Practical Jokes & Backfired Actions
A few stories from Comanche County, Kansas
Why My Grand-dad Quit Smoking.by Wendel Ferrin
Grandpa Loren Ferrin of Wilmore, KS, smoked cigars for years. I don't know for how long because he died (in 1921) before I was born. He was very frugal, as were most people of that day. When a cigar butt got too short, he would save it till evening and always leave it laying on the back of the wagon tounge behind the doubletree to dry out so that he could smoke some more of it the next day. Dad, Ernest Ferrin, thought that was too good a chance for a practical joke to turn down. He carved a hog turd in the proper shape and blackened one end of it with matches, then wet and mashed the other end with pliers so it would look like it had teeth marks. He exchanged it for one of Grandpa's snipes which lay drying on the wagon tounge. Grandpa put it in his mouth and tried several matches to light it before he realized what had happened. I believe Dad said that was the last whipping he ever got, but it did break Grandpa from smoking. He never smoked another cigar in his life.
Photo: Loren & Alcana (Wagner) Ferrin with their children: from left, Nellie, Maude and Ernest. Loren holds Walter. West Powell Township, Comanche County, Ks, circa 1895.
"Help Yourself"by Wendel Ferrin
(The Preacher and the Watermelon Patch)
Dad, Ernest L. Ferrin, was always one for a practical joke. He didn't marry until he was 35 and batched on the home place for several years (1912-21) after his parents had moved into Wilmore. This incident probably happened between 1915 and 1921.
At that time, he kept stud horses most of the time and had a very tall pole corral just south and east of where the bridge near the house is now. As I said, this corral was for stallions and, by necessity, was high and strong, made of native poles. If I remember correctly, he said it was nearly 10' tall.
Anyway, that summer he didn't have any studs so he plowed inside the corral, planted watermelons in it and had a great crop.
As it was when I was growing up in Comanche County, stealing watermelons was one of the most popular forms of entertainment in that area. Seldom did anyone take more than they could eat at the moment and there was honor among thieves, they would never destroy a farmer's crop in any way.
Some farmers took this as a game to see how many culprits they could catch but a few took it seriously and would shoot trespassers with shotguns, sometimes loaded with rock salt. In later years I knew one man who shot his own son, who was my age. I won't mention the name because the son still lives at Coldwater. He had to go to a doctor and have several shot dug out of his backside and legs.
Dad belonged to the first group: he got his fun out of trying to catch the culprits and to scare hell out of anyone he caught in his patch.
As usual, there was a newcomer to the area who didn't know the customs of the people in the area. He was a young minister. Dad and Lewis "Lew" Smith were lifelong friends and cooked up a scheme to catch the young minister in Dad's melon patch. Lew and another young man from Wilmore whose name I have forgotten convinced this young preacher to ride with them to Dad's melon patch to "pick" a few melons. Of course, Dad knew about it and approximately when they would be there.
The three of them had crawled over the fence and had each selected a melon. The two others had crossed the fence but Lew lagged behind and, when he reached the top of the fence, Dad stood up and yelled and began shooting in the air. Lew fell backwards off the fence screaming "Help me, I'm shot!".
Of course, this was all planned but the preacher's reaction was not; he dropped his watermelon and hollered, "Help yourself!" and took off on a high run.
The other young man took off too even tho' he was in on the joke. He went to his horse, which was tied a short distance away, and rode back to town by himself.
The preacher's horse was still there and Dad and Lew were having so much fun out of this that they walked on down the creek a way and then decided to got back to the house. Just for effect, Dad fired a couple of shots in the air and a brush pile near Dad and Lew seemed to explode as the preacher came out of hiding.
Dad said that even if he had been aiming he didn't think he could have hit that man at the rate he was running. Simply out of dumb luck they had flushed their victim again. Dad said he guessed the man had run all the way back to town.
