BC Historical Books

BC Historical Books

BC Historical Books

The story of Barney May, pioneer Baird, George M. P. (George Mahaffey Patterson) 1917

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Array         DEDICATION
rNTRODUCTION           I
EBELSBACH   .       5
THE CARIBOU    .   . 27
NOTES 6l   Di^RODuarioH
THE most fascinating pages of history are
those which deal with the movements
of tribes and races from their ancestral ter*
ritories to new lands. The tales of great
migrations—folk wanderings, whether born of
economic pressure at home or the lure of
promised happiness in some unknown, distant
country—awake in us the racial memories of
that pioneer spirit which led our ancient fathers
to make them, and hearten us to essay fresh
adventures on the faint trails that lead to new
accomplishment in the upward struggle of
In the older chronicles of the race, we are
happy if we can discover so much as a vague
picture of the ethnic flux; often little more
than a tissue of possibilities, a hopeful assumption, fashioned mosaiclike from vague hints
and unproved shadowings gathered from many
diverse sources by the patient industry of
laborious research. Occasionally we get a
glimpse of a leader-hero, some Abad, Herakles,
Thor or Romulus, dimly emerging from a cloud
of ancient myth, or of some legendary captain,
a Moses, a Jimmu Tenno, an Alexander, an
Attila, a Kublai Khan; but of the units who
formed the rank and file of the moving hordes,
of their motives, their actions and their aspirations we know nothing.
This, however, does not yet hold true of
modern migrations.   Whether because we are
Page One ^
closer to it in time or because geographical
limits have been narrowed and the machinery
of report and record has been elaborated, the
history of the settlement of America is much
less the story of groups and much more the
narrative of individuals than is that of any
other era of race redistribution and colonisa'
tion known to us. To the student of social
history and human conduct, this condition
presents obvious opportunities which he cannot ignore with impunity, since they are sure
to vanish with the passing of time. As the
years go by the individualities of those who
have made America will tend to lose their
sharp outlines of identity and to merge into
broader and less highly differentiated classifications; and unless they are crystalised and fixed
in our day, we shall have earned but scant
gratitude from the students who are to come
after us. If we are to preserve this unique
and vital stuff of personality, if we are to
render intelligible to future generations those
passions and philosophies out of which the
Republic grew, we must seise upon and record
every bit of available data which promises to
be significant Our efforts must be concerned
not only with the careers of the great captains
and conquistadores, the builders and entrepreneurs, the inventors and artists and thinkers—,
we may depend upon their biographies getting
themselves written—, but also with the humbler chronicles of the less conspicuous but
equally significant members of the rank and
file who have poured the full amphorae of
their spirit into the seething vat of democracy.
Page Two There are signs that we are coming to
appreciate this need and our responsibility
with respect to it. Autobiographical works
such as: The Ma\ing of an American by Jacob
Riis, The Promised Land by Mary Antin, A
Far Journey by A. M. Rihbany, and Booker
T. Washington's Story of My Life and Wor\,
together with a growing literature of artistic
and of scientific immigrant genre studies, are
patent indications of the new attitude. It is
with the hope of making a modest contribution
to these annals of the later pilgrims that I have
attempted to tell the story of Barney May,
In the telling of it I have purposely avoided
embellishment and comment, being content to
set down baldly the facts as I have learned
them from the lips of its chief character or
from those who know him well. It is for the
reader to trace in this plain tale of the immigrant farmer boy who won success, those
qualities of adventurous hardihood, enterprise,
frugality, integrity and kindliness which are
the common spiritual heritage of all the true
pioneers, early or late, who have made the
America which we love.
Q. M. P. B.
University of Pittsburgh
October i, 1917  EBELSBACH
THIS story has its beginning in the quiet,
little rural village of Ebelsbach which
lies securely walled and enfolded by the fruitful hills and pleasant mountains of Northern
Bavaria. The restless, meddlesome fingers of
Time have dealt lightly with Ebelsbach, so
that there has been scarcely a change in it
during the past three quarters of a century.
The brick and stucco houses are a little darker
with the colorings of storm and sun, and the
lichens are greener upon the stones of the
Old Schloss which guards the village from the
heights—like a grinded, broken veteran of the
wars, half asleep in the sunshine—a relique
symbol of the region's changeless quietude.
True, there are new dwellings here and there
along the drowsy streets, and new faces about
the hospitable hearths of Ebelsbach; but otherwise it is today just as it was eighty-one years
ago when Abraham May and Rosa Silverman
were married and came to live in the old
homestead on the edge of the Judenhof.
The house, a large, even imposing one for
Ebelsbach, had already sheltered two generations of the May family, both Abraham and his
father having been born there. Abraham, as
the eldest son had inherited the property. The
house rose two and one half stories above the
nameless street—the town was too small to
require labels for its thoroughfares—and its
garden stretched for a square to the clear
Page Five m
waters of Ebelsbach River which flashed southward to the Main. Its walls of brick, timber,
and roughcast enclosed eight rooms, and under
its steep roof on Friday evenings and Saturday
mornings the people of the Judenhof met to
worship the God of Israel.
Of buildings other than dwellings, the
village boasted four: the Town Hall, the
German School, the Roman Catholic Church,
and a combination of brewery, restaurant and
hotel which catered to the citizens and to
infrequent travelers. There were quarries near
the town and some of the inhabitants engaged
in the stone business, but of other industries
there were none. The community was an
agricultural one and drew its strength from
the fields. Its life was simple, its aspirations
few, its existence self-sufficient. It knew neither
destitution nor affluence. A man was counted
well'tcdo if he owned a few hundred kronen
and a house; the possession of a carriage and
horses was a sign of riches.
Ebelsbach contained three hundred souls—
more white geese than people, as the local
saying had it. About half the population was
Roman Catholic, the rest Jewish; but the two
peoples dwelt and labored side by side in good
will and amity. The villagers were hill-farmers, and the well-tilled holdings outside the
town testified to their frugal industry. Dawn
saw them trudging out a mile, two miles, three
miles to toil on the terraced mountains, where
green vineyards and gold-brown rye fields, with
here and there a dark clump of honey-fruited
Zwetschgen plum trees clung to the slopes.
Page Six     Twilight found them returning down the long,
grey roads to homely fare on white, scrubbed
tables, an hour of quiet talk and then well-
earned repose.
A railroad ran near the village and the
station was but a quarter mile away; the stagecoach sometimes stopped before the old stone
hotel to set down some traveller; or an occasional commercial drummer came from beyond
the mountains: but for all that, Ebelsbach was
a place apart from the world, isolated and
content with the industrious quiet of its own
hre. News from other towns and other countries filtered in from time to time, but the
doings of kings and of peoples were alien to
the busy calm of the little town; and, although
the infrequent newspaper from outside passed
from eager hand to eager hand until it was
worn beyond reading, the interest in extra-
pagine affairs was a detached and impersonal
one. The lands beyond the mountains were
to the honest farmers of Ebelsbach like the
visionary pictures of wonder-countries in an
old romance.
Abraham May and his good wife were not
long in establishing themselves in the community and, as time went on, wee new people
came to live in |the big house by the Judenhof.1 Fannie was the first bom. Then came
Babette, Simon, Baruch, Jennie, Yetta and
Samuel in turn. It is of Baruch or Barney,
die fourth child and second son, his career and
adventures that this story is told. BOYHOOD
BARUCH MAY was born on the first
day of March, eighteen hundred forty-
three. His early life was like that of other village lads, an almost uneventful round of play,
study and work. He was seven years of age
when he entered the German School in the
grey stone building with the great bell, and
began his education under the stern tutelage
of Herr Lehrer Hannes. The discipline was
spartan, the curriculum severely practical. The
theories of Rousseau, Pestalossi, Froebel and
other educational innovators had not yet come
to trouble the traditional Erziehung\eit of Ebelsbach with revolutionary novelties in method
and discipline. The dictum of Solomon: "He
that spareth the rod hateth his son; but he
that loveth him chasteneth him betimes", was
considered to be the last word in pedagogy
and, that there might be no suspicion of lacklo ve
on the part of the master, the persuasive birch
was conscientiously and frequently applied.
Reading and writing were the only studies
pursued. It was quite properly assumed that
such knowledge of ciphering as was necessary
could be acquired at home and in the actual
practice of the market, and as for geography
and history, they were looked upon as intellectual luxuries, if indeed they were considered
at all To the Ebelsbach farmer, learning was
a pragmatic business and not to be indulged
beyond the narrow limits of a working mini-
Page Eight mum. Families were large and life a struggle:
schooling cost money and school children,
producing nothing, were domestic liabilities.
