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Hill Country Living

Daniel Wagner Unforgiving Of Oldest Son

By Coulter Fussell

Thank you to those who have brought me scrap fabrics and material at Yalo Studio. I am always wanting more so dump your scraps off with me anytime. I want everything you have…old sheets, curtains, quilting material, threads, trims, etc. It can be stained, ripped or torn, I want it. Clean out your closet and bring it to me! I want your old fabrics, no matter how used. In fact, the older and more used, the better. Thank you!
And thank you to the people who have told me they enjoy reading the Wagner letters. One of the most fascinating relationships in these letters is the one between Daniel (D.R.) and his oldest son, John Henry. It is strained, to say the least. I am often thankful that D.R. was not my father because he is generally humorless and unforgiving to his son, yet simultaneously spoils him and pulls favor after favor. I have no idea how he expects this combination to produce the type of man he is so intent on getting out of John Henry. Here are a few excerpts from letters that Daniel wrote to John, who is off at Bingham School in North Carolina. These letters were all written within a month.

Water Valley, Miss.
Oct 19, 1885
Dear son, your Letter received in due time, I am glad to hear that you are doing well and studying hard, also that your health is good. I hope to see your report soon and that I will be pleased with it. I have been doing my best to get you an appointment to West Point and Annapolis. I wrote to Senator Walthall and Senator George. He informs me that he would do for me what he could but the power is with our member of Congress (Mr. Barry) and advised me to write to him. I got Mr. Lockheart to write too. I do not think that Mr. Barry can do anything for you more than give you the opportunity to go before the Local Board of Examiners and the boy who stands the best examination is the one that is chosen to go to West Point. If you don’t pass it will be your own fault.
I hope you liked the watch……Every one is well except Calista who has a sore eye. Hope you continue to study well and come out ahead & get the appointment & graduate at the head of your class. Mill stopped 3 days last week for a broken shaft, all ok now — Father

Nov. 10, 1885
My Dear Son,
I received Mary B’s report and was well pleased at your not having any demerits. I also got a bill for $150.20 which I have paid. I was very much surprised & grieved to see that you were not studying anything, out of some 30 odd studies you only took 3. If you continue at that rate you never will do anything, you must remember you are going on 18 yrs old & time is valuable. I have written Maj & told him to give you more studies, Lat, Nol [?], Phil, Eco. Please say no more about being displeased & all that, I am so tired of it. You know what you promised me when you went & its not nessecary to remind you of it. Do what you said you would! — D.R. Wagner

Nov 19, 1885
I had a letter from Hiram today. He wants to know how you like to study at the Maryland school…said he would like to hear from you. Said he thinks this stole the guinea pig out of the box last summer. He is so smart…..
Write soon and be a good boy & study hard & try to please your father, he has so many unavoidable things to trouble & bother him, I feel like certainly you will try not to be one. Be a pleasure, which you can be by a little application. — D.R. Wagner

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