Anyway, Lew stayed all night at Dad's, then led the preacher's horse back to town the next morning. Dad said he guessed the preacher got a calling to some other location because he was never seen around Wilmore again. He even left his horse when he left the county.
(When Dad told this story, he said that my grand-dad, Ernie, always ended the story by slapping his leg and repeating: "Help yourself!" and saying, "Why, that man wouldn't have stopped to help Jesus Christ himself!". -- Jerry Ferrin)
How A Cat Taught Poppy Not to Tease Him
Sometimes in the course of doing family history research, a gem of a personal anecdote will turn up. One of these came out of my correspondence with Evelyn Reed, librarian at Coldwater, Kansas, when she reminded me of a story I'd heard when I was young but had forgotten. My paternal grandfather, "Poppy" - Ernest Leroy Ferrin, had quite a sense of humor, tended to play practical jokes and enjoyed teasing people and animals, though not in a mean way. Evelyn's letter, an excerpt of which follows, reminds me of a story about how Pop's teasing backfired on him one time.
Nellie Ferrin was one of the sponsors of the Christian Youth Fellowship at one time when I as in that group. It was about this time that I heard the story about Ernie Ferrin which always really cracks me up, although I am sure it was anything but funny to him. Anyhow, as I remember hearing it, one dark night Ernie woke up and needed to use the bathroom. Rather than go to the outhouse, he went to the nearest bushes. As he engaged in relieving his bladder, a cat engaged its claws in his male member, inflicting some painful, if minor, damage.
I really did not know him ohter than through Nellie, and I can't remember whether I heard this story from her or from one of the other CYF members; the latter, I would think.
After reading Evelyn's letter and recalling that I'd heard the same story many years ago, I asked Dad if he'd heard about the cat's attack. He had; he said that Poppy's favorite cat was a big, old tomcat that he teased all the time. Pop would hold out pieces of meat for the cat to jump and grab with his claws, often moving his hand at the last minute so that the frustrated cat often missed getting the meat. Dad said that he once saw Poppy hold a piece of meat over an electrified fence wire and the cat stood on his hind legs and put his front feet on the electric fence when he reached for the meat. Of course, the cat got shocked. Dad said the cat stalked off in a huff with his tail all fluffed out.
Dad said that the way he recalled the story was that Poppy was answering nature's call, probably unaware of the cat's presence, or, if he knew the cat was there, he wasn't thinking of what he'd trained that cat to do.
-- Jerry Ferrin, 3 August 1990.
How Dad Learned How the Dog Felt
This story, under the category of "backfired actions" (pun intended) is an excerpt from an interview with my dad, Wendel Gene Ferrin, on 30 May 1988. Perhaps this story should be called: "Wendel's Revenge", as it's about a dog who learned the same lesson the dog had just taught Dad.
This story has always reminded me of the folk song lyrics: "Oh, you put your right foot in, and you put your right foot out, then you do the Hokey Pokey and you shake it all about". -- Jerry Ferrin
Wendel: ...that's where I learned to drive that Model-T, out in the pastures going to poison prairie dogs.
Jerry: What other kinds of poison (besides poisoned oats) did you use on prairie dogs?
Wendel: We used what we called "Hokey Pokey". You poured it on a cow turd and threw it down a hole and then took a shovel and covered up the hole. It released a gas which was heavier than air and would settle to the bottom of the hole and kill anything that was in there, rattlesnakes or prairie dogs or anything else. It's real name is Carbon Ditetrachloride, I believe, but everyone just called it "Hokey Pokey" or "Dog Go" or "Dog Gone" - if you put it on a dog, he was GONE.
Jerry: How'd you put it on a dog?
Wendel: Just throw it on.
Jerry: Yeah, well, I'm thinking about the time I saw you Hokey Pokey a dog and you went over, grabbed him by his tail and then splashed the Hokey Pokey on his rear-end.
