My Forty Years Scribblin's
Personal Memories
The Peddler's Wagon

This piece was written in 1993 and published in the January-February 1994 issue of The Montana Journal. “Frenchy the peddler” was a familiar sight to the people of western Montana.

This generation cannot visualize the pleasure that we knew at the arrival of the peddler’s wagon. We ran to the house to yell, “Mom, here comes the McConnon man!” or “Mom, here comes the Watkins man!” or “Mom, here comes the Rawleigh man!”

A holdover from the proprietors of the old-time medicine wagons and sellers of patent medicine remedies, the peddler brought a hint of other horizons to our simple way of life. Elixirs, liniments, laxatives, and ointments, and a powder to mix with water that was pure nectar to us little hillbilly kids. There were cosmetics, spices, and flavorings to delight the cook, and what we small-fries waited for, the distribution of sticks of chewing gum, the last thing before he closed his sample case.

There was Frenchy who was possibly the last of his breed. Frenchy clung to his horse and buggy for several years after the other vendors had progressed to motorized travel. His buggy was heaped with his wares, such as 10-cent combs, a bolt of calico, scissors, needles, socks, and salve. Making his leisurely way about western Montana, he always stopped at our ranch house on his way north in the spring and again on his way back before fall. He was a roly-poly little man with few worries. He put his horse in the ranchers’ barns and fed him the ranchers’ hay. He, himself, sat at the ranchers’ tables and usually ate free, although my step-grandmother sometimes surprised him by charging him fifty cents for his bed and breakfast, which embarrassed my grandad to no end.

The sociable little peddler entertained us through the evening with his time-worn jokes, laughing at them himself until the tears ran down his ruddy cheeks. A neighbor tells of her father, Irvin Sperry, meeting him on a narrow road near Lincoln. When the Sperry cargo, loaded with a steam boiler destined for a mine, and Frenchy, with a second wagon just as heavily laden, met, Frenchy, jolted out of his reverie, had no where to turn. He became quite agitated, so the men moving the machinery unhitched Frenchy’s horse and lifted the buggy down the road bank while their wagons passed the spot. They then lifted the buggy back up on the road, hitched his horse back up, and sent him on his way.

Frenchy must have had another name, but none of us knew what it was. He brought diversion to our sometimes humdrum existence, bearing news from other parts of the country, although his news might be a bit outdated. The loss was ours when he no longer made his rounds to peddle his wares and his funny little stories, and when he no longer came to share a meal at our table.