"Live a good life, and in the end, it's not the years in the life, it's the life in the years."

Saved family letters tell of war horrors, peacetime hopes and dreams

By on February 22, 2021 in Uncategorized with 2 Comments
The pepper box pistol that prevented a leg from being cut off.

By Dale Foreman

This is what the doctor told him, he had a choice, amputate his leg or die. 

He refused to let the old Sawbones cut off his leg and the doc told the nurse, take him into the dead tent. 

As Smith Foreman lapsed back into unconsciousness he dreamed about what he could say to his family, what would his last words be? Would he be able to tell them that he loved them, that he did not want to die? 

 He was a young soldier from Pennsylvania fighting the Rebs in Virginia. It was 1862. Miraculously he lived and he wrote a letter to his sister that told an amazing tale. 

A few of the envelopes exchanged among family members showing addresses, years and stamps.

 A few weeks earlier he had been fighting Johnny Reb in a farmer’s field in northern Virginia. He was shot with some large bore rifle and it nearly took his right leg off. 

He lay unconscious for hours and in the dusk, when the shooting had stopped and both sides were picking up their wounded, a big burly male nurse found him and loaded his bleeding body into a horse drawn wagon. 

They bumped over rocky roads until they arrived at a hospital tent. There, the doctor, already exhausted from a day of cutting off shattered limbs and binding up wounds, told him it was amputate or die. 

 Smith was a young man of 20, he was a farmer and knew that without both legs he could never plow a field or shoe a horse, find a wife or support her. He would rather die. 

The doctor reached for his saw and Smith reached down into his boot. He kept a pepper box pistol in his boot and he pulled it out and pointed it at the old army surgeon. “Sir, I would rather die than live without my leg. If you try to cut it off I will shoot you.”

 That’s when the doctor turned to the nurse and said, “take this man to the dead tent.” And as the doc walked away to his next patient, Smith Foreman put the pistol back in his boot and fell into a deep sleep. 

The pistol now belongs to Clyde Foreman in Wenatchee, along with the love letter young soldier Foreman wrote to his family. 

 This is the story of that letter, and a dozen others from the 1870s, 1890s, 1907, 1911, 1914, 1922, 1933 and 1954 that arrived in Wenatchee in a bundle in 2018. 

The letters had been saved for generations from the Civil War, from missionary hospitals in Natal, South Africa and Yeotmal, India, from the Suez Canal in 1914 and the ruins of post war Japan. 

A letter from a Union fighter.

Letters from Uncle Herbert, who worked at the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 1907, letters about the great influenza pandemic of 1918, the mini depression of 1921, the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression of the 1930s and of course both world wars.

 Uncle Roland Foreman, custodian of the memories, crossed over in 2017 at the age of 100 years. 

His wonderful family divided up the cabinet full of old letters and sent a packet out to the next generation. Each small letter in the original envelope tied in a packet with a frayed ribbon and sealed with love. The stamps only cost 1,2 and 3 cents. 

The people wrote of struggling with unemployment, trying to get a job at Goodyear Tire in Akron, Ohio in 1922 and of trying to get a $15 per month raise as a telephone operator in Pennsylvania in 1954. 

These were often poor folks, renting out an upstairs room for $2 a week to “keep the wolf away.” 

Some of them knew hunger, others lived poverty. 

Many of the old letters ended, “Sending you whole bushels of love.” That is the secret sauce that binds a family and a nation together in hard times, whole bushels of love. 

These letters are a recipe for that secret sauce. 

In March 1933, Grandma Foreman wrote to her son Clyde in California. He was laid off at Goodyear Tire in Akron and had moved with his young family out west looking for work. He wanted to be a house builder. 

Grandpa died in January of that terrible depression year. Grandma wrote a letter to her son: 

“I am out of bed again, I stayed in almost two weeks. We miss Daddy very much. I can hardly realize he is gone forever. Sometimes when I hear something good I’ll say I have to tell it to Pa, I can’t help but think he is still in his room upstairs. 

“He did not leave us with much money to live on unless we can sell some lumber. He owes quite a few bills that we’ll have to pay. So we are living on hopes that times will be better.” 

She closed the letter: “hope you are all well and you will get that house to build. With love to all. By-by, Mother.”

Clyde Foreman did get that house to build, in Beverly Hills, for a wealthy Hollywood movie director, and he kept building houses all through the depression. 

But that is another story.

Dale Foreman is a lawyer and orchardist in Wenatchee. He served as Majority Leader of the State House of Representatives and Chairman of the Washington Apple Commission and the US Apple Association.

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  1. Paul says:

    What happened to him, when did he die? Did he keep his leg?

    • Mike Cassidy says:

      The letter does not say, but family lore is he kept his leg and lived a fairly long life. I will see if I can find more information on his date of death. —- Dale Foreman

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