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


The Michigan State Fair was to be held at Jackson that year, and I managed to reach there on the opening day and commenced business at once. I sold on the grounds during the day, and on the streets down town in the evenings, doing a splendid business.

On the second day of the Fair a gentleman came up to my wagon, while I was getting ready to make a sale, and remarked that he had heard me down town the evening before, and was glad to see me doing so well; and told me that he had a business that he could make lots of money at if he could get started; but as he was completely stranded, he was unable to procure a license, or anything else.

In answer to my inquiry as to the nature of his business, he said he had a side-show.

I didn’t ask what he had to show, but as I had been in almost every other business but that, I concluded to venture, and asked how much money he would need.

“Twenty-five dollars.”

“Anything in it for me, if I’ll furnish the money?”

“Yes; there will be half we make for you, after paying expenses.”

“All right, sir; I’ll help you to get a start.”

We called on the Secretary, and after paying for our permit, sent for his canvas and very soon had it up.

I accompanied him down town at noon, and on our way asked what he had to show. He answered:

“The Fat Woman, the Dwarf, the Albino and the Circassian Girl.”

When we came to his hotel he asked me in and introduced me to his wife, two sons and a daughter.

I asked him where the show people were.

“I have introduced you to all of them.”

“But where is your Fat Woman?”

He pointed to his wife.

“Why, Great Heavens,” I shouted, “she is not fat; she is as thin as a match and as long as a wagon track; how are you going to make her fat? And the Circassian Girl where is she?”

He pointed to his daughter, whose hair was all done up in tins, and said to me:

“Never mind about the show. Every thing will be all right. You get there by one o’clock, and we’ll be there ready for business.”

Sure enough, they were there. The Fat Woman in her long silk robe, and as big as a hogshead.

The Dwarf in his swallow-tailed coat and wearing a plug hat, and his face deeply furrowed with wrinkles.

The Albino boy with his white hair, but lacking the pink eyes.

The Circassian Girl with her dark bushy hair standing out in all directions from her head.

The Albino played the fife, the Dwarf the snare drum, the Circassian lady the cymbals, and the Fat Woman the base-drum.

The first thing to be done was to erect a small stage on the outside, and the entire party came out, and after stationing themselves in proper order, opened up with music.

While this unique band was thus engaged, my new partner mounted the box and began talking at lightning speed. Crowds of people gathered, and after viewing the pictures of the living wonders on the canvas, and listening to the glowing description given of the “GREATEST OF LIVING CURIOSITIES,” they began pouring in and kept it up till the tent was packed full. Then the music ceased and the performers went inside, and the Professor singled them out and delivered a lecture on each one, telling their age, nationality, etc., after which he immediately announced the conclusion of the performance and motioned every one out.

As soon as the tent was cleared the band again made its appearance on the outside, and after attracting a crowd and filling the tent again, would step inside to be exhibited, and this was repeated with immense success till the last day and last hour of the Fair.

It was amusing to see the people gather around and stare at the band of musicians while they were playing on the outside, and then step up and buy tickets to go inside and take another look at them; and, as there was no fault-finding, I suppose they were all satisfied.

I drove my auction wagon as close to the tent as possible, and as fast as I could work the crowd with my goods I would turn them over to my side-show partner, recommending it as absolutely the most singular and remarkable show I had ever seen.

I took the precaution to hire a man to take the tickets, so I had no occasion to interfere with the show; but the last day, in the afternoon, the Professor became almost exhausted; and leaving my wagon I took the blower’s stand and relieved him, and through the excitement, soon discovered myself talking Curiosities with as much earnestness as if Barnum’s whole menagerie had been inside the tent.

When we figured up and had deducted all expenses, we found ourselves six hundred dollars ahead, which was divided between us; but I had talked so much that I couldn’t speak above a whisper.

I wrote home to my wife narrating my success in the show business exhibiting another man’s wife and children, and suggested that she get herself and the little boy ready to start at a moment’s notice, as I was liable to send for them very soon and start a circus of our own.