Obviously the best education was that which
would most quickly transform the liabilities
to assets and make the children capable of
adding to the family income the wages of their
toil That was what Ebelsbach believed and
practiced. The school was conducted five days
each week during the seasons when its activities
did not conflict with the more important work
of the farms. There were two sessions daily,
from eight to twelve in the morning and from
two to four in the afternoon, but in the case
of Jewish children the weary hours were
lengthened by two, for no sooner were they
released from the German School, than they
were compelled to enter the Cheder or Hebrew
The Cheder was conducted by Rabbi Fried
in a close, little room of his house.2 A busy
man was the good rabbi for, in addition to his
duties as pastor and teacher, he performed
numerous other tasks, those of a Shochat for
example, since the Jewish community was too
small to warrant a division of the labors incident to its religious customs and ritual Perhaps
his own industry made him exacting, perhaps
his teacher's conscience was livelier than that
of the master in the German School; at all
events he was wont to resort to the birch
even more frequently than was that formidable
pedagogue and to further the cause of sound
learning with corporal manifestations of its
power, so that every letter from Aleph to Tav
Page Nine had its own association of switchings in the
minds of his pupils. A hard school doubtless,
but an efficient one for to this day Barney May
is able to read and write that ancient tongue
of his fathers which he learned so long ago in
the little Hebrew School of Rabbi Fried.
The children of Ebelsbach had little time
for play and none of those aids to recreation
which we have come to look upon as the
necessities of youth. A handful of walnuts
or a few beans served in lieu of marbles; a
half doz^n out-door games sufficed. Even after
school was over there was scant leisure for
sport. The place of children in that social
economy was a quasi-servile one. The wish
of the parents was law; the demands of the
family were paramount; it was the business of
the individual to obey.
Barney—the given name, Baruch was seldom used—assumed his share of the family
burden at an early age. His first regular task
was to carry the noon day luncheon of bread,
cheese and beer to the men in the fields, a task
none too easy for the sturdy legs of an eleven
year old boy, for the farm lay several miles
from the village and the road wound over the
steep hills. A year later he himself became a
laborer in the fields, trudging out each morning, working through the day, and returning
to town in the evening.
One event of those early years is still very
vivid in his memory. His father was a cattle
dealer as well as farmer and on an occasion
had purchased a number of cows from a man
who lived at some distance from Ebelsbach.
Page Ten A press of other work prevented him from
driving home his purchase and Barney volunteered to do it for him. The way was long,
the cattle were perverse, and the business
proved to be such an arduous one that it was
long after dark before the young herdsman
approached the village. His road lay along a
hill crest and on the slope across the valley he
could dimly discern the litde, weed-grown,
Jewish cemetery, a spectral acre invested with
many a weird legend of the countryside. For
a little lad, bred to the fearsome knowledge of
rural superstition, it was a terrible experience.
He tried to forget the tales of ghost and goblin;
to keep his eyes from the baleful view; but
the more he strove to drive the dismal fancies
from his mind, the more surely they fixed
themselves upon it: the sight fascinated him
and held his gase as a serpent holds a bird.
One story in particular took possession of him.
It was the legend of a great dog of flame, a
lion-like, ferocious beast which haunted the
burial ground and had been seen by divers
belated travellers of an evening, ramping in
fiery rage among the neglected graves and
dragging his flaring chains across the dusk.
The boy was in an ecstacy of terror. He
could not hurry on because the cows were
leisurely and opinionated; he could not turn
back; the minutes were like hours. A cold
perspiration bathed his body and he felt the
hairs stiffen upon his head. Every moment he
expected to see the brute of fire leap from his
den amid the tombs and charge across the
valley.   But either the specter dog had met
Page Eleven with some restraining conjuration or the village
gossips had been misinformed, for nothing of
a supernatural nature occurred and Barney
reached home safely though still shaken by
his adventure of the roads.
There was little to vary the round of toil
and simple pleasures which were life in Ebelsbach. The arrival of the train was a day's
high point of interest; a paper or periodical
furnished material for a week's conversation.
Once in a twelvemonth, perhaps a wandering
troupe of players or acrobats would park their
painted wagons on the green and perform to
the great joy and edification of the young
people, but such events were rare, days of
wonder to be long dreamed of in anticipation
and afterward remembered with delight.
Now Ebelsbach, for all its remoteness and
contented isolation, could not live entirely
to itself. The great world outside knocked
timidly but persistently at its mountain gates
and found willing allies within. The spirit
of aspiration and adventure betrayed the
stronghold of rural quietude and a cavalcade
of golden rumors entered to seize the imaginations of the people and to fill their minds with
visions of riches and preferment in lands beyond
the seas. America, that strange country of
opportunity and fabulous wealth was calling
to the restless, the ambitious and the oppressed
of all the world to share in her bounty and
romance. The call was heard in Ebelsbach
and went not unanswered. Among those who
set their feces westward were Fannie and
Simon May, the elder sister and brother of
Page Twelve Barney. This momentous event in the family
history occurred in 1854 when Barney was
about twelve years of age. The adventurers
settled in Montreal, Canada, where they prospered and where Fannie found a husband.
Little did Barney think, that day when he said
goodbye to his brother and sister at the railway
station that, in three years, he too would be
on the way to seek his fortune in the New
THAT spirit of discontent which is progress, continued to win converts in
Ebelsbach. The prospects offered by life in
the little Bavarian village could not compare
with the promise of the great new country
overseas. The striving, adventurous soul of
youth looked longingly westward to that later
Canaan and would not be denied. This spirit
was fed and fostered in the household of Abraham May by the letters which came from the
st>n and daughter in Canada. They were
prospering, they wrote, and finding hospitality
and profit in their new home. America was a
land of opportunity and there were places for
all who willed to take them. They suggested
that other members of the family follow them
to share in her bounties. The idea gradually
took root in the mind of the family and eventually—sans any definite act of decision—it
became an accepted conclusion that Barney
and Babette should follow Simon and Fannie
across the sea. And so it came about that
when Barney had passed his fourteenth birthday, preparations for the great adventure were
In these days of rapid travel and swift
communication, when distance has been annihilated by the magic of great ships and the very
paths of space are mastered to our messages, it
is difficult for us to imagine the emotions of
love and sorrow in the hearts of those who
Page Fourteen  it Barney
pd Fannie
bout that
nth birth-
itur-e were   were about to be separated by the leagues of
half a world. To the mother and father in
the house by the Judenhof, it was almost as
if their children were about to pass to the
country of the dead. Every cord knotted
about the luggage of the pilgrims was darkly
compensated in the snapping of a tender tie of
home. The parents knew something of that
pang of soul which came to the Athenians, in
the ancient legend, as they watched the black
sails bear Creteward the sons and daughters
that should never more return. America was
far away, Oh so far away! and they knew so
little of it. Two of their blood had answered
her call, and now two more were about to
take the western road. It was hard to give
them up, hard to think that they might never
see them agpin; but it was better so, for youth
deserves its chance in the world, and youth
will be served. They were sad, those parents, but they held their peace and tried to
To the pilgrims it was a time of excitement
and anticipation. Their interest in the adventure and the busy preparation for it saved
them much of the fear and sadness which the
others felt. There were many things to do.
The thousand and one items of ordinary existence which one scarcely notes in normal times
became suddenly important and demanded
attention. Clothing must be got ready and
all ones little treasures packed. Food, cooking
utensils, and bedding must be provided, for
aboard the ships of those days each one was
his own caterer and steward.   There was
Page Fifteen
.&M passage to be arranged for, railroad tickets to
be purchased, letters to be written to America.
Then too, they must say goodbye to old frfends
and school-fellows. But at last the great day
came; the farewells were spoken; the train
stopped at the little Ebelsbach station and
hurried on again bearing our wanderers upon
the first stage of their journey toward the
Promised Land.
Their father accompanied them as far as
Hamburg, where after spending a few days,
they embarked and set sail for America. The
modern steamship crosses the Atlantic in six
or seven days; in 1858 it required more than
three times that period. Although there were
no great storms and the voyage was an uneventful one, twenty-one days had passed before
the weary pilgrims in the steerage beheld the
harbor of New York.
Passing quarantine, they landed at Castle
Garden one afternoon in February, 1858. Here
they were accosted by a man who fired a
volley of questions at Barney, but since neither
he nor his sister understood a single word of
English, their inquisitor had nothing but his
curiosity for his pains. He persisted, however,
repeated his questions, and again failed to
make his meaning clear. Finally he gave up
in disgust and signed to them to move on.