Wendel: Yeah. Sometimes you could and sometimes you couldn't. But that was very effective. The Hokey Pokey evaporated so fast that they thought it was hot - they thought it was burnin' them, but it was just cold. Their hair would frost over immediately as soon as you threw than on because it was evaporating so fast. It was so cold they thought they were on fire and they went over a hill and never came back.
Jerry: I remember seeing that dog take over the hill to the east of our house.
Wendel: Was that Warren Day's dog?
Jerry: I don't know. It was a big yellow mongrel.
Wendel: That would have been Alvy Trummel's, I suppose.
Jerry: One time it treed Darrell and I on the granary door inside the barn and kept us up there quite a while.
Wendel: That wouldn't have been Alvy's dog then because he was so gentle he wouldn't even growl at a flea. Warren Day's dog wasn't very big, just a damned little mongrel. He turned on me one time. I had a pound coffee can of Hokey Pokey in my hand that I was trying to pour on him when he turned on me, baring his teeth, and I kicked at him and I threw the Hokey Pokey in the air. I didn't have a shirt on. It ran down my back and right down my crack - Boy, I know what a dog feels like! Needless to say, I got into the house and got a bath but it was too late -- I mean, I KNOW what those dogs felt like!
After I got a bath and got clean clothes on, I went back out and that same dog was laying underneath my pickup by the left front wheel. I sneaked up on him. Of course, he knew I was there but he didn't think I knew he was there. I had another pound coffee can FULL of Hokey Pokey. Of course, at that time, a pound coffee can was only about 3 inches high and bigger around than now, not tall and slender like they are now, and you could toss liquid out of them real easy. He was laying there with his tail up and I got that WHOLE pound -- well, it was a pint; a pint's a pound the world around -- and I got that whole pint of Hokey Pokey on him. That's the last time I ever saw that dog. He went over the hill a-howlin'... he was howling bloody murder. I never did see HIM again!
Pepper for the Guests
by Wendel Gene Ferrin
Lars Nielson was an old-time Danish settler who lived about 2 & 1/2 miles northeast of the Ridge Summit Schoolhouse in West Powell Township, Comanche County, Kansas. He was the father of Frank, Charlie, Chris and Lester of Wilmore, Ks, and several more whose names I can't remember. I was told by the sons that one Sunday they were to have house guests for dinner and didn't have any pepper. He instructed one of the boys to go to the barnyard and find the blackest mixture of dirt and manure he could find and fill the shaker. They didn't lose face: they had "pepper" for their guests.
Sam Lawrence and the Wounded Raccoonby Wendel Ferrin
"Sam Lawrence was approximately the same age as my dad, Ernest L. Ferrin, but I always considered him a friend, as did almost anyone who ever knew him. I guess he loved to hunt more than any other man I ever met, and he always had some good dogs. Many were the nights that he would come in from coon hunting at sun-up and go right to work. Since we lived on Spring Creek and there were quite a few coons there, he came to Dad's place to hunt many times when I was in high school. He would never go on anyone's place to hunt without permission. Dad gave him blanket permission to hunt at any time, as I did in later years, but he still came to the house to let us know he was there. I hunted with him many times during high school, but he later moved to Coldwater and didn't come as often. When he moved to Coldwater, he got the job as custodian at the hospital. Everyone at the hospital loved him, those who worked there and the patients. He was the in-house psychiatrist and good will ambassador.
I wasn't hunting with him this one night but he told me about it. He said his dogs treed an extra-large coon and, since he only had 2 or 3 dogs, he was afraid the coon would whip his dogs out, so, since he always carried a sawed-off .22 rifle for emergencies, he shot the coon and hit it in the back, thus paralyzing its hind quarters. The coon hit the ground and the dogs jumped on it. In a matter of minutes, it was obvious that the coon was winning even with his hind quarters paralyzed. Sam didn't dare to shoot for fear of hitting his dogs, so he did what comes naturally, he jumped in the middle of the coon with both feet. THAT was a mistake. Both the coon and the dogs were surprised. The dogs quit fighting and the coon concentrated on Sam. When he finally got free and the dogs killed the coon, he said that it didn't amount to too much: he just went in to his hospital and had Dr. McCoy sew up the damage that the coon did. He limped for a few days, but I'm sure he was proud of his battle scars. I don't recall what that coon weighed but I know Sam said it was the largest he ever caught. He also said that he would not recommend trying to stomp a wounded coon to death."