As I had no particular taste for that sort of business, however, I thought it best to quit while I was ahead. Consequently I stuck to auctioneering.

My business increased so rapidly as to render me unable to do any thing more with the polish, for which I was very glad. I made several horse and wagon trades, paying boot whenever it was necessary, as I made it a practice of always trading for something better, till at last a nice pair of horses and carriage became my property, with two trunks of goods.

I then worked north through Michigan, and began making regular street parades prior to opening my sale. I would drive around town ringing an auction bell and crying:


My success was almost invariably splendid.

Mr. Keefer wrote me about this time, that he was in need of assistance. His crops had been almost a total failure that year, through which he was unable to meet the payments due on a piece of land he had purchased.

I began an immediate search for a buyer for my horses and carriage, but without success, till one day an old gentleman bantered me to trade the entire outfit for a yoke of oxen and a two-wheeled cart, and was somewhat surprised when I showed my readiness to “swap” for five hundred dollars to boot.

He offered three hundred.

I fell to four.

He offered to split the difference, and I took him up before he had time to draw another breath.

He paid me three hundred and fifty dollars, and I transferred my trunks of goods and other baggage to the cart. When I did so the old gentleman and several others began to laugh, and said they guessed I’d have to hire a teamster, as I would find considerable difference between horses and oxen. I told them of my early boyhood experience in breaking steers, and to prove the truth of my assertion, took up the ox-whip and “gee-d” them around on the streets several times before starting out.

I remitted to Mr. Keefer, took my seat in the cart and continued north, reaching a small village just at sundown, where I made my usual parade, ringing the bell and crying out for everybody to come on Main street and witness the great performing feats of trained oxen. I think everybody must have responded; at any rate I actually made the best two hours’ sale I had ever made in the auction business.

The next day I had a pair of blankets made for my team, and had them lettered, “Free Exhibition of Trained Oxen on the Streets this Evening.”

On arriving at the next town I hired two small boys each to ride an ox, and ring a bell and halloo at the top of their voices, while I stood up between the trunks in the cart, also yelling and ringing a bell.

We succeeded in getting every one in town out and made a grand sale.

When about to close for the evening, I was asked to give an exhibition of my oxen. I replied that the oxen were there on exhibition, and no charge would be made to those who wished to look at them.

I was asked what they were trained to do.

I replied that among other things they were trained to stand without being hitched!

The fact had been fairly demonstrated that a yoke of trained oxen and cart paid better than a five-hundred-dollar team of horses with a carriage; but as winter was coming on, I saw the necessity of getting rid of them as soon as possible, and found a lumber-man who made me an offer which I accepted.

Then I began traveling by rail, and hiring a livery team in each town.

A few weeks later I returned to Ohio. On my way there I had to change cars at Jonesville, Michigan; and when I boarded the train on the Main Line I noticed, sitting in the second seat from the front door, my old friend the Clairvoyant Doctor. He looked as natural as the day I bade him good-bye at Pontiac, and was wearing the same old silk hat, swallow-tailed coat and plaid pants. There he sat, in his usual position, chin resting on his gold-headed cane, the plug hat poised on the back of his head, and eyes staring vacantly over his gold spectacles, which as usual were balancing across the end of his nose.

My first impulse was to grasp him by the hand, but on second thought I passed on to the third seat behind him, and settled down.

The train was soon under head-way, and I began wondering what I could do to have a little fun at his expense.

Just as I was about to give up the idea for the want of an opportunity, the train slackened up at the next station. As it came to a halt and everything was quiet, I yelled out at the top of my voice: “Change cars for Pocahontas.”

