Excerpts From the Life of
Written May 1973 by George Allen Mincks
Edited by Sandra Santana
I was born on October 9th, 1897 in the coal-mining town of Centerville, Iowa in the old Ed Cuts house. My dad was working on the railroad for $1.10 a day. When I was about two years old dad rented a farm from Silas Wentworth. We kids called him Uncle Si. Dad had rented from him before and all together dad rented from him for 25 years share cropping. But, we moved around some while I was growing up. We lived in about 4 different of Uncle Si houses and farmed the same farm in the wintertime. Dad would move coal to the railroad cars.
My first school started when I was 6 years old. We went to a country school but the next school was a large red brick building they had from the Primer class up to the 12th grade. That school was called the NorthWard. They had the 2nd, 3rd, 4th grade in the same room. I guess it was just the 1st, 2nd & 3rd grade because my sister Laura was in the 3rd grade and I was in the 2nd. She was in the same room I was. Every day in school a girl named Edith Walker sat in front of me and she would wet her pants and it would run down under my seat. There were twin boys in my class named Earl and Buarel Kates and a big boy named Pat McMan. He was in a higher grade. I only went to school two terms in Iowa then we moved to Kansas. I only went 3 terms in Kansas and I had to go to working out at 9 years old. I never finished the 4th grade.
Kansas was quite a change from Iowa. In Iowa there were hills and oak and walnut and hickory nuts and hazelnuts. They were thick in all the timber until the land was cleared and farmed. I loved those hazelnuts. We could stand on the ground and pick them. We had lots of wild squirrels called ground squirrels. They ate lots of nuts. In the fall of the year we used to take a wagon and team and go down on the river bottom and gather the black walnuts a wagonload and take them home and spread them out to dry. They always stained our hands black and were so strong we couldn't eat too many. When we went to Kansas there were no nuts out there. There were lots of wild plums and chock cherries.
We first moved into Uncle Joe Clumpsky's place for about 2 weeks and then we moved into old Pappy Howell's house and lived with him for 2 or 3 months. Then we moved into the old Chipman house, north of Mead center and lived nearly a year, well all Winter, and in the Spring we moved south of Mead, Kansas 18 miles where dad had filed on a 160 acres and had built a one room sod house with a tin roof and a dirt floor. We lived in that until dad proved up on the place and got the title. Not long after this dad left home. But for about 3 (or 4) years we hauled water for 4 miles in barrels with a tin tub on each to keep the water from slopping out. My sister Laura and I did all the work hoeing corn and beans and potatoes and pulling weeds.
There are many little details I will probably forget to write. I already remember things that happened in Iowa. Like one time Roy, Dad and I were hoeing corn and I was barefoot. There was a big weed and I had to hit it hard to cut it off. When the hoe came through the weed it hit my foot on the top and took a big chunk out. Dad took a chew of tobacco out of his mouth and bound it on my foot with a red bandanna and told me I could go to the house.
There was so many things I did in play that it would take a long time and a lot of writing to get it; the same in Kansas. But two things happened in Iowa that I will write about. Dad had a team of horses, a gray horse he called Rowdy and a black horse he called Prince. We had to take them to water. One time Roy was riding Prince, I was riding Rowdy and we were going on a trail in the woods. Roy started going real fast and Rowdy took out real fast and the tree limbs raked me off and I fell and hit my side on a stump. I think it broke a rib or two. When I was about 4 years old there were a bunch of boys at our place and they were running and hiding. Dad had a hog pen inside of the barn. It was made with wide boards. I fell over this fence and broke my right arm and it was never set. I guess just one bone was cracked but it hurt me for a long time.
Back in Kansas I was 8 years old and had appendicitis. I suffered with that for a long time. I was doubled over until my nose nearly bumped my knees. There was no doctor, but Uncle George Benge gave me a strong cup of coffee with a big tablespoon full of salt about 4 times a day.
I used to mock all kinds of birds and animals, horses and cows, calves, pigs and old sows. I could squeal like a little pig that was caught in a fence and the old hogs would come charging but not being able to find a pig they would soon settle down. I could gobble like a turkey gobbler and get a gobbler in the notion to fight and he'd find nothing to fight. Out on the range where the cattle were, an old cow would hide her calf and forget where she hid it. I would run on to it and get it on its feet and get on the saddle horse and start off and the calf would follow. I would ride along making a noise like the calf and its mother would hear me and would come running and get her calf. I would find a calf lost from its mother and I would make a noise like the mother and get the calf to come and we would hunt the mother and find her. Maybe she would be over a hill or two or three miles from the calf. I would wrestle calves during branding and docking. Some of them weighed about 2 or 3 hundred lb. Some fight too.
