as told to H. Benson by his grandmother and presented as the last word and truth on the matter.
About 1891, sometime in January, was the start of the legend of Jacko. ’90-’91 was a bitter winter, both for cold and for snow.
Lafe was a contrary and boisterous, though periodical drunk; these binges might go on a week or ten days, then often not another drop for a year, during which time, an every-day hard-working drudge of a farmer.
Mid-January of ’91 found Lafe onto one of his loud boisterous drunks over in Kent, when a friend came to him with the warning that he’d better get out of town without delay, as there had been several complaints and the sheriff was on his way.
“Yeeup!” shrieked Lafe: “Time to be gitt’n’ outta Connecticut ‘n’ back over inta them New Jinted States of Americkie!”
Accordingly, the friend went with Lafe out to the hitching shed to help him get started for home as soon as possible. Lafe let out one long last whoop to beat them all, thumbed his nose at the approaching sheriff, then set the ox team into a dead run.
“Y’better git, y’ol’ buzzard!” the sheriff called after him; then, aside, to the mutual friend: “Thanks, Ezra.”
Once clear of the town, Lafe was content to let the oxen take their time. He decided to take the short-cut through the reservation, and so save 5 miles and at least an hour’s time; in those days, we didn’t travel 100 mph.
It was cold, as the oxen waded on through the knee-deep snow, and Lafe frequently took a hooker out of the bottle of brandy that he had brought along. Three miles or so down the trail, Lafe saw an obstruction in his way: a big-size jennet had given birth and hadn’t made it; he’d have to drag her out of the path, in order to pass. Drunk as he was, the sight of this moved Lafe’s heart to pity, and an intense loathing for such a … who would neglect his livestock in this manner. Lafe jumped out of the sleigh and staggered over to the dead jennet, to get the task over with and get clear of the pitiful scene with all possible haste.
But, as he approached, he saw the foal move. “Eyee! Li’l feller” exclaimed Lafe: “I’m drunk, but I swear yer alive.”
Lafe gathered up the tiny form in his arms and struggled with it back to his sleigh; there he rubbed the baby donk vigorously to dry him off, then poured some brandy into its mouth and rubbed the gullet. “Ha-ha! Ye swallered!” shrieked Lafe. “Dog-gone dog!” Then Lafe wrapped the foal into 2 horse blankets to keep him as warm as possible, proceeded to remove the dead jennet from his path, and continued on home; never consuming another drop of alchohol as long as he lived.
Lafe had sobered considerably by the time he got home, and his steps were steady as he carried the bundle of horseblankets into the kitchen, where his wife had a good warm fire in the cookstove. “Guess I’ve fetched ya sumthin’ this time, Virie,” was his comment, “if we can ever make him live.”
Together they sobbed, as Lafe told his wife the story of his trip home. “T’ain’t every woman wants a jack-ass in her kitchen; but I jes’ couldn’t leave him thar, when I see he was alive! Now could I?”
“No-no!” Vira agreed: “Y’git now! Milk him some outa that fresh brindle heifer! Git him some right fresh!”
55 years old, and with several half-grown grandchildren, Vira wasn’t long assembling a bottle and nipple, by the time Lafe returned with the fresh colostrom, which the baby donk eagerly consumed.
He was named “JACKO,” and as the days went by, became one of the family. The married children all lived several miles away; and Pete, the youngest, a teen-ager, the only one left at home, soon became as attached to Jacko as his parents were. Theirs was a smelly kitchen for the remainder of the winter, but they were cheerful about it themselves; and the few callers one had, back country in the 1890s, could take it or leave it.
Jacko had a great appetite. He’d never fail to make the house ring with his adamant “hee-honk” each morning at daybreak, and pound his tiny hoofs against the pen that Lafe had fixed for him in the corner of the kitchen.