The last word had scarcely left my lips when the old Doctor as quick as lightning jumped to his feet, and turning round with the speed of a cat, placed his cane on his seat, and with both hands resting on top of it and his hat on the back of his head, gave a wild, searching look over the car with his spectacles still hanging on the end of his nose. I held a newspaper up in front of me as if interested in reading. A great many people laughed, but of course they could not appreciate the joke as I could. The Doctor then resumed his seat, when I said in a loud tone of voice:

“If the majority of people had more brains and less impecuniosity they would be better off in this world.”

At this the Doctor instantly jumped to his feet again and cried out:

“Johnston, you red-headed hyena, where are you?”

I then shook him by the hand, and, after quickly relating a part of my experience since leaving him, was informed that he had located in a thriving town in Northern Indiana and was doing well, but had abandoned Clairvoyance. As he was on his way to Toledo we had quite a chat. I referred to our late experience at Pocahontas, a portion of which he enjoyed immensely.

When we arrived at Toledo he said he believed he would eat his supper at the lunch-counter in the depot. Having about thirty minutes’ time before my train left, and being a little hungry myself, besides wanting to prolong my visit with the Doctor, I decided to keep him company. He was very hungry and ordered a cold roasted quail with dressing, cold boiled eggs, biscuit, butter and coffee; while I ordered a ham sandwich and coffee.

He ate with a relish and spoke several times about the quail being so very fine, and suggested that I try one.

I told him I wasn’t very hungry and didn’t care for it.

When we had about half finished our meal another gentleman came rushing up to the counter, and noticing several nicely roasted whole quail ready to serve said:

“Give me one of those quail.”

As the waiter handed it over he produced some change and asked how much it was.

“One dollar, sir,” replied the waiter.

“Don’t want it, don’t want it, sir. I’ll go up town and eat,” and off he went.

“Great !” screamed the Doctor, hopping about in his customary frisky, jumping-jack style, and dropping the piece of quail he held in his fingers. “I shouldn’t think he would want it. Why, Great Heavens! Great ! Who ever heard of such a outrage. Think of it, Johnston, a dollar for one of those little quail, and they are hardly fit to eat. See here, waiter, do you think I am going to pay one dollar for a quail? I want you to understand I am from Indiana, and I know what quail are worth by the dozen. Why, you infernal robbers, they can be bought not a hundred miles from here for one dollar a dozen, and they won’t have been dead three months, either. Gentlemen, you have struck the wrong man for once, indeed you have. I am no fool; besides

“Yes,” I interrupted, addressing the waiter, “besides, this gentleman used to wait on table himself in a hotel in Michigan, didn’t you, Doctor?”

By this time several people had gathered around. He looked somewhat embarrassed for a moment, but instantly recovering himself and striking the lunch-counter with his fist, very excitedly cried out:

“No, sir; not by a sight I don’t have to wait table; if I did I’d not work for a man who would dish up a tainted old quail worth eight cents and charge a dollar for it. Why, it, Johnston, just think of it a dollar a dozen in Indiana and a dollar apiece here.”

“But, Doctor, go on and finish your meal. You seemed to be enjoying it a little while ago, and spoke of the quail being very nice; and I am certain you haven’t more than half finished. Go ahead and eat.”

“Oh, eat be ! I’m not hungry, and if I were I’d eat something besides quail at twelve dollars a dozen. Good ! If a quail comes to a dollar what in nation do you suppose they’ll charge for a full meal? It’s robbery, and I’ll not be robbed by them. I’ll go down town and eat, as that other man did.”

“But, Doctor, what are you going to do? You have eaten about half of that quail, and I can’t see how you expect to fix it.”

“Well, if quail are in such great demand as to be worth a dollar apiece, they will surely have use for any part of one, and if they wish to take back what I have not eaten, and give me credit for it, I’ll settle for the balance. Otherwise I’ll stand a lawsuit; for, it, Johnston, I tell you I can buy them by the car-load in Indiana for one dollar a

“All aboard going east!” shouted the conductor, and, quickly settling my bill and bidding the Doctor good-bye, I left him and the waiter to settle the quail question.