This was their welcome to America. They
discovered long afterward that the importunate gentleman was a United States Customs
To the young immigrants from the sleepy,
little, country village of Ebelsbach, the busy
Page Sixteen city was a place of marvels and its buildings
palaces. Barney May has visited all the great
capitals of .the world since then, but even
today, as he tells over his first coming to New
York, something of that original wonder creeps
into his voice. It was pleasant to be on land
again after the cramped weeks of ocean travel,
but with three days' rest, the pilgrims were
ready to continue their journey. Taking passage on a slow coasting steamer, they set sail
for Montreal where they were welcomed
by their sister Fannie and her good husband,
Isidore Samson. In the house of the Samsons
on Notre Dame street the wanderers found
their first home in the new world.
Samson kept a little jewelry shop and from
his stock he made up a case of trinkets which
Barney peddled about the city but, although
folk were kind to the eager lad who spoke to
them in a strange tongue, he did not find a
ready market for his wares and it was decided
that he should try fortune in upper Canada.
Meanwhile in far off Ebelsbach, the little
mother longed and waited for a letter from her
venturesome children, and months after their
departure it came with news of their safe
arrival and of her beloved Baruch's first business essay. Each month thereafter brought a
yellow envelope from overseas and in it a sum
of money as proof of the young merchant's
business success. "Just think of it", she would
say to the kindly neighbors who had come* to
learn of Baruch's doings—for he was a favorite
in the village as well as in the home—"Just
think of it!   He has sent us funf Gulden!"
Page Seventeen Then her face would light up with a smile of
pride and happiness. It was well that she did
not know the self denial which had made
possible the gifts or the dinners which Barney
had foregone in order that he might send
BARNEY'S first objective was the little
town of Cornwall. Here, and in the
country round about, he found ready purchasers and, having canvassed the region, continued
his journey westward. His sister and brother-
in-law had taught him a few English sentences
such as: "Is dinner ready," and "I would like
to go to bed," but the names of even the commonest articles of daily life were still mysteries
to him. His first meal in Cornwall was an
embarassing, almost a disastrous one because of
this. Unable to reach a dish of pickles which
he desired and lacking the words to express his
wish, he attempted to secure them himself and
in so doing inadvertently scattered the contents
of another dish over the table. Nor was his
apologetic confusion relieved by the attitude
of the gentlemen who sat next to him. "You
damned Dutchman," said that superior worthy,
and eyed him with disdain.
The next place visited was Brockville.
From thence, after a few days, he took the
narrow-gauge railroad to Perth where he was
destined to make his first friends in America.
On his arrival he asked a commercial traveller
to point out a hotel and was directed to the
Allen House. When he entered that hostelry,
he met Johnnie Allen, a lad of about| his own
age and the son of the proprietor. The halting
speech and alien appearence of the diffident
stranger appealed either to Johnnie's curiosity
or kindliness, perhaps to both, and he proceeded
Page Nineteen at once to make him feel at home. Johnnie was
a born teacher and with boyish promptness he
had already begun Barney's English education
within the first hour of their acquaintance. He
had probably never heard of the "direct
method" in linguistic pedagogy, but he had the
proper technique. Guiding Barney about the
house, he pointed out various objects and
named them, demanding the German equivalent
in return. A real friendship sprang up between
the two lads and during their first five days
together they achieved marked advances in
their mutual study of languages. Barney made
a favorable impression upon the other members
of the Allen household also and when he asked
for his bill at the end of the week, the father
refused to accept any remuneration on the
ground that the account had been balanced by
the German which Johnnie had acquired.
The kindly hospitality of the Aliens was
deeply appreciated by the lonely pedler lad
from Ebelsbach and for a year he made their
home the base of his mercantile operations,
making excursions of from one to two days
duration into the surrounding districts. There
were no railroads or other means of conveyance
and these trips had to be made on foot, often
over wellnigh impassible country roads, but
Barney's early training stood him in good stead
and the financial success of his ventures
together with the pleasant life in Perth more
than compensated for the hardship and weariness of the work.
His progress in the language was rapid and
his gift for making friends soon won him a
P\a'ge Twenty place in the younger set of the town. The
boys and girls speedily forgot that he was a
foreigner and, thanks to his winning personality
and the brotherly championship of Johnnie
Allen, he became one with them in the dances
and rustic frolics which were their only diversions. Modesty coupled with a keen sense of
humor and a sly delight in harmless, practical
jokes, had much to do with his popularity in
the community.
One of Barney's jokes, perpetrated during
his stay in Perth, found its mark in the credulity
of the senior Allen and, happily enough,
brought much comfort to the trustful victim.
True to the religious training of his childhood,
Barney had persisted in those acts of personal
devotion which are the habit of pious Jews in
every land. One of these was the ceremony
of prayer with phylacteries bound on head and
arm, a rite in which Jewish boys and men
indulge on every morning of the week except
the Sabbath. One Sunday morning while
Barney was thus engaged, he was surprised by
Johnnie who, on observing the novel proceeding, demanded to know what it meant. Barney
solemly assured him that it was a sovereign cure
for rheumatism and quickly changed the subject.
But the jest went farther. Mr. Allen was a
sufferer from the disease and when he learned
of the marvelous remedy through the helpful
Johnnie, he became eager to test it and refused
to be satisfied until Barney had secured a set
of phylacteries from the States and had initiated
him into the mystery of binding them. Suggestion and the faith of Allen triumphed. He
felt much better after the treatment and greatly
Page Twenty-one embarassed the now contrite Barney with his
On another occasion Barney was the victim
of a practical joke, Johnnie Allen being cast in
the role of tormentor. One summer's evening
while the comrades were out for a stroll with
two girls of their acquaintance, Johnnie pre
duced two cigars, handed one to Barney and
proceeded to light the other one. Barney had
never smoked in his life but, having no desire
to appear deficient in that manly accomplishment, particularly in feminine society, he
accepted the treacherous Achaian gift as if to
the manner born, and kindled it with a flourish.
There was a grin on Johnnie's face and the
girls were smiling but Barney did not notice
diem. A few puffs, and the evening had lost its
beauty for him; a few more puffs and even the
charms of his fair companions were forgotten in
a profoundly personal and inner misery. That
gold-brown siren of the vaporous tresses, Our
Lady Nicotine, had worsted her mortal sisters
n 'rivalry. He walked no more with them
iiat evening.
A year passed pleasantly in Perth. By the
end of it, Barney was already proficient in
English and had learned his pedler's business
well. Word came to him that excellent business
opportunities were to be found in the Lower
Province, i e. Nova Scotia, Newfoundland,
New Brunswick and Cape Breton and, after
advising with his brother-in-law, he determined
to go there. Bidding goodby to his friends in
Perth, he returned to Montreal to prepare for
his second campaign.
Page Twentj'two     THE LOWER PROVINCE.
AT the beginning of the season, Barney
^/j^decided to make an excursion into New
Brunswick, Cape Breton and Newfoundland
where there was a promising market for his
goods, particularly for the cheaper type of
American watch. His brother-in-law accompanied him on the venture. From Montreal
they went to Quebec, thence by steamship to
Antigonish which they made the base for their
journeys to remote settlements of the province.
They had scarcely begun their travels in
the wilds when the stern northern winter set
in bringing with it hardship and dangers. The
ill made roads were choked with snow or
rendered treacherous by ice; blinding blizzards
and intense cold added to their discomfort.
They had many misadventures and some
narrow escapes from death. Once in Cape
Breton, they were overtaken by a terrible
storm. Heaping snow drifts made the road
almost impassable. The mail coach in which
they were traveling moved very slowly against
the biting, mountain gale which blinded horses
and driver and, as night came on, the temperature fell rapidly. The driver, none too skillful
at best, his faculties numbed by the cold,
worried the tired horses with the whip and
kept the coach lurching from side to side in his
impatience to reach the post station—still more
than seven miles away across the mountains.
While attempting to get the coach out of a
Page Twenty'three m
gulley into which it had slipped, one of the
traces broke and the vehicle overturned flinging
the driver into the drifts and painfully injuring
Samson's head. The driver's fingers were so
stiff with the cold that he was unable to mend
the harness nor could he bring his dazed mind
to discover a way out of their grave predicament. They were miles away from any
habitation; night was upon them; they must
get on; to remain where they were was to
freeze to death. Certainly they must get on,
but how? The brothers-in-law held a consultation and decided to try the only possible course.