March of ’91 came in like a lamb, so Jacko graduated from the corner of the kitchen to a box stall in the barn; but, with his plentiful drink of milk 4 time a day, a pound or so of ground barley, and all the timothy he’d eat, he was putting on phenomenal growth. As the spring advanced, Lafe was busy getting the potatoes and corn planted and the tobacco set out, and countless other jobs around the farm. These spring days, Vira would let Jacko out to eat the short green grass in the dooryard. He presented no particular problem at this period, as Pete got the garden fenced in; but he did love a chance to get in the henhouse, every chance he got, and gobble all the fresh eggs within his reach. It was up to Vira to keep that door shut, as the sale of the spare eggs brought in a few dollars for household needs. Then as the summer evenings came, Lafe and Pete availed themselves of numerous evening pastimes, teaching Jacko to ground-drive. At first, Jacko hee-honked and kicked and capered in protest; but once he made up his mind it was the going thing, he seemed to enjoy it as much as anyone.
By the time he was 3 years old, Jacko had grown into a big size jack, 13 hands tall and 900 pounds, and was still growing. That summer he ran the singlerow corn planter and raked the hay, proved himself handier with a single row cultivator than a single ox, getting closer to the plants without stepping on them, and saved Lafe a lot of hand-hoeing. The year prior, Vira had lent her driving horse to her married daughter, never to be returned; so now Jacko jogged them to and from the store in the buggy. Gradually he had paced himself to his three educated gaits to fill whatever job Lafe required of him: fast walk for the planter and rake, slow walk for the cultivator and plant-setter, and brisk trot for the buggy.
Mid-August of that year, a man drove into Lafe’s dooryard with an adamant air about him. “Dam nice of ye Lafe,” he began: “gittin’ that jack raised an’ all broke for me! That is my jack, an’ you know it!”
Lafe eyed the man sourly: “Ye’ll have t’git me front of a judge an’ prove it.”
“Where you gonna tell any judge you got him?” sneered the man: “You hain’t never had no jennet here you could ‘a raised him from. Bother ye some to produce a bill o’ sale, or any other kind of proof, wouldn’t it?”
Lafe smirked: “I hain’t gotta prove nothin’ t’nobody. Here in these New Jinted States of Americkie, a feller is innercent ’til he’s pruv guilty. You’re the accuser, I’m the accused. Then, thars one nother little wrinkle in the law, about a feller neglectin’ his livestock an’ leavin’ ’em ramblin’ th’ woods in January, poorer’n crows, starvin’ right t’death.”
“You’d bring that up, eh?” the sneer was gone from the visitor’s face now: “Why, you old …, you’re even ornrier sober than you was drunk!”
Lafe chuckled: “Never know how ornery a drunk kin be, ’til ye git ‘im sobered up!”
“How is it you know so much about law, Lafe? Didn’t know’s ye could read.” Lafe grinned: “An ol’ drunk that don’t drink; an accused thief that never stole in his life; and an ol’ farmer that can read! Now ain’t that a fright?”
“And an ol’ … t’boot!” the man growled: “Gitdap!” The unwelcome guest drove out of Lafe’s yard, and that was the end of that.
But now, we’re getting a little ahead of our story. Earlier on, when the moon came full in June, Jacko had been up to some mischief of his own: he’d mastered the latch on the barnyard gate, and a couple of nights he’d gone visiting. He was always back before daybreak, and was nonchalantly eating grass in the dooryard by the time the family awoke, so no one gave it any thought at all until the next May, when one Sunday forenoon, a neighbor came riding in on his mare, with a month-old mule filly close at her heels. The little mule filly was sleek dark brown with mustard nose, clear picture of her daddy.
Lafe stared in amazement, then fighting to regain his composure, offered a cheerful greeting: “Mornin’ Charlie! How be ye?”
“Figgered since I got the one, I’d likely orta raise a pair!” was the reply, as the man swung down: “where’s Jacko?”
But Jacko was already alert, trumpeting a welcome hee-honk to the chunky bay mare who had produced his cute little daughter, as he expertly tripped the latch on the barnyard gate and swung it open.
Three more mule fillies were foaled in the neighborhood within the next ten days, all the same, dark brown with mustard noses, clear picture of the only jack in the township. One of the mare owners was furious, the 2nd was adamant of a free re-service, and the 3rd, both.