But I got away from ranch work sometimes and would ride the freight trains. Usually I would take a passenger train one way and then take a freight train back. I worked a lot on hay ranches, dairy farms and in cattle barns with thoroughbred bulls. I have run road gangs and worked in rock granges hauling rock on wheelbarrows. I've worked in sawmills and in gold mines and on draglines. I've worked on railroads, in a seed house using a machine called a Nersong separating different kinds of seed. I have worked on the following railroads, North Western Burlington, Wabash, Great Northern, Milwaukee, Interbin streetcar line and Northern Pacific. I've worked on a logging road from Orefenio towards Pierce City, Idaho. I have worked on the river building a dike along the river to hold the floodwater back. I worked on a paper boat called the NR Lang out of Oregon City to Camas, Washington. I got knocked into the river with a 17 hundred pound roll of paper at Camas, Washington about 6 a.m. in the morning. I belonged to the IWW called the Industrial Workers of the World. I did picket duty when there were 12 thousand IWW on strike in Portland, Oregon. I spent 23 days in a federal jail facing 5 to 15 years for what they called the Man Act but the Lord let me out through prayer. I have trapped on the Missouri River in Montana and set out traps in the Leeseburg Mountains in NW Idaho and trapped in Wyoming. I herded sheep 2 summers in Wyoming. I belonged to the Odd Fellow Lodge. I played ball on their team. I made card wood in Washington State. I shoveled snow and cleaned switches in Washington. I had a few fistfights but I've never been licked. I was beat when I was crippled up, wasn't whipped though. I have stolen a few things, broken into a few houses. I've never stolen any money but I stole stuff and sold it for money. Made restitution for what I stole. I was in jail in Montana and given one hour to get out of town. I stayed until the next day. I tried to catch a fast freight and was thrown end over end down the track. I never quit riding them. I stole coal off the cars on the track and traded it for groceries. I helped another fellow steal about 3 tons of coal and I helped him steal three sacks full of chickens.
One time, back when I was young, I could get a job anywhere. I could work through harvest and threshing and afterwards move on to another job some place else. But often I would be asked to stay and work. I worked about 2 weeks for the International Harvester Company in Billings, Montana unloading cars at their plant. I worked on a threshing crew out of Big Sandy, Montana. I had $75 in a Cadillac touring car. We went to Butte, Montana, two brothers and I. I left them there and never saw them again or the Cadillac either or the $75. They had worked under me on a cattle ranch. They were on the hay crew. I did the overseeing of the whole thing. I had to take all the responsibility of the breakdowns and seeing that they worked. I did blacksmithing and the carpenter work, keeping the homes and rake teeth fixed up. They called them bull rakes or go-devils; some were called side sweeps. The horses were hooked on the out side of a long wooden beam one on each side. The best kind is different. The horses hook behind the beam in the center and runs back where there is an iron seat. Well these were wooden and they got broke and you had to make new ones. It takes a saw, a brace and bit to bore holes. I did that and did other things away from the hay crew. Men working planting wheat or doing other things.
I walked across the Wyoming desert for miles and miles in winter snow on the ground and with blizzard snow blowing. I have walked all night through a downpour of rain. I stole a wool army blanket from the Dempsey Hotel in Spokane, Washington. I made underwear out of it and sewed it together around my legs and arms and down the front and put my clothes on over it. I wore it in all kinds of weather. After I was saved I made restitution for this blanket, paid $4 for it. I have ridden freight trains with Jack Dempsey's sparing partner, with gamblers, white and black, with college boys and sheepherders and Mexicans. I bummed with one fellow who shot a detective off of a freight. He was from Canada. He had raped his wife's 13-year-old sister and had to start running. He and I lived two months in a sheep wagon and stole coal off the cars and traded it for groceries. We were both lousy and had gray backs. I took a bath and washed my clothes and afterwards got on a freight. That was in Pocatello, Idaho.
In January I got off at Laramie, Wyoming and ran three miles across country from one railroad to another. I caught a freight and got kicked off in a snowstorm but caught another freight and rode to Cheyenne and hitch hiked to Sidney, Nebraska. I walked from Sidney to Alliance, Nebraska, about 40 miles. I walked from there to Mullen, Nebraska. My sister lived there and I tried to find her. I went into a house I thought was hers and ate some biscuits and drank a quart of milk. Then I looked around and saw the name of the people who lived there. Their name was Bratts, Herb Bratts. I found my sisters place and her husband and I hunted Herb up the next day and told him what I had done. He said that was OK, he would have done the same.
I want to say here that a broken home was the cause of my ramblings and wrong doing. I remember one day while I was sitting in a tent on the campgrounds, a voice said to me, "What about your restitution?" I didn't know what that word meant. The same voice said, "What about those 7 chickens you stole?" I knew what the word meant. After that, I could think of many things I had stolen, chickens and coal and some other things. All of my life came up before me and I always wanted to make every wrong right. I started doing so after I was saved. In the spring of 1926 I backslid and started back over the old sin trail doing 8 times worse than before. I was a long time getting saved so I could stand but the Lord has kept me now for the last 12 years and I have a hope of seeing Jesus and living with him forever. There are some things I won't mention in this writing because the Lord has taken away all my sins and the things I could mention would not glorify God.
