I recall one incident of his student days that he told us about. The fraternity, for some reason, did not like one of the professors. He had just bought a new carriage, and they decided to take it out of his stable, pull it down hill to a valley about half a mile away and hide it there. Just as they reached the valley the back curtains were opened and the Professor stepped out and said, "Thank you very much for the ride, young gentlemen, I enjoyed it very much. Now if you will please be so good as to pull me back up the hill to my stable it will add still more to the pleasure that you have given me." They had no alternative but to do so somewhat sheepishly. A week or so later they decided the time had come to get even with him. He kept quite a flock of chickens. These chickens rested in a large peach tree in his yard, and they thought it would be fun to steal some of these chickens one night and have a chicken dinner at the Fraternity House. So several of them, with a large bag, proceeded to the tree. One of them climbed it and began passing the chickens down to the other boys, who held the bag on the ground. Before he could begin the Professor quietly approached the tree. The boys with the sack were surprised, and, dropping the bag, they quickly ran away, hoping that the Professor would follow them and give the boy up the tree an opportunity to get away. The Professor, however, quietly picked up the bag. The boy up the tree, having observed none of this, passed down a fat hen, saying as he did so, "Here's Miss Lucy (the name of the Professor's wife)." He then passed down a fryer, saying "Here's Anna Belle (the professor's daughter)." When he had finished passing down about half a dozen chickens he climbed down and was thunderstruck to see the Professor holding the bag of chickens. The Professor said, casually, "Thank you very much Mr. ------ for your thoughtfulness. We have been wondering how we could catch those chickens, and I don't know how we could have done it without your kind assistance." After a pause he added, "Mrs. ------- (his wife) and I would be very glad if you and your assistants would have chicken dinner with us next Sunday." When they all sat down at the table, the Professor, who was serving, said to the first boy, "Would you prefer the breast or the drumstick of Miss Lucy?" Everyone present enjoyed themselves. The Professor had made no report of their misadventures, and the Fraternity decided that the Professor was a good sort of guy after all, and they were glad to be friends of him and his family thereafter.
Mr. Skipwith had many interesting experiences. He lived much in New York and he had travelled much in this country and abroad. He told us many stories about his experiences. Several of these that I remember might, I think, be of some interest to you, and I hope to tell you about them later. (Note: In order to preserve some degree of continuity in my narrative I shall, if I get to it, insert them in an Appendix.)
As a boy I was much interested in railroading. The Division Superintendent of the Frisco Railroad was a friend and patient of Father's, and through him I was allowed to spend several summers in the Railroad station at Winslow, Ark. (In the Boston mountains, where we spent the summers) studying telegraphy and doing much of the routine work of the office. I later spent one summer in the Chief Dispatcher's office in Ft. Smith and learned much about the problems of operating all kinds of trains over a single track railroad. I also spent one summer in a Freight Agent's office and learned something about the classification and handling of freight.
For several years I spent my leisure Saturdays in the Job Printing office of C. A. Lick, where I learned how to set type, run a printing press and bind books. Later Mr. Lick developed a process for printing the numbered tickets for a theater or similar place which gave him practically a monopoly in the printing of such tickets in the United States. He became a millionaire and was President of the National Printer's Association.
I never received any pay for any of these activities, but I found them all interesting and instructive. My experience in a Printing Office was quite useful to me later, when, as Assistant Commandant of the Coast Artillery School, I had to organize and re-equip the rather extensive Printing Plant of the School.
I enjoyed the usual boys' games of the time (such as Prisoner's Base, Foot and a Half, and baseball) but I was never an outstanding performer, as were both my brothers later. However I and my brothers inherited father's fondness for horses. I always had a pony and was very fond of riding, upon my proficiency in which I prided myself.
When I was about twelve years old another boy (Douglas Rogers) and I started out one day to have a race to see which of our two ponies was the faster. It began to rain hard and we turned around and started back home. I was riding at a gallop, with one foot in the stirrup and with my head down (against the rain) along 6th street, then about to be paved, when my pony, unexpectedly to me, reached a corner and suddenly turned up a side street towards home. The saddle turned, my foot went through the stirrup, and the pony dragged me for some distance, throwing me against some piles of bricks along the street. Finally my foot came loose and I lay in the street, practically unconscious (the pony, although a wild one, had stopped and was standing beside me), when some man came along and, after I had insisted I was all right, put me back in the saddle and told me to go straight home. The pony went home at a walk. I had fractured my skull, broken my collarbone and dislocated my elbow. When father and another doctor had finished bandaging me up I asked them if they thought my injuries would keep me from going to West Point. I mention this because I believe this was the first time I had ever mentioned West Point. I have no idea how or when I first heard of West Point or when I first decided that I wanted to go there. I had never seen an Army officer and I knew nothing about the Army. I believe it was West Point itself that attracted me, without any consideration of the fact that it normally led to an Army career.