Pete put a chain and padlock on the barnyard gate: “We’re gentlemen, us folks is; we don’t hafta go peddlin’. Let them come to us, from here on — huh Jacko?” Jacko made no particular comment of approval; however, 12 more mares were brought in that season. More came in each season from different parts of the county, once Jacko’s reputation became established. Lafe was charging the exorbitant rate of $25: “Take it or leave it! Back country folks ain’t always set up fer overnight comp’ny.”
Sometimes during the trips to and from the store and the other pleasure rides, it required every bit of Lafe’s expertise with lines to keep Jacko steady in the road, as he capered and hee-honked and announced himself along the way. The farm work continued in the same reliable fashion as the years went by. During the teen years, occasional autos would be met along the road: Jacko paid them no particular mind, except if the driver of the car blew his horn, then Jacko blew his, much to everyone’s amusement. Once, during the cultivating season, one of the very early airplanes flew over: Jacko stopped stark still, midway of the row, pricked up his long ears, craned his neck and silently watched the thing out of sight. “Wondered myself,” Lafe said later: “what that thing could be, ‘way up thar!”
Jacko rested, at his farmwork, when he got tired; Lafe, being an old man himself, didn’t rush him. The work got done, done well and in plenty of time. Jacko kept up a good gait; he wasn’t lazy, but when that sun rose to the proper high in the sky, he knew it. Pretty congenial for the most part, although he had one hard fast rule: stay off his back; anyone getting on, got dumped before they were fairly seated. Pete had gotten it, anytime and everytime and likewise anyone else who ever tried. Lafe himself might have ridden, but never tried. As Jacko got older, his hee-honk gradually became bass and gutteral, almost like the roar of a lion.
The year Jacko was 16, a group of five men from an adjoining county came to see Lafe, to propose taking Jacko to their locality, as his mule progeny had attained wide fame; offered $1000 for the lease of a month. This was more money than a poor backwoods farmer of that day ever saw at one time, or was likely to again; but Lafe didn’t ponder: “Fergit it! Fetch him some comp’ny now an’ then, when ye wanta; but long’s thars a roof over my head, Jacko kin stay to home.”
During the visit, there was much discussion of the good points of the mule, as a worker and general farm animal: sure-footedness, intelligence, tractibility, toughness, and general ability on a more meagre diet. One man remarked: “Best all-round power a man can have, if you have good ones and use them right; but the hell of it is, they’re hybrids, and that’s the end of the line.”
Lafe told the five men the whole story of Jacko’s life before they left, and left them all greatly impressed. One of the man said: “Well, Mr. Drummond, we all have hearts; we understand how you feel towards your jack. Now, just to show we’re all friends, I’m leaving you a fifth of my own homemade brandy.”
“Forget it,” Lafe said: “Hain’t never touched a drop sence I found the little cuss thar in the snow. Thanks just the same.”
The following month, this gentleman brought a big jennet to mate to Jacko; but for the first time in his life, Jacko was standoffish. It took a month of celebate isolation on his part, before the jennet’s visit did her any good.
By the time Jacko was 20, and Lafe 80, Jacko’s mule progeny had added into 3 digits, as the mule fad became popular through the locality, through the years before farm machinery became popular. His spirit had not slackened in the least; he was ready for whatever Lafe wanted, and whenever. As time went by, he had become mostly a one man animal, but that was all right. Pete had married and lived with his family a short distance away; worked at the sawmill and wasn’t around very often; so, for the most part, Vira and Lafe and Jacko were left pretty much to themselves.
Time went on until Jacko was 26, Lafe was 86 and Vira 81. All was happiness, this fine lovely spring morning, as they started for the store. They had gone about a mile from home, when an automobile containing three drunks careened around a sharp turn in the road, crashed into the broadside of the buggy, taking Jacko off his feet and flat to the ground. The driver of the auto, perceiving that the vehicle would still run, left the scene with all possible haste.
Although Jacko was badly hurt, his legs were not broken; and after several attempts, he finally succeeded in getting onto his feet. Vira lay dead, and Lafe unconscious upon some grass beside the road. Jacko, dazed and in too much pain to kick himself free from the wreckage of the buggy, managed to turn himself around, and stood still, staunchly beside Lafe. When help finally came, and Vira’s body was removed, Jacko refused to let anyone touch Lafe; guarded his unconscious master with ears laid back, striking forefeet and snapping teeth.