After reviving the driver with whiskey, they
placed him on one of the horses, Isidore clam"
bering up behind him. Barney cut the traces
and mounted the other horse and they set out
on their seven mile ride. It was not until nine
o'clock that they reached the welcome refuge
of the post station, Their clothing had frozen
about them like suits of armor and they were
so rigid with cold that they had to be lifted
from the backs of the horses and carried to the
house. Here they were rubbed with snow,
given hot drinks and wrapped in blankets, but it
was twelve o'clock before they had sufficiently
recovered to narrate their adventures.
On another occasion they were compelled
to cross the Strait of Canso, a distance of
about six miles. The man whom they had
engaged to ferry them across showed little
enthusiasm for the trip; the ice was running
he said. The two travelers were not sure
whether this was a warning or an excuse to
get out of work.   They knew nothing of the
Pjia'ge Twenty-four dangers of that strait, particularly the menace
of the waters when the ice goes out in the
Spring. "The ice is running," meant no more
to them than "the train is running," would
have meant; and they insisted upon crossing.
They started in the morning and worked their
way through the floating cakes of ice until
about ten o'clock when the ice began to close
in about them. By ten-thirty they were
securely locked in the drift and for seven hours
they lay there unable to extricate themselves.
A cold wind, against which their overcoats
were scant protection, sprang up. There was
no food on board, no way of making a fire and
at any moment the grinding ice might crush
the light timbers of their frail open boat. About
five o'clock in the afternoon they managed to
attract the attention of people on the shore,
but the condition of the stretch of ice packed
water which intervened between the boat and
the land gave them little hope that a rescue
would be attempted. The folk on shore did
nothing. After a little a strange thing happened.
Isidore Samson arose in the boat and began to
make a series of extraordinary, rythmic gestures
with his arms. Barney feared that his brother-
in-law's mind had been affected by the danger
and exposure, but as he looked shoreward he
observed three men run down the steep bank
and launch a boat. Slowly they fought their
way toward the marooned travelers, now
pushing the ice away from the bow, nowdrag-
ing the boat across some rocking pan, but at
length they reached the objects of their toil
and brought them safely to land.   Samson was
Page Twenty'five taken to the home of one of the rescuers and
Barney was made comfortable at the hotel.
This arrangement struck him as an odd one at
the time and it was not until long afterward
that he came to learn the reason for it and to
appreciate that spirit of fraternal loyalty which
had caused men to risk their lives to save a
party of strangers one of whom had thrown
them the sign of a brother in distress. In 1867,
in Williamson Lodge, No. 169, F. & A. M. of
Pennsylvania, Barney May was raised to the
sublime degree of a Master Mason, and then
he understood
Although the life was hard in the Lower
Province, Barney was succeeding in business
and would have been content to remain for
another two years had not the call of a new
adventure come to him. His brother Simon
had gone with the first fevered rush to the
gold fields of British Columbia and had set up
a store in a mining camp of the Caribou
Diggings. On receipt of a letter from him,
Barney packed his belongings and began his
long journey to the Great North West. THE CARIBOU
IT was still the day of the prairie schooner
and the pack train. The transcontinental
railroad had not even been projected and eight
years were to elapse before it should become
a reality. A traveler from New York to the
Pacific coast had to choose between the weary
and dangerous overland route across the plains
and mountains and the one which lay through
Central America. In this case, at least, the
old adage was confirmed, for the longest way
'round was the shortest way indeed. It was
much quicker and easier to go by way of the
Isthmus, and Barney selected that route. He
boarded a coasting vessel at New York and
sailed to Panama; crossed the Isthmus, and re-
embarked on a ship which carried him to the
Golden Gate. San Francisco, already a fair
sized city and on the crest of its first boom
period, had little attraction for Barney who was
eager to reach the scene of his new activities
as soon as possible. He was compelled to stop
there for a few days, however, until passage
could be secured, but the first northbound ship
carried him to Portland.
Portland, as Barney first saw it, was little
more than an overgrown country village. True,
it had progressed mightily from the huddle of
tents on the water-front which had marked it
in the earlier days, but it still displayed much
of that raw crudity which belongs to the
frontier settlement.  Its houses and shops were
Page Twenty-seven rough and unpretentious structures of weathering timber and its streets were filthy sloughs.
The unwary pedestrian on its single-plank
side-walk was all too likely to find himself
suddenly plunged kneedeep in mire or showered
with the flying mud from the wheels of passing
drays. What a contrast between that early
settlement by the river and the majestic city
which occupies its site today! After a day's
sojourn in Portland, Barney went by steamer
to the already flourishing city of Victoria on
Vancouver Island. From Victoria, he proceeded inland by river-boat to the town of Yale,
situated on the Fraser River about eighty miles
from the coast. Here he was met by his
brother, Simon. Having purchased supplies
and four pack-horses for the transportation of
them, they set out for the Caribou on foot.
Although it was mid-April, the winter had
not yet loosened its hold in the high altitudes
of the north country and progress was difficult
and slow. The trail led through the mountain
wilderness and parts of it had to be traversed
with the aid of snow-shoes. There were storms
to endure, steep paths to be negotiated and
wild streams to be crossed. At one place on
their route they came upon a lake. There
were no boats and nothing to be done but to
attempt a crossing on the backs of the swimming pack-horses. They mounted and urged
the unwilling animals into the icy waters which
wet them to the hip and, by the time they
reached the other shore, their bodies were so
numb that they could scarcely stand. The
horses had chosen the course across the lake
Page Twenty-eight and on landing the travellers had difficulty in
finding the trail again, but toward nightfall
they discovered it, pitched camp, and kindled
the fire of which they were sorely in need.
The journey from Yale to the Caribou consumed ninety days and it was July before they
arrived at the little mining colony which was
to be the scene of their labors and to which
they were to give their own name.
To call Mayville a town would have been
a cheerful euphemism for it was only a small
clearing in the heart of the virgin forest. The
May cabin was the one building of a permanent
nature in the district, the only structure boasting
a lockable door. The miners lived in tents or
primitive shacks, the passion for gold leaving
them no time to devote to mere house building.
While a claim payed or offered promise of
payment they worked feverishly and when it
failed or dwindled they moved on in a restless
search for new diggings, Being wise in their
generation, the Mays attempted no actual
mining operations themselves, but preferred to
develop the claims, to which they held title,
on a share basis with practical miners. They
were the merchants, the victualers and the
bankers of the camp and their cabin was the
center of its activities.
Food, clothing and tools were difficult to
obtain in that remote region and were very
high in price. All the necessities of life had to
be transported from beyond the mountains on
the backs of Chinook Indians. Rubber boots
worth two dollars in the States brought sixteen
dollars in the Caribou, penny packets of
Page  Twenty-nine IV
matches were one dollar and a meal for which
a New Yorker of the period might have squandered twenty-five cents, cost the Canadian
miner two and one half dollars. Expenses were
high but gold was plentiful An ordinary wage
worker earned twelve dollars per day and many
claim-holders averaged several times that
amount in the yellow metal. There was no
coin or paper currency, the medium of exchange
being gold dust which [was valued at sixteen
dollars the ounce. Little chamois leather bags
filled with gold dust in one, two, three, four
and five ounce denominations served as legal
The Caribou Diggings were situated in a
deep gulch or valley through which ran a
little mountain river fed by streams which
served the flumes at the mines on the slopes.
The settlement was on the valley bed and but
a few hours rain sufficed to change the little
river into a flooding torrent which drove the
inhabitants to seek safety on the mountain
sides. The mines were, for the most part
surface diggings, the gold being extracted by
use of a sluice or by pan or rocker. This
method ensured a modest but fairly uniform
production of gold, and when a fortunate man
struck a pocket, i. e., a rich deposit of pure
metal in the form of nuggets, a fair living
might be increased to wealth. Few fortunes
were made, however, and fewer yet remained
long in possession of their owners. The same
spirit of adventure, the same restless wanderlust which had made possible the discovery of
Eldorado, hastened the dissipation of its re-
Page Thirty wards and many a son of chance was glad to
have enough to pay his way out of* the
country at the end of his stay.
The population of the Caribou was made
up of wanderers from the lands of the four
winds, with no other bonds between them
than their common quest and that comradery
which belongs to men who live in the open.