TRYING TO CATCH BONNIE AND CLYDE:
Flat Tires in Belvidere, Kansas
by Nancy Smith
"I was just thinking about Belvidere and remembered a story that someone shared with me years ago. I donít recall who told me - possibly my grandfather, or maybe my dad.
Seems as if a bank was robbed somewhere in the vicinity of Belvidere (Pratt comes to mind, but I donít recall the particular town.) The robbers were none other than Bonnie and Clyde and they took off heading in the general direction of Belvidere. Wanting to do what they could to help catch the robbers, some of the town's residents threw a bunch of tacks out on the road, hoping that they would cause the tires to blow out on the get-away vehicle. All of their efforts were in vain, as their ploy to stop the robbers failed. But, many a flat tire was repaired in days to come by local townspeople, as they drove into town and over the tacks."
-- Nancy Smith, in an email to Jerry Ferrin, 29 April 2005.
(Whether or not they were stopped in the road a few miles past Belvidere because of flat tires on their car, Bonnie and Clyde did kidnap Alva Trummel in this area at about this time.)
Tom Sullivan's Misfortune
"Tom Sullivan, section foreman at Protection, came up to Coldwater, Monday, and after putting himself on the outside of an unknown quantity of bug juice, sought to keep off the chilly blasts of the cold day by taking shelter in the privy at the depot. By some means in his drunken stupor he fell into the vault, where he is suppose to have remained for about two hours, and when rescued was almost dead. Marshall Murphy, with his usual promptness and humanity, had the wretched man cleansed thoroughly, procured a new suit of clothes for him and sent him on his way, if not better, at least a wiser man."
-- The Coldwater Review, December 2, 1887.
The Peeling of Reb Goddard
"I roomed with Reb Goddard who was a man of regular habits. I'll say "regular habits." One of them was his habit of reading every patent medicine ad. and he was also in the habit of discovering that he had every symptom described in them. He believed the ads., bought the dope and took it. I have helped administer to him everything from cough drops to knock-out drops; from Lydia Pinkham to shellac. Once he really was sick. He had the itch because everyone else had it and he couldn't bear to be slighted. He consulted me professionally. I knew a lot about itch, because I once had a dog that had it, or the mange or something else that required scratching. I recommended Wolford's Sanitary Lotion, a positive specific - if the patient could live thru the treatment. I painted him from head to feet with the medicine. It cured him, but I was forced into hiding for two weeks, but I made a new man of him. He peeled off like a banana."
-- Robert Henkel: A Few Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in Comanche-co.
The Western Star, April 22, 1922
Leo Thornberry's Watermelon Patch by Wendel Ferrin.
Another story about stealing watermelons:
Charles V. Jones: A Few Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in Comanche-co.
The Western Star, March 24, 1922
Raccoon Nearly Drowns Sheep Dog - Small Rat Terrier Comes to Rescue and Saves Dog's Life -- The Wilmore News, March 4, 1949.
TWO PROTECTION BOYS SHOT ON HALLOWEEN: High School Boys Are Victims of Stewart Millimum Monday Evening, The Wilmore News, 4 Nov 1932.
Practical Jokes & Backfired Actions: A Few Stories From Barber County, Kansas
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The stories by Wendel Ferrin on this page are from Wendel Gene Ferrin: Life Stories, privately published, Tucson, Arizona, 1991. Copyright Jerry Ferrin 1991. Web design by Jerry Ferrin, July 2002. Page last updated 29 Jan 2008.