I used to attend the movies. After I started, I have stayed all night in a movie house because I had no money for a room and the law would put me in jail for vagrancy. In some places they would put a bum or a hobo on the chain gang. I had a Model T Ford that would go 60 miles an hour. In Nebraska the roads were just ruts where the wheels went and I could get into the ruts and open it up and it would stay in the rut and just sail along without a driver. I took your mother for a few wild rides. Sometimes the lights would blink out and we would let it go. One night I was driving without lights and I ran into a gatepost. I had a flat tire and we drove on to your mother's place. I stayed all night there and the next morning I had 4 flat tires. I drove on to where I worked and I gave that Ford to a couple of brothers and they took parts off it and parts of another car or two and combined them together and had a real hot rod.
One time I got a job in an employment office. It was about 60 miles from Spokane, Washington and was supposed to be a dairy but it was a wheat ranch. I paid $6 for that job and when I got there to the town a young boy met me in an old ford and we drove out 15 miles. I asked the boy how many cows they were milking and he said, "One right now," and I said, "I was supposed to work on a dairy." He said, "No you are supposed to haul wheat with 4 horses and 15 miles to town." I said, "I have been sick and I can't do hard work, that is why I wanted a dairy job." We went over a hill and there was a straw stack and a big pile of sacked wheat about 265 lb. to a sack. The boy let me off there and said, "Dad will be over with the threshing machine after a while and you are to wait here." So I went over and tried to lift a sack of wheat. I could just barely get it off the ground. I just started walking across country. That was about 5:00 p.m. in the evening. I walked that night and until about 5:00 p.m. the next night. I came to a railroad, a section house and a house for the railroad section boss to live in. I asked a boy there if there were any freights going towards Spokane. He said, "One about 7." (I think it was.) I caught it and went into Spokane. I rode that freight about all night. It was daylight when I got there and I had slept on top of that freight and there was a strong wind blowing. I had fixed that employment ticket by writing on it and saying the man had hired another man. I got my money back. Yes I lied, but he had lied to me about the job too. But really, the man had to hire someone else. I got a room in a hotel and there was where I stole the army blanket.
Well I'll have to rest a while and think of some more to write. There is a long trail behind me with many side trails. I was a lonely soul with my people scattered. I had two sisters adopted, one brother and one sister in the orphan's home, one brother and two sisters married and moved away. Roy was in South Dakota and Laura in Nebraska. Mother and one brother and one sister were gone somewhere.
When I was 15 years old I tried to find mother but failed. I was always too late, she had moved. I was in Hutchinson, Kansas once. She had been there but was gone when I found the house where she had lived. I was sitting on a park bench one night, not a dime in my pocket and I hadn't eaten for two days. A watchman came to me and sat down by me and talked a while. He asked my name and he knew my mother. He told me where she lived and I went there but she had moved. When I first got into Hutchinson I had about $6 and I let a boy have $5 to get change. He went into another place and never showed up with my money. I had a room paid for and I had $.12 left. There was a shooting gallery there where I got 3 shots for a dime. I was a crackshot with a 22 rifle. I stood there and shot for 4 hours. Every time I won I was supposed to get $.50. I kept track of my wins and I had $8 coming. The guy who ran the things said I owed him $8. I only had $.02 left so he called the law. Two cops took me to the police judge and told him I owed this man $8. So the judge asked my name. When I told him he asked me if my mother's name was Jane Mincks. I said yes and he said he had had my mother in there for running a disorderly house. She had a rooming house leased and her roomers were drunks. They were disturbing their neighbors so they hauled her in. He got a big law book and started looking through it. He had my name and age and was trying to find a law against 15-year-old. He couldn't find one. He told the shooting gallery man that he had warned him about letting boys under age shoot there and he told him that if it happened again he would order him out of town. He asked me if I would go out and get a job and come back and pay the man his money. I said yes and he let me go. I started out and I went to a little town west of Hutchinson. I went into a cornfield and found an old mattress in there. It was nearly dark so I crawled under that mattress and went to sleep. The corn was a way above my head and that broke the wind and in the night it rained a real hard rain. The next morning I crawled out and started down a road and I found a sandwich and the rain hadn't hurt it. It was wrapped in a thing that didn't take up water. I saw a house down the road a ways. I meant to ask for something to eat but when I got there I lost my nerve and asked for a drink of water instead. They had harvest hands and they were all around a table eating breakfast. The boss asked me if I had had breakfast and I said yes. He said he was full up with help but if I wanted to work, there was a threshing crew a little ways over. He said if I wanted to haul grain, to go over where the threshers were and ask the boss if he needed grain haulers. If so, he told me to come back and he would let me have a team and wagon to haul grain with. So I went and asked about that. They didn't need any haulers but I was told that if I would wait until noon that there was another man supposed to come at noon and if he didn't come I could have his job. I got the job and in about a week I got fired. I had three big blisters on each hand and they were so sore I couldn't grip the fork handle very hard. I had just come from Cold Water, Kansas from the harvest field. I wore gloves there. Well he fired me and I went back to Hutchinson to pay the man but he was gone. He had left town so I was still winner. I got a ticket on the train and went back to Elsie's and I got work around there.