Strong, bronzed, bearded fellows they were,
independent, fearless, and peaceable enough
except when in liquor. Their life was simple;
their pleasure primitive. Gambling and drink
were their best loved vices; but withal, they
were honest, generous and companionable
—ever ready to help a luckless comrade and
capable of the most quixotic kindliness. In
the early days there were no white women in
the district. Occasionally a Chinook squaw
would come to sell provisions, but until 1863
the Caribou was an Eveless Eden.
The story of the coming of the first white
woman casts an interesting side light upon
life at the mines. A certain prospector, one
Cunningham—a tall, gaunt, devil-may-care adventurer from Kentucky—had developed a
very rich claim and had suddenly become
wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. Even
the poker den—a shanty situated next door
to the May cabin—and the camp bar foiled
to satisfy his desire to spend money, so he
sent to his home state for a wife and brought
her to the diggings at the expense of a small
fortune. He celebrated her arrival by giving
a feast to some of his friends. One of the
items on the menu was eggs, a whole dozen of
them, at five dollars per egg.
Page  Thirty-one ■mli
Of government in the formal sense there
was none at the time of Barney's arrival.
Although nominally under the sovereign power
of the British Crown, the Caribou was a law
unto itself. The individual citizen trusted to
the penetrating logic of his well oiled gun and
the swiftly executed verdict of public sentiment
to protect his property from criminal attack.
Killings were not infrequent, but were looked
upon for the most part as purely private
matters in which it would have been indelicate
for other gentlemen to interfere. Theft was
almost unknown; thieving was too unhealthy a
profession to attract many practitioners. Barney
was in the Caribou for three years before a
single session of court was held, but in 1863
a British judge arrived and conducted assizes.
The trials over which he presided had little
more than dignity to commend them. Like
the Sultan in one of Edmund Burke's speeches,
he governed with a loose rein that he might
govern at all; for the code of the north-west
mountains was not the code of Temple Bar,
and the Caribou was ready to direct justice in
what it conceived to be the proper channels
by argument of arms, if need be.
There was no Postoffice in all that region
and mail was delivered but four times a year,
being packed across the mountains by Indian
couriers. The "New York Saturday Night"
was the only paper ever seen in camp, but even
though its news was four months old before it
reached them, the miners welcomed it as a
voice from the world of civilization. In this
way the thrilling stories of the Civil War
Page  Thirty-two came to them and were read out to the assembled men, many of whom had friends and
relatives on one side or the other. As a member
of the only merchandising firm in the Caribou,
Barney May was made its first post-master by
popular vote, his duties being to distribute the
quarterly mail and to act as custodian of the
modest camp letter-pouch until the returning
Chinook should carry it to the world across
the divide. The postal rate was one dollar
per letter.
The May cabin was in a clearing, a little
plot of burned-over land, surrounded by the
dense forests. Black bears and other wild
denizens of the wood visited it from time to
time. On one occasion a large she bear appeared
and was killed by a shot from Simon's rifle.
This was in the early evening. About midnight the male bear came sniffing about the
camp and was attacked by the dogs. One dog
ventured too near the formidable beast and
was hurled many feet through the air by a
blow from its paw, whereupon the others
became more discreet and permitted bruin to
escape. Bears were not much feared and were
prized for their pelts and the meat which made
a welcome addition to the monotonous diet of
bacon, beans and bannocks which formed the
miners' constant fere.
Shortly after his arrival in the settlement,
Barney was put under the skillful tutelage of a
Mexican guide named Bablo and soon learned
the secret of baking bannocks between two
pans heaped round with coals, as well as the
preparation of beans and bacon.   The good
Page Thirty-three 1
Rabbi Fried would have been horrified could
he have seen the hot, earnest face of his former
pupil bent above a sputtering skillet of forbidden
flesh which he was cooking for his evening
meal, but what was one to do? Observe the
kosher law and starve! The law of life transcended the code of Moses, in the Canadian
wilderness, and let a dish be ever so trefa, it
was eaten with relish for lack of a better.
Eggs and fresh meat were almost unknown in
that part of British Columbia. The only taste
of fresh meat other than bears' flesh which
Barney had during his stay at the mines was
a succulent bit of mule steak, the animal having
fallen and injured himself beyond further usefulness as a beast of burden. The Mays and
ten or twelve others shared in this fortuitous
dispensation and thought it very good indeed.
The Chinook Indians, who had been the
original inhabitants of the country, were a
peaceful tribe and gave the miners little trouble.
Simon May had mastered their language and
acted as interpreter in their dealings with the
Crown. Barney, in his apprentice days as a
pioneer, had the white man's natural distrust
of the red brother and this, together with his
ignorance of the native tongue, led him into
one laughable adventure. He had been left
alone at the cabin, his brother being engaged
in some business on the slope, and was not a
little frightened by the arrival of a party of
Chinooks who accosted him with the question, "Sakali dae?" Which being translated,
means, "Are you the boss ?" Barney thought
they said, "Are you ready to die?"—and
Page  Thirty-four immediately fired a shot into the air, the
signal of danger in camp. In response to his
call, men came running from all directions, but
when the Chinook question was repeated,
they burst into laughter. The red men were
not looking for blood but for beans, and after
they had been feted by Simon, departed content, though somewhat mystified by the
strange action of the young tenderfoot.
Hospitality, that virtue of primitive societies which all too often loses its finest
attributes in more sophisticated civilizations,
was a matter of course in the Caribou. Men
who are the pawns of fortune are ready to
share when they are in her favor, knowing not
when her capricious smile may turn away and
compel them to seek aid of those who still
enjoy her rich regard. Though the necessities
of life were very costly in the camp, no
hungry wanderer or broken prospector turned
away empty from the door of the cabin or the
mess-fire of the miner. One day a young Jew
knocked at the May's door and asked for food.
He was without money or friends and had
met with no success in his hunt for gold.
The son of a New York banker, he had heard
the call of Eldorado and had left everything
to answer it. Now he was far from home
and destitute. They fed him and gave him
work so that after a time he was able to make
his way to the coast. Barney May little
knew that this act of human kindness would
be like bread upon the waters to him in
darker days to come.
Page Thirty-five For almost four years the two brothers
lived and worked together, but the terrible
mountain fever entered camp and Barney was
taken down with it. The disease was almost
always a fetal one in the mining camps for
there were neither physicians nor facilities for
proper treatment. The only hope was to get
to the coast as soon as possible and Barney
began his pilgrimage of suffering across the
mountains.     ■ "f     I  -»l
THE wilderness trail from the Caribou to
Yale was no easy road for a healthy man
and to Barney May, alternately burning and
shivering with fever and chills and scarcely
able to drag one foot after the other, it was a
path of torture. Six or seven miles was the
longest distance he could cover in one day—
often he was too weak to walk and had to be
carried—and three terrible weeks had elapsed
before he gained the Fraser River and the boat
which was to carry him to the coast. Arriving
at Vancouver, he took ship for San Francisco.
He reached the city on a Friday, early in
September, 1865 and found lodging in a private
boarding house. Two days later the place
was badly shaken by an earthquake which
destroyed a number of buildings. Happily,
Barney escaped uninjured. He lived in San
Francisco until health returned and then
embarked on a ship bound for San Juan del Sur
on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. His agreement with the transportation company called
for complete passage from the Golden Gate to
New York and board while en-route.
In San Juan del Sur, Barney again met the
young Jew whom he had befriended in the
Caribou. The banker's son had not improved
his fortunes since they had parted in Mayville
and at once asked for a loan of two dollars
and a half. He was made happy with five
dollars in gold.
Page Thirty-seven mmM,f,mt,     r---***---—
With other eastbound travellers, Barney
crossed Nicaragua to Greytown (San Juan del
Norte), the terminus of steamers plying
between New York and the Isthmus, and here
another dangerous adventure fell to his lot.
The ship which was to have taken them to
the north, failed to arrive—it had been lost in
a storm at sea as they learned later—and since
there was no marine cable or other means of
communication with the outside world, there
was nothing to do but await the coming of a
vessel The transportation company had
erected a number of rough sheds for the
transient accomodation of its patrons and
these were now crowded with men, women
and children. Weeks dragged on but no
vessel came. The scanty supplies of food
which the company had provided had become
exhausted and the unfortunates were compelled to forage for such subsistence as the
country afforded. The diet consisted of
bananas and a meat, euphemistically styled
"Spanish chick", which was nothing but the
tender flesh of young monkeys. There was
no protection against the swarms of mosquitoes which infested that low coast region and
the hapless travellers were soon covered with
painful sores. Infections followed and fever
became epidemic. When the welcome ship
arrived a number of the unfortunates had
already perished and less than two thirds of
the original company reached New York alive.