I graduated in 1899 from the High School at 16. (I had skipped the 3rd and the 7th grades in the Grade School). The High School provided three courses: Classical, Modern Languages, and Scientific. Some students, taking but one of the regular courses, were able to graduate in three years instead of four. Father, however, encouraged me to take the full four years but to take two courses, the Classical and the Modern Languages. In addition, he induced the School Board to set up a two year course in Greek. I think I was the only one who ever took that course. Accordingly, I studied Latin, French, German, and Greek, all of which, except perhaps Latin, I enjoyed. One of my teachers stands out in my mind: Miss Effie Lemons, who taught me English Literature for four years. She was a remarkable teacher, and I learned more from her than from all the other teachers that I had in that subject later on. The Principal of the High School, B. W. Torreyson, also stands out in my memory. He was a fine teacher (he taught History), a firm but fair disciplinarian, a man of the highest character and integrity -- and I have always remembered him with admiration and respect.
One incident in connection with my Graduation exercises stands out in my memory. I was one of the half dozen graduates who, as a result of their class standing, were to make a speech at these exercises. I had much difficulty in selecting a subject for my speech. One evening while I was thinking the matter over, Mr. Skipwith asked me what I was studying about and I told him. He studied a moment and the said, "Why don't you write on 'Bacon and Greens'? Some years ago Governor Bob Taylor, of Tennessee, one of the most famous speakers in the South, made his reputation by a speech on that subject. Suppose I dictate a few notes on this subject tomorrow and see how you like it." I gladly accepted the offer and the next day he gave me the manuscript. I liked it very much, and, making a few changes and additions to salve my conscience I submitted it to Miss Lemons for her approval. In a few days she returned it to me and complimented me on it. She said that she liked it because it was different and because it sounded so much like me. She added that she had made a few minor changes which she thought might improve it a little. The changes made, I found, consisted mostly in deleting most of the additions to Mr. Skipwith's draft that I had made. At the Exercises, "Bacon and Greens", which was preceded by a boy who spoke on "Our Policy in the Philippines" and was followed by a girl who spoke on "Beyond the Alps Lies Italy", made quite a hit with the audience of proud parents and friends, and, for the moment, my reputation as a speaker was high. A few days later the Alumni Association gave us new graduates a dinner. Just before we sat down I learned, for the first time, that the President of the Association would, as usual on the occasion, make an address of welcome and that I (being Class President) would, of course, make a speech in reply. I sat through the meal in despair, trying to think of something to say that would be appropriate and that might sustain my newly acquired reputation as a speaker. My thoughts didn't seem to jell much, and when the time came for me to reply to the carefully prepared address of welcome (to the preparation of which the speaker had undoubtedly devoted much toil and sweat -- if not tears) my impromptu remarks were noteworthy only for their brevity,and, in my own mind at least, my reputation as a speaker rapidly approached the vanishing point.
I learned two lessons from all this. I never again made a speech that I had not written, and I always made it a practice whenever attending any public function to prepare in advance something -- preferably something brief -- to say if I was called upon to speak.
When I graduated from the High School my plans for the future centered about West Point. It would be about two years before a vacancy occurred for our Congressional District. There appeared to be no alternative to waiting for a chance at this appointment, meanwhile going to college somewhere and beginning a college course that would prepare me for whatever business or profession that I might decide upon if I didn't get an appointment. I studied the catalogs of many universities, but their costs seemed prohibitive. I finally decided upon the University of Arkansas, at Fayetteville, Arkansas, where I spent a year. I was classified as a Freshman, but I was allowed to take Sophomore Latin and, finally, Junior Greek. I lived at the student Dormitory in order to minimize my expenses, which amounted to only about $25 a month.
Shortly before the end of the school year Congress passed a law authorizing each Senator to appoint a candidate to West Point. These candidates were to report in a few weeks and, if admitted, were to join in the regular class that had entered several weeks before.
At that time the two Senators from Arkansas were Senators Jones and Berry. Jones was Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Father regarded him as a cheap politician and had told him so. Senator Berry was a fine, old, one legged Confederate veteran from a little town near Fayetteville, and father decided to seek the appointment from him. He had a number of his friends write to Senator Berry, and a number of my Professors at the University very kindly wrote similar letters. I received a note from the Senator stating that he planned to be at the hotel in Fayetteville on a certain date soon and asking me to call on him at that time. When I did so I was surprised to find Joe McAndrew, a Senior whom I knew only slightly, also there to see the Senator. We both went in together, Senator Berry (whom I had never seen before) turned to me and said, "Young man, I have received some very fine letters from some of the best friends I have in the State, and also from some of the Professors at the University, about you. I want to tell you that there is but one boy in the world to whom I would give preference to you for this appointment to West Point. He is Joe McAndrew here. His father and I have been close friends all our lives. I promised him when Joe was born that if he ever wanted to go to West Point I would try to get him an appointment. I am going to give the appointment as Principal to Joe here. I shall be very glad to give you the appointment as Alternate if you want it." Never having been outside Arkansas bu once (when I went back to Oxford to visit my grandparents) I was glad to avail myself of the opportunity to at least go to West Point and to learn something about it perhaps that might be of help in getting the next Congressional appointment. There was only about two weeks time to prepare for the entrance examinations. I hurried home. Father had arranged to hire a young lawyer who had just graduated in law and who had taught a country school, to come to our home, share my room with me and coach me for the examinations. He worked me for about fourteen hours each day for the period of ten or twelve days available, at the end of which I was by no means confident of being able to pass the entrance examinations.
Father had had occasion several times to take patients to Johns Hopkins for operations, and it had been his ambition for a long time to be able to take a postgraduate course there himself. He finally decided that he would take the trip to West Point with me, leaving me there and going on himself to Baltimore and Johns Hopkins.