Pete and his wife Pam came as soon as they could, after being told of the accident, with their team and rig. One of the men there said to Pete: “Pete, I swear we’re gonna hafta shoot that ol’ jackass, before any of us can touch your Dad!”
“Make up yer mind where you wanna git shot then!” Pete exclaimed: “Stiddy Jacko.” Then Pete succeeded in getting Jacko free of the broken harness and the wreckage of the buggy; and when Jacko saw his master laid in the bed of Pete’s wagon, he followed them home without being led. Lame as he was, he understood, and he made it.
After several hours, Lafe slowly regained consciouness in his own bed, at home. He was in a great deal of pain; he realized Vira was dead, and after a sip of the broth Pam brought him, he wept his heart out, as love and loss command.
The doctor came, patched Lafe up as best he could, left medication for the pain; but at mention of hospital, Lafe whispered: “‘Tain’t wuth it. Cain’t last the night out anyway.”
But he did, and many more. Several broken ribs, and no telling what his head had struck onto when he hit the ground; but Pam was a good care-taker, and Lafe’s married daughter and granddaughter were on hand as well.
As the days went by, and Lafe was able to sit up in bed, Pam told her 11 year old son Lafey, to lead poor old Jacko out into the dooryard where his grandfather could see him. As the boy led the crippled old jack through the gate, Pam said to Lafe; “Call him!” Although Lafe’s voice was still weak, Jacko wasn’t deaf, and the instantaneous roaring basic hee-honk that he trumpeted to his master was a world of encouragement.
Pete had quit his job at the sawmill to look after the farm. He had a pair of Suffolk geldings for the farm; so Jacko was completely retired. His right stifle bothered him off and on, the rest of his days, and although he lived on in otherwise apparent health to a phenomenal old age, he was never harnessed again, wandered the farm at will, and seemed perfectly content with retirement, and being the revered pet of the family.
In a couple of weeks, when Lafe felt strong enough to be up and around a bit, he had a visit from the sheriff.
“Lafe, I’ve got a half a dozen yahoos locked up for drunk and disorderly conduct; and I was wonderin’ if you’d feel able enough to come down with me and see if you could identify any of them with what happened to you.”
“Couldn’t identify nobody, Joe. It all happened so quick, there on that sharp curve. Virie dead, an’ me out cold. They got outta there an’ gone, jes’ fast as they could, I guess. Next thing I knowed, I come to here in my own bed.”
“I see. But Gad Lafe! I’d sure like to get the cuffs onto them varmints that killed your wife!”
“I know, Joe, me too! But to ever finger the wrong man, when I honestly don’t know.”
“Gad, Lafe, it’s goin’ on all over the country! This hit-and-run business.”
Lafe gained a reasonable amount of strength over the next couple of years, considering his age when the accident happened; but he’d always been a hard worker, and a rugged constitution never does any harm.
Two years after the accident, one Sunday forenoon, Lafe was sitting in his easy chair on the back stoop, glancing through the Sunday paper. Old Jacko, now 28, was eating grass in the dooryard, about 50 feet from where his master sat; an auto drove into the yard, and as Lafe glanced up, he noticed the headlights weren’t mates, one was obviously a replacement. The driver got out of the car, leaving his motor idling, and sauntered towards Lafe, was ready to speak, when suddenly Jacko let out a wild mad bray, and ran straight at the man, with eyes ablaze and teeth snapping
Lafe sprang to his feet and yelled: “Whoa!” but the man bolted back into his auto and left, with all possible haste.
Jacko stood, poised and rigid, ears back and eyes still ablaze in the direction of the speeding vehicle, as Pete came running in from the barn: “I never seen him like that!” He patted Jacko’s neck: “Whassa matter, fella?”
Lafe had stepped down off the stoop, stood on the other side of Jacko, with his hand on the animal’s wither, and spoke slowly, in a low tone to Pete: “We hain’t got a shred o’ proof Son, ain’t likely to git none; but ye can bet yer last cent, thar’s the jasper whut done in yer Ma.”