Weakened by his previous illness and the
new exposure, Barney May fell an easy victim
to the tropical fever and insect poisoning, and
Page Thirty-eight had it not been for the grateful offices of the
young Jew whom he had befriended, it is
probable that this story would never have
come to be written. The banker's son found
him helpless and delirious, tended him as best
he could, secured him a berth in the sick-bay
of the ship, and cared for him until the vessel
reached New York On their arrival, May
1866, the young man communicated with his
father who sent his private carriage to the
dock and had Barney carried to the home of
his mother who, with his sister Yetta and
brother Samuel, had come to America after
the death of Abraham May.5 A doctor was
summoned, but gave little hope of Barney's
recovery. Through weary weeks of suffering
and delirium, the devoted sister nursed the
sick boy back to life and health but four
months had elapsed before he was able to
walk again.6 MARRIAGE
WHEN Barney was well once more, he
and his sister Fannie opened a little
millinery shop on Broadway near Thirty-fourth
Street, with Yetta as milliner. Trade came all
too slowly, and after a brief trial, the partners
sold their stock and removed to Williamsport
Pennsylvania, where they opened a store.
Here Barney met William Silverman and, after
a time, established with him a millinery and
drygoods business on Third Street. Williams-
port at that time had a population of about
eighteen thousand people and the new firm
In 1868 Yetta married Jacob Morganstern
and went to Pittsburgh to live. The newly
married .couple occupied a portion of the
house of Mr. Morganstern's uncle and aunt,
Mr. and Mrs. Louis Fleishman whose
daughter Pauline became a very close friend
of the young bride. Yetta witn the true
feminine penchant for match-making, lost no
opportunity to impress |upon her brother
Barney the virtues of her friend, and upon
his first visit to Pittsburgh, he vindicated her
judgment by promptly felling in love with
Pauline. A courtship, with the usual painful
oscilations between rapture and despair,
followed, but at lengtjh their troth was
plighted and the delighted Yetta was made
happy by the success of her loving chicane. *°^
The Fleishman home was a house in
Diamond Street on a part of the site now
occupied by the Frick Building Annex. The
front room on the ground floor was used as a
law office by John M. Kennedy, Esq„ who
later became a judge. In this room Pauline
and Barney were married on the seventeenth
day of January, 1872, the ceremony being
performed by Rabbi L. Mayer.
The young couple visited friends in New
York and Philadelphia for a brief season and
then went to live on West Street in Williams-
port. Both Walter andEstelle May were
born there.
After his brother's departure from the
Caribou, Simon May had continued at the
mines, but with the reduction of the gold
supply in that vicinity and the rush of prospectors to the newly discovered diggings to the
northward, it was no longer profitable to
continue the business. In 1873 he returned to
the East and founded a wholesale millinery and
supply concern in Philadelphia.
Marriage had given Barney the ambition
to make money more rapidly, but the prospects
for business expansion in Williamsport were
not bright enough to satisfy him. Accordingly
the family moved to 919 North Seventh Street,
Philadelphia in 1875 and Barney became his
brother's partner in the Arch Street jobbing
house, the firm being known as S. May and
Brother. It was the year before the Centennial
Exposition, the influx of people had already
begun, and the city was entering upon an era
of trade and prosperity such as it had never
Page Forty-one If r
known before. The Mays' business venture
was successful from the beginning but its fruits
were not won without toil The brothers did
most of the work themselves, buying and selling,
packing and shipping, busying themselves early
and late with a thousand details of barter and
account. In 1880 they purchased a building on
Arch Street, which had been the United States
Tax Office, to accomodate their growing trade,
and here they continued until the Spring of
1884 when the entire block was destroyed by
fire and the business wiped out. Although
property and stock were protected by insurance, the brothers met a heavy loss by the
interruption of trade. Temporary quarters
were secured, and the partnership continued
until 1887 when it was dissolved.
The Mays' were members of a company
which had purchased the rights in a process
by which shoes and slippers were to be fabri'
cated from colored fibres. The product had
been manufactured successfully already upon a
small scale but additional capital was needed
to push sales and increase the output. Barney
accordingly went to England,late in 1886, where
he succeeded in interesting British business men
in the project and in selling the manufacturing
rights for South America. Beautiful samples
of the product were presented to leading
actresses of the London stage and Queen
Victoria herself was graciously pleased to
accept a pair of mauve boudoir slippers.
Judicious advertising, the obvious merits of the
business, and May's persistence convinced the
British capitalists and made them very eager to
Page Forty-two     secure the European rights to the patent; but
just when success in his venture seemed assured,
Barney's short-sighted New York associates
ruined it by refusing to do more than license
the use of the process abroad and by fixing a
prohibitive minimum price on all shoes made
under the patents. In February 1887 Barney
returned to America disgusted with the stupid
greed of his associates. The shoe company
struggled on weakly for a time, but eventually
collapsed leaving the May brothers poorer by
twenty thousand dollars.
During the days of the Philadelphia
business, Barney had acted as travelling salesman for the firm and his search for customers
had taken him all over Pennsylvania. One of
the most profitable and promising territories
lay in the west with its center at Pittsburgh.
The famous Oil Boom was at its height and
money was plentiful Thousands of poor
farmers suddenly found themselves wealthy
because of the viscid, yellow treasure which
the drill had discovered beneath their lands
and a great, new buying power was established
Towns and cities sprang up where there had
been but wilderness; everywhere there was
speculation, enterprise, and feverish activity.
The oil country settlements were like western
mining camps, crude, lawless and primitive.
Tents and clapboard shanties served for
houses and the hurriedly constructed hotels
were filled with guests, often before completion.
Barney was frequently compelled to stop in
hostelries where the doors and windows were
of white muslin and where the food was
scarce and costly.
Page Forty-three His success in Western Pennsylvania and
the opportunities which Pittsburgh seemed to
offer for merchandising had led him to consider settling there and after his disappointing
trip to England he determined to begin his
struggle anew with Pittsburgh as the scene of
operation. Accordingly he removed from
Philadelphia in 1888 and, in partnership with
a local merchant, opened a general store on
Market Street, near Fifth Auenue. PITTSBURGH
IN the Pittsburgh of 1888 the modern depart*
ment store, with its army of employees, its
elaborate system of efficient control, and its
multiform stocks, was unknown. The typical
mercantile unit of that day was the little store
or shop, conducted by an individual merchant
or by a co-partnership. Barney's partner had
been the proprietor of a dry goods and notion
shop for some time, and was encouraged by
his success in it to attempt a larger venture.
He had built up a good clientele and the prospects for an increasing trade were bright, but
sufficient capital to float the enterprise was
wanting. Barney was impressed by the opportunities offered and invested all the remaining
proceeds of the Philadelphia business in the
new venture.
Neither May nor his partner had the knowledge or experience necessary for the profitable
conduct of large-scale merchandising. Their
years as small shop-keepers ill fitted them to
cope with the intricate problems of management incident to the business upon which they
had embarked. Ignorance of technique and
the acceptance of the ill-considered advice of
friends, led them to sink the major portion of
their limited funds in plant and fixtures, leaving
a dangerously narrow margin of working capital available for the prosecution of business.
Even with this handicap and with the debts
which they were obliged to contract in order
Page Forty-five to secure goods, they might have made shift
to weather the storm had it not been for the
unscientific and too liberal credit system then
prevalent in retail trade in Pittsburgh. This
was the factor which was to prove their ultimate undoing.
Although the store was popular and the
volume of business large, overhead leakage and
bad accounts devoured the profits. Barney
worked early and late in a vain attempt to
offset these unfavorable conditions by sheer
human energy, but strive as he would, the
burden of debt continued to increase. * As
time went on, the partners were forced to
borrow money from relatives and friends, thus
adding personal embarrassment and worry to
their already onerous burdens. In the May
household the strictest economy ruled. Barney
accepted only a small salary from the business,
since both he and his good wife looked upon
themselves as trustees rather than owners of a
concern in which the savings of their friends
and relations were so precariously invested.
The struggle was a long and discouraging one;
but they persevered, hoping against hope.
Five years of labor and anxiety, five years of
pinching and planning: then failure!
