I took dinner at Fawn River, with a Mr. Buck, an old acquaintance of my “mother-in-law.”

Of course “mother-in-law” acquaintances were just as good as any, at this stage of the game. I rode into Burr Oak just at dark, supposing it to be in Branch County. After registering at the hotel and putting my horse out, I took supper; and then began looking about for a buyer. I very soon discovered that I was being shadowed, by a gentleman wearing a wooden leg.

Upon inquiry, I learned that he was the Honorable Marshal of the town. To note his manner one would have thought that he had corralled a Jesse James. I didn’t worry much, however, because I knew I could out-run any wooden-legged man in Michigan.

I then went over to the telegraph office and introduced myself to its occupant as a brother operator. He invited me inside the office, and asked me to make myself at home.

A few moments later the ten-o’clock train arrived from the west, and immediately after its departure the operator said he would have to go down the track and attend to his switch-light, and requested me to remain there till he returned.

During his absence a gentleman came to the office window, and very excitedly inquired if I was the operator. I said:

“Don’t I look like one? What can I do for you, sir?”

“Well, see here: Has there been a young fellow here this evening by the name of Johnston, sending messages to his wife, or to any one else?”

“Yes, sir, he was telling me about a patent-right trade he had made for a horse. Guess he told me all about it.”

“Where is he now, I wonder?” was his next query.

“Come with me. I’ll show you right where to find him.”

I then led the way up street, and in the meantime questioned him as to his business. He said he wanted to serve a writ of replevin and take the horse. I then asked if he had papers that would do for Branch County. He said he didn’t need Branch County papers, as Burr Oak was in St. Joseph County.

This was most depressing news to me; but I walked along till I came to a street running north, when I stopped, and pointing in that direction, said:

“Now you go to the very last house on the left-hand side of this street, and inquire for Johnston. If they say he isn’t there, you force your way into the house. Don’t leave till you get in; and there’s no one here who wouldn’t be only too glad to see that family come up with by a good sharp detective. Now don’t fail to get in, for there you will find your man.”

He thanked me several times, and after shaking hands with me, started on the run.

I then hurried to the hotel and ordered my horse, which the landlord refused to let me have, saying that notice had been served on him to keep it locked up.

I sat down to await the coming of the great detective.

He soon made his appearance, and more resembled a tramp than the polished official of a few moments before. It was plainly evident to me that he had made a desperate attempt to follow my instructions. One-half of the skirt of his Prince Albert coat was entirely missing; no hat, a piece torn from the seat of his pants, only half of his linen collar left to grace his neck, and a single linen cuff to decorate his two wrists; one sleeve of his coat in rags, one of his pant legs fringed out, the perspiration running off him like rain-water, and one eye closed. He came in panting and puffing and roaring like a lion.

“Find me a Justice of the Peace, at once! I’ll arrest the whole gang!”

“Arrest what gang? Who are you alluding to?” asked the landlord.

“Why, that gang up north here. I’ll arrest the whole mob, and shoot that dog if I get killed for it!”

“Well, I supposed you were looking for Johnston?”

“Well, so I am; but they have him down there stowed away, and a whole regiment of soldiers wouldn’t be able to get in, unless that dog is put out of the way. And that pesky old woman looks more like the devil than a human being. I wouldn’t venture back there alone for the whole north half of Michigan!”

“But isn’t this the man you want?” pointing to me.

“The devil, no. What do I want of the telegraph operator? I want Johnston, but I’d give more for that old woman’s scalp and that dog’s life than I would for a dozen Johnstons and all the horses in the state, and I

“But,” interrupted the landlord, “this isn’t the operator; this is Johnston, or at least, he’s the man who rode the horse here.”

“The dickens he is!” shrieked the officer. “This is the man who sent me up there, and

“Did you get in?” I asked, insinuatingly.

“Get in? I want you to understand this is no joke, sir!” said he, as he came towards me in a threatening manner. “And if you’re Johnston you ought to have your heart cut out. Look at me, look at me, sir: Do you think there is anything funny about this?”

“Well, I thought I’d give you a little sharp detective work to do before capturing my horse, so you would have something wonderful to relate when you arrived home.”

“Then you’re the man I want, are you?”

