By Coulter Fussell
In continuing to periodically publish from the trunk of old Water Valley letters I have, this week I’ve pull out a short letter to John Wagner. John Wagner was the son of Daniel Wagner, whose letter from the front lines of the Civil War was published two weeks ago in this column.
Daniel was the son of a German immigrant and most of his older siblings were born in Germany. Daniel was a self-made man, having seen battle (and been shot in the ankle) in the Civil War and then going on to become one of Water Valley’s most successful citizens.
His son, John Wagner, was born into privilege and was sent off to the very prestigious Bingham School in North Carolina. The amount of complaining he does about this school is right in line with the ways of the teenager. And in the line of some-things-never-change, here is a quick letter from a fellow student to John Wagner, age 16 at the writing of this letter, saying that he would rather live the rest of his life on a ranch in 1884 Texas than go back to Bingham School. Why? No girls, of course.
July 19th, 1884
Mr. J. H. Wagner,
Water Vallie Miss
I take my pen in hand to write you a few letters to let you know that I am still kicking & able to get a bout. We got home eight days after I left school. All was looking for us when we came. I thought I would surprise them but I slip up. You can just bet I had a good time with the girls for about 3 weeks after I got home but one of our hands on the ranch got his arm broke & I had to take help with the stock. I have been out here ever since & I guess I will stay until I am of age. John I do not think I will go back to old Bingham “Hell” anymore for I got enough while I was there. John I received a postal from Mrs. Bingham the other day, she talk like she would like for me to come back but I will wait until 9 years yet & then if I am able I will go & take my wife with me (if I have got one). John I wish you was out here. I would let you catch all the jack rabbits you wanted to. I have got two boys that can kick them up anytime, you bet it is fun to all, running them.
I must close for this time. Give my love to Owens & keep a large share for yourself. Write soon & a long letter to you friend,
E. W. Lewis.
(An aside: the Wagners had several friends and cousins move to Texas to work on the railroad in the 1880s. Their letters home are fascinating as they talk often of the wildlife, the vast landscape, and how they frequently took Sunday afternoon trips across the border to hang out on the squares in little Mexican border towns. One of them brought the Wagners back a prairie dog. Yes, like a real live prairie dog. The prairie dog would become a beloved pet, living with the Wagners for a long time and learning to summersault down the house stairs to the great delight of the family.)