The autumn of 1893 found the United
States in the crisis of a financial panic. High
protective tariffs, prodigal banking and widespread inflation of values—fostered by the greed
and stupidity of the pohtico-financial group
which had dictated the economic policies of
the nation since the Civil War—had reached
their culmination during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison; and now, that the second
election of Grover Cleveland threatened to
reduce swollen profits, a period of acute depression and lack of confidence ensued. The situation was further aggravated by an unfavorable
trade balance, a depletion of the gold reserve
and the agitation for a bi-metal monetary standard. Retrenchment, lack of confidence, defla*
tion, the aplastic currency system, a lack of
gold and the withdrawal of funds from eastern
banks to meet western harvest demands precipitated the panic. Mills and shops were closed;
banks and railroad companies failed; production was curtailed; credits were withdrawn;
and the price of money soared to well-nigh
prohibitive rates*
The business, already tottering under a
weight of debt, and unable to realize quickly
upon its outstanding accounts or to obtain
further credit, was forced to close its doors.
The Sheriff took possession of the stock and
fixtures on the afternoon of Christmas Eve,
1893. Barney May was a bankrupt: almost
half a century of toil and enterprise had ended
in failure.
It was typical of the man's courage and
faith in himself that although defeated he
would not surrender. The spirit of the
pioneer, which had led him out of sleepy
Ebelsbach and had carried him scathless
through the hardships and adventures of
Canadian wilderness and tropical swamp,
continued to assert itself; and, strengthened by
the devoted courage and resourceful optimism
of his good wife, he began his struggle anew.
Page Fprty-seven He had lost everything but his integrity and
grit, but from his defeat he had learned the
secret of victory.
Once, during the days while he was still
striving to make the business a success, he
had made the acquaintance of a gentleman in
the employ of a New York department store.
Over a modest dinner in the dollar-a-day hotel
—where economy forced Barney to stop
while in New York—they fell to discussing
business problems and possibilities. The
Gothamite was enthusiastic about the opportunities for profit to be found in the sale of
patent remedies and told of the success of a
proprietory medicine department in the store
with which he was connected. Barney was
so much impressed by the recital that he
determined to try the experiment and, upon
his return to Pittsburgh, immediately set abont
carrying his plan into operation. His partner
and many of his friends predicted disaster and
tried to dissuade him from the attempt but he
had his way and established a small stock of
medicines and a soda water fountain in the
basement of the store. The venture proved
successful and attracted considerable custom.
After the catastrophe of 1893, while he
was casting about for a new means of making
living, it occurred to him that a patent
medicine store might prove worth trying, but
he had no capital with which to start it.
Several friends offered to advance him small
sums of money and from one of them he
accepted a modest loan on condition that he
should be permitted to repay it in weekly ■MHM i to §iqvbxic€ him sms
from one of them. 1
ri 00 condition that I
t0 repay ;t   $■ weekl   mm
installments after three months' time. This
sum purchased the first scant stock for the
new business. Mr. John R. Gregg leased to
him a store-room and building at 506 Market
Street, and the store was opened in April,
1894. The diminutive stock of medicines
occupied the left side of the sales-room, the
other half of which was sublet to a glove
dealer, while the second floor was rented to a
millinery firm.
The greatest lesson which Barney had
learned from his five years of disaster was this:
"Buy nothing for which you cannot pay in
cash; sell only to those who do likewise," and
in spite of pessimistic prophets who foretold
failure, he made it the basic rule of his business
and adhered to it faithfully. His other maxims
were: "Service," "Satisfaction,"and "Publicity."
Barney had discovered the secret of personality in merchandising early in his business
career, as witnessed by an incident of the days
when he kept a millinery store in Philadelphia.
One evening after closing hours, a belated but
importunate customer knocked at the door and
insisted upon being shown the hats. The
accomodating Barney displayed all his wares,
but after many trials, the exacting fancy of the
lady was still unappeased. The milliners had
gone home; a patron must be pleased; so
Barney trimmed the hat himself and the
delighted customer departed to sing the praises
v of his establishment.
The idea of service, now an accepted fact
in American mercantile policy, was a little-tried
novelty in 1894.   The old latin dictum, caveat
Page Forty-nine 5S5
emptor; iet the buyer beware, was still held
m veneration by the sons of barter, and the
modern commercial canon, "No transaction is
complete until the purchaser is satisfied," was
looked upon by the majority of tradesmen as
impractical and quixotic. Barney May introduced the "money back" principle in the proprietary medicine business and added to it every
device for the accomodation and satisfaction of
customers which experience and observation
could suggest. He studied his market and his
patrons until he was as familiar with them as
he was with his stock.
Barney's choice of business proved a wise
one and its progress was favorable from the
beginning. Cash purchase and cash sales
enabled him to market his goods at a much
lower rate than that asked by the druggists of
the city, and this together with his advanced
selling policies secured a large clientele of satisfied customers whose good will did much to
further growth and to create a public sentiment
in favor of the May methods, which proved
valuable during the contest between Barney
and his competitors.
The conservative element in the local retail
drug business did not take kindly to the inno*
vations which Barney had introduced into the
trade, particularly his practice of radical price
reduction. Individually and through their
dealers' association, they instituted vigorous
measures to combat the methods which seemed
to them to threaten the prosperity of their
business. Great pressure was exerted to pre
vent Barney from carrying out his announced
Page Gifty ■»
policies. Jobbers and wholesalers were threatened with loss of custom if they sold him goods
and several manufacturers, fearing the ill-will
of the retail merchants, tried in the courts to
enjoin him from selling their products below
the minimum price which they had fixed.
Opposition only served to stimulate Barney to
more determined effort. Where the market was
closed to him, goods were secured through the
secret cooperation of friendly jobbers and manufacturers or indirectly through intermediary
purchasers. The May enterprise continued
to prosper and the conservatives, finding that
neither embargo nor legal proceedings availed,
gradually gave up their hostile attitude so that
today there is nothing between the Mays and
their fellow dealers except that healthy competition which, we are told, is the life of trade.
The contest was a long and troublesome
one but it served to strengthen the business
and to develope those modern ideas of eco*-
nomic management, reasonable price and perfect
service which Barney May had independently
evolved and which are the sine qua non of
present day merchandising the country over.
One by one, as Barney's sons completed
their education and learned the business, he
took them into partnership, thus adding new
impetus to the enterprise. By this time the .
little half-shop on Market Street had been long
since outgrown and more commodious quarters
secured. Branch stores were gradually established for the convenience of the buying public
in various districts of the city, and today there
are eight of them radiating from the central ■W«S
mother/store and executive offices in the May
Building at Liberty and Fifth Avenues a
monument to the courage and industry of
the farmer boy from Ebelsbach.
Page Fifty-two  : * may's t^l^—^»—■—~"
The First Pittsburgh Store
Market Street
Plate VIII. T
From the  mmm
THE protracted struggle against adverse
circumstance had brought its satisfactions
and material rewards, but now that it was over,
the long neglected need for rest and relaxation
began to assert itself. From early youth, hard
work had been Barney's portion and the fourteen years of business activity in Pittsburgh
had been filled with particularly onerous labor,
worry and vicissitude which had tested the
strength and courage of his good wife and
himself. Although the energy and will which
had made the achievement possible were
unabated, the demands upon them were lightened—especially since the sympathetic cooperation of the young partners, his sons, had added
new vigor to the enterprise—and Barney
found himself the possessor of a leisure long
denied. He did not give up active participation in the business—to a man of his habits
and temperament that would have been impossible—but from time to time he would lay
aside his work for a season of recreation. The
spirit of adventure and the love of travel which
had carried him across the sea and up and down
the land were as strong as ever and in the
indulgence of them he found his highest delight.
The first pleasure trip to Europe was made
in 1902. Mr. and Mrs. May, accompanied by
their son, Herbert, his wife and baby, sailed
from New York and landed at Cuxhaven.
From thence they went to Hamburg, Berlin,
Page Fifty-three iff
Frankfort and other cities. Leaving Germany,
they entered Switzerland, and passed thence into
Italy where they visited the lake country and
the greater Italian cities, spent some time in
Rome, and returned to the coast by way of
St Moritz, Paris and Havre. They saw the
wonders which the civilization of the Conti*
nent had been creating and storing up through
centuries of travailand achievement—the castled
vinelands of the Rhine, the mellow charm of
the Riviera, the majesty of the Alps and the
feverish, pulsing life of mighty towns, but for
Barney May the high point of that tour was
otherwhere. Not even the Eternal City itself,
with the golden glamour of storied centuries
about it, meant so much to him as a sleepy
little town amid the Bavarian hills, the town
from whose peaceful gates he had departed
forty-four years before. The farmer boy had
come home again; the wanderer had returned
to the village of his fathers.