“Yes, sir, I suppose I am; but really, my friend, I didn’t suppose you were going to lose all your clothes, and get completely knocked out and so thoroughly demoralized. How did it all happen?”

“Oh, you’re too funny! It’s none of your business how it all happened. I’ll get even with you. I’m sorry I haven’t a warrant for your arrest, instead of a writ of replevin for a horse, you!”

“See here; don’t you me, sir, or I’ll finish you up right here, in less than one minute!”

He then quieted down, and after serving the writ, took possession of the horse, before leaving for Sturgis. However, he spent nearly an hour in mending his clothes, patching up his nose and face, and dressing the slight flesh-wounds on his hands and arms, after which he borrowed a hat, and as I supposed, returned to Sturgis with the horse.

I remained over night at the hotel, although I was completely stranded, and wondered what I should do to make a raise. I realized fully that I would be obliged to lose several days’ valuable time were I to remain there to contest the ownership of the horse, as return day had been set six days ahead. Hence I considered it folly to lose so much time for the value of a horse.

The next morning I arose early, and after breakfast began to search for an opportunity to make a few dollars.

I happened into a drug store and entering into conversation with the proprietor found him a very agreeable gentleman and explained to him that I was a “little short,” and inquired if he had any patent medicines, pills, or anything in that line that a good salesman could handle. He replied that the only thing he had was about a gallon of lemon extract which he had made himself from a recipe he had been foolish enough to pay ten dollars for, and had never yet sold ten cents’ worth of the stuff.

I asked to see it and on tasting it found an excellent article. I then asked if he would let me take the glass jar and a small graduate to measure it with, and he said: “Certainly.”

With the flavoring extract and measure I started for a general canvass, going from house to house and introducing “The finest grade of lemon extract, twenty-five cents per ounce or five ounces for one dollar.”

Each purchaser must furnish her own bottle to hold it.

I returned at noon with seven dollars sixty cents, when I took the balance of the dope back to the druggist and asked how much I owed him. He said:

“Well, I’ll tell you, I’d like to sell the whole of it out to you. I’ll take fifty cents and you own all the flavoring extract there is left, and I’ll sell you the jar and graduate cheap if you want them.”

“All right sir,” handing over the fifty cents, “I’ll return after dinner and try it again.”

This little experience about convinced me that there was more money in that business than in patent rights.

As I was on my way to the hotel I met a man with a small flour-sifter for the sale of which he was acting as general agent in appointing sub-agents.

I asked his terms.

He said he required each new agent to buy four hundred sifters at twenty-five cents each, which he could retail for fifty cents. Unless a man could buy this number he could not have agency.

After dinner I started out again with the flavoring extract. At the third house I entered, an old gentleman asked if I could get him the agency for it. He said it wasn’t necessary for him to do anything of the kind, as he owned a nice home and a small farm and had some money on interest, but he didn’t like to spend his time in idleness. I told him that our house had no vacancies, but I could intercede in his behalf in making him an agent for a patent flour-sifter.

He asked what terms he could make. I told him they retailed for fifty cents each, but in order to secure the exclusive sale in his town he would have to pay the regular retail price for the first four hundred, after which he could have all he wanted at half that price.

He said he wouldn’t care to invest more than one hundred dollars anyhow, and expressed a desire to see one of them.

“Well,” said I, “I am always glad to do a man a favor, and I will run down town and bring one up to you.”

I went immediately to where the gentleman was unpacking his sifters, and asked if he would be willing to sell two hundred and give the exclusive sale.

He refused to do so, and I saw there was little use in trying to persuade him, when I explained the nature of my case.

He said it wouldn’t pay him to sell so few.

“Then I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” said I. “You see if I was to sell two hundred at the price I have quoted, I’d make fifty dollars. Now if you will let me make the sale I’ll give you half of my profits.”

He agreed, and I returned to my victim and put the deal through in less than an hour, and pocketed twenty-five dollars my share of the profits. I then returned at once to my flavoring extract and sold over three dollars’ worth that afternoon, making a clear profit of thirty-five dollars for my day’s work.

I then joined Frank at Sturgis, and after settling up our affairs there, he left for Ohio with the understanding that I would meet him at Elmore three days later.