I finally went to South Dakota where my oldest brother and I worked there some and then went to Nebraska where my sister Laura lived. I worked around there for a few years and I first went to Nebraska from South Dakota. I went to Dakota after I had worked a while in Kansas and I went to Nebraska when I was 16 years old and worked for Ara Star on the Lone Star Ranch. I worked there off and on during a three-year period from 1913 to 1916 than I worked for the Low and Cox Cattle Company through haying season. After that I worked for Frank Sheffner. I worked for him three different times. One of those times I got my left arm broke and I stayed there all winter. I hauled hay and fed cattle and put hay in the haymow in the barn with only one arm. My left arm was broken. I stayed there until it got well and went to work for Doctor Roth who set my arm. I worked for him until I did all of his fieldwork. I dug his potatoes and shucked his corn all out. Then I went to Dakota again and worked shucking corn at Jefferson, South Dakota. Then I went to Jayville and worked around there. Then I went to Chamberlain and Ocoma, South Dakota. I took about 4 three-year-old steers to Martin Martinson's Ranch. He wanted me to become foreman on his cattle ranch but my sister got sick in Nebraska, so I went back there and stayed for some time.
In 1917 Edd McClurge and I went to Montana to Anaconda and then to Salmon, Idaho. We got out there in the fall of the year and we went into the Leeseburg Mountains to trap. We were about 50 miles from Salmon, the nearest town. Part of that winter we were living in an old cabin and we had a lot of groceries there. We had about 100 lb. of potatoes. One day we were gone all day. When we came back we were going to cook some potatoes and we couldn't find any. The sack was gone or empty. Looking around, I spotted our potatoes under the bed. There was a great pile of brush and grass and stuff covering our potatoes. Trade rats! A few miles from there, many years before this, some other people were camped in a tent. There was some snow on the ground and one morning they discovered something missing. In looking around, they found several nuggets of gold on the floor of the tent. So they went outside and saw the tracks of trade rats. They had taken things, but had brought gold instead. They discovered the richest gold mine in the state and named it the Yellow Jacket. That next spring, (I think it was. I get mixed up on times and places and years.) we left the mountains and went back to Salmon City. I worked on a dragline in the city. After that I went up in the high mountains and worked in a gold mine nearly 1/2 mile back in the mountain and 800 feet from the top of the mountain. After that I worked for Bill Crews, an old time cowpuncher. I cleared 40 acres of land for him. I worked for Harry and Walter Lee, after that I left Idaho with a bunch of boys going to the army.
I went back to Nebraska and Dakota when I was 21 years old. I worked for some in different parts of the state of Nebraska. That was one of many times when I went to Nebraska. When I was 17, I saw your mother when she was about 4 years old. Ralf was just nursing yet. I was going with Ethel Coyotan or Chalan or Coatan. I don't remember how they spelled it.
There have been people who called me crazy and I have wondered if I am! I wonder what it would be like to have gone through high school. I always wanted to be somebody but I never was anything. I could run a road gang, a hay crew, a farm crew and a harvest crew. I could work men but I never felt like anybody. I could break wild horses, tame hogs or chickens or animals but that doesn't take brains much. I always wanted friends but never had many. I could go some place alone and sit or lay for hours sort of daydreaming wondering what I was put here for. I think I always believed there was a higher power but no one ever told me about God or how to learn of him. I heard people mention Christ but most of the church going people never talked about the church, they talked of business or labor or politics. I used to cross a strip of land that belonged to Mennonites. I knew they went to church because I saw churches in the place where they all lived as one big family. They didn't trade with others off of the colony. Their wheat and oats and barley excelled any other crops that other people raised and they were dry farmers too. I think they had reservoirs to catch rainwater to irrigate with and they had some windmills.
I will retire for a while and after 50 years I will add some things that happened 50 years ago.
I spoke of some of this in other parts but I left out some things. I was living with mother and working in the Carlyle Sawmill. They had a fire department with several men on the crew. On Saturday night they would have a firemen's ball or dance. My mother baked pastries for them. She fell and broke her arm and she got me to make pies and other pastries for the firemen and they never knew that mother didn't do the pastries for them, but she told me how to do it.
I am ending this here there is more but this will do.