He found Ebelsbach almost unchanged in
outward appearance. The Schloss, the School
House, the Town Hall, the Hotel, and the
terraced farms, laced by ribbons of grey road,
were still the same. White geese marched in
solemn file across the green, children romped
in the sunshine, and a whisp of blue smoke
curled lazily from a great chimney of the old
house by the Judenhof. The eye was deceived,
but the heart knew all too well that beneath
the seeming immutability of things great changes
had taken place. The folk on the streets and
in the doorways were strangers to Barney.
There was no familiar face, no well known
Page Fifty-four voice to greet him. The very house in which
he had been born sheltered a family ignorant
of his name. A few old ones in the village
vaguely remembered his people when names
and events were recalled to them, but that was
all The pathos of time had fallen like a grey
sea fog between the past and the present.
In the period between 1902 and 1913 the
Mays made ten journeys abroad, touring the
British Isles, the Continent and a part of the
Orient. Frequently they were accompanied by
one or another of their children. Their travels
led them through France, Belgium, Germany,
Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Asia Minor
and Egypt. The outbreak of the Great War
put a stop to foreign travel, but its loss was
compensated by tours of America, the latest of
these being a trip to the Pacific Coast in the
early months of the present year (1917).
Barney May has lived for almost three
quarters of a century, and yet he is not an old
man in the ordinary sense of the term.
A rugged physical constitution, strengthened
and preserved by habitual exercise, a well
ordered, temperate life and a sunny disposition
have enabled him to remain young in despite
of the years. Even his pastimes are calculated
to preserve his vigor of mind and body. He
is an ardent golf player and spends many an
hour on the links. When the weather is too
inclement for sports, he satisfies his need for
bodily activity with long walks. At home
his pleasures are simple. A quiet game of
cards with his wife and comrade, a romp with
his grandchildren and their young companions,
Page FPfty-five the discussion of current events with his sons
or with some old friends; these are the delights
of his leisure.
The labor and heat of the day are passed;
trial and adversity have been defeated by faith
and courage. The pilgrim rests after the long
journey in the calm contentment of his home,
his children and grandchildren about him, his
dear wife by his side.
At length the silver of old age serene;
Two with clasped hands that wait to see the rise
Of evenings star in the hushed west; a love
Without farewell; and the untroubled dark.     A7s[ AFTERWORD
ONCE upon a time there was a little grey
mouse who had taken for his dwelling a
cabin in the Caribou. He was a sly fellow but
sociable and was not long in making friends
with a lonely young man who had come across
the continent to live in the same cabin. Now
there is an age-long feud between the race of
mice and the race of men, and the little grey
people know that they are forever in danger,
nevertheless the mouse of our story found not
an enemy but a protector in the person of the
lonely young man who would not suffer a
trap to be set and who permitted him to go
about his mousely businees unmolested. One
day a great rainstorm had filled the creek
and the camp was threatend by flood. The
young man ran for his tall boots which were
under his bunk in the cabin, but when he
attempted to draw them out he found them
strangely heavy. The little mouse had turned
them into barns and had stored them full of
rice and raisins against some far-off day of want.
Each white grain, each withered grape had cost
him a journey from barrel or box and now
chance had dispossessed him. A penniless,
alcoholic photographer who had strayed into
camp and whose empty stomach had no
scruples against the mouse's fere, was rejoiced
when the young man offered him the hoard,
and when the little grey millionaire returned
he found himself bankrupt.
Page Fifty-seven pi
The point of this tale lies in the feet that
although rice and raisins were very scarce in
the Caribou and although the peculations of
the mouse were costly and annoying, the
young man remained his friend and protector.
Even after this glaring [revelation of bad faith,
no trap was set in the cabin. The kindly
spirit which marked [his treatment of the
humble creature who was his friend is the
outstanding trait of Barney May's character.
It shows itself in his gentleness toward little
children, in his thoughtful consideration of
older folk and in his loyalty to his friends.
Born a peasant and forced to fight his way
through difficulties and over obstacles, he has
nevertheless maintained his sweetness of
disposition and has achieved a courtliness of
demeanor which marks him as one of the true
noblesse—a knight of the order of pioneers.
Although Barney May twice fought his way
upward to success, having begun the second
struggle for a competence at fifty years of age
after the first one had been lost, his achievement was primarily a moral rather than a
financial one. Many men have amassed riches
and become the weaker for it; it is the rare
man who grows with his fortunes. Endowed
with a vigorous physique and a quick mind,
schooled in the lessons of poverty, hard work
and simple living, he was able to make the
most of his opportunities and to create openings where none seemed to offer. His native
endowments and the habits of his youth
destined him for success. It was because of
this, because of his own will-power and energy
Page Fifty-eight which admitted no defeat, that he could never
appreciate men who failed. It seemed to him
that achievement was a purely personal thing
and lack of it signified a defect, a want of
energy on the part of the individual. He
could pity the failure and help him generously
in his hour of need, but he could not understand him. This attitude proved an asset as
well as a limitation, and it had its effect in the
training of his partners and his employees. It
is a peculiarity of the human animal that it
will often strive to fulfill another's hope of it
when its own ambition makes no auch
demand. Success is more frequently a
response to an outside expectation than we are
willing to admit, and where a normal man or
woman works in a continuous atmosphere of
effort and enterprise, the chances are that he
or she will not only respond to the stimulus
but will als6 become habituated to the incentive gesture itself. Your true pioneer is an
individualist, and Barney was a pioneer. That
his individualism was tempered by kindness
saved it from becoming selfishness, but did not
detract from its virility.
Of his ability to estimate the character and
worth of men, of his talent for friendship, of
his honesty, integrity and probity, of his wit
and good humor, his generosity and the
happiness of his domestic life—the story itself
speaks, and to say more to those who know
and love him would be supererogation.
This story is happily unfinished. It began
more than seventy-four years ago, and that
many years may pass before the last chapter
Page Fifty-nine must be written, is the cordial hope of all who
know its hero.
Here beginneth another chapter in the
story of Barney May, Pioneer
Page Sixty  Sons and Daughters
Plate X. £  HCKES
lNine children were born to Abraham and Rosa May.
Of these two, a boy and girl, died in infancy. The others
were: Fannie, b. Feb. 26,1837, Babette b. Mar. 26,1839, Simon
b. Feb. 24,1841, Baruch (Barney) b. Mar. 1,1843, Jennie b. Jan.
7,1845, Yetta b. May 3,1849 and Samuel b. Mar. 19,1853. Of
these, Babette (Mrs. M. Harris), Barney, Jennie (Mrs. H. J.
Messing), Yetta (Mrs. J. Morganstern), and Samuel survive.
2Mr. Walter May visited the old school room in 1901.
He describes it as a cramped, little cubicle, furnished with
a few low benches of rough wood, and without a single inviting feature.
3 Yetta (Mrs. Morganstern) in a letter dated August 20,
1917, says," Fannie's and Simon's departure I do not remember,
but if I live to be a hundred years old, I shall not forget Bar*
ney's parting from his mother. In those days going to America
was a parting forever, and Oh so hard!
4"From the first month on, he (Barney) sent five gulden
each month to show his parents what a successful merchant
he was, but in later years he told me he denied himself many
a dinner just to be able to give his parents that joy.****
When the postman brought a yellow envelope containing
one of his letters, every one in the village would rush to our
home to hear what mother had from Baruch and the others.
I can see my mother's smiling, happy face yet as she would
say, 'and he sent us funf gulden, just think of it!' Then all
would rejoice with mother in a son so good and so successful,
for you must know, that Baruch was as much a favorite then
as Barney is now."—Letter from Mrs. Morganstern.
5 Abraham May died in Ebelsbach in the early part of
1863 and the mother accompanied by Yetta and Samuel came
to New York to live.
6"Barney was brought home sick unto death with some
terrible fever. With all our grief, we were happy to have that
good son and brother back with us. We sent at once for a
doctor who gave us little encouragement. I was installed as
nurse. My mother swore that she would not live if her
beloved Baruch was taken from her. I was determined that
both should live. He was delirious for many weeks, but our
efforts and prayers were at length effective and we got that
beloved boy well again."—Letter of Mrs. Morganstern.
Page Sixty-one  ^•^■i
The following blank pages are for the preservation of
additional data, photographs, etc   p  ! WW! I-■
JOSEPH A. KOFFLER, Master Printer, and
ANTHONY J. MENIGAT, Journeymen Printers, and
GEORGE B. ARNOLD, Journeyman Pressman, made, and
J. TARNER bound this book.  3 HtS 1.5>f  


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