David Trumble

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David Trumble lived to be well over 100 years old (118 by one great-great-great nephew's account) and was at one time one of Canada's oldest living pioneers. His story is told in a sweet little book called When I Was a Boy, edited by Glen Ellis and published in 1976 by J.M. Dent & Sons (Canada) Limited.

Born in 1867, he was still alive and 111 years old when his story was published. He fathered nineteen children (he kept outliving his wives) and his great physical strength was legendary. The last reference I could find on the Internet about Mr. Trumble stated that he was at that time 113 years old. I can find no record of his death or later age.

Here are some excerpts from his story:

[At night, the] wolves would come out of the woods
up onto the house
and howl.
We were lying in bed --
it'd just make everything shiver --
we lay in the beds
and if there was a bone thrown out
the wolves would scratch around at night
and scratch the bones out from under the house.
We couldn't leave a cow
we couldn't leave a horse
we couldn't leave a sheep --
we had to shut everything up every night.
If we didn't the wolves would eat them up.
It made a lot of hard work.

They'd come out
maybe twenty-five or thirty in the bunch.
Now you know when they got that many in the bunch
they didn't care what they done.
I'll bet they'd just as soon eat a man as look at you.
I've seen me run for dear life
to get home before it got anywheres dark.
If I didn't
I was cornered with wolves.
Many a time
I'd climb a tree
and sit there until morning.

Up west I've seen where they built houses and didn't use nothing only sod. Take sod, good thick sod. Cut chunks, lay it together. The grass grows together and you can't see the joins. When I was in the west and the north I saw a lot of the big sod houses. They'd take poles for the roof and lay sods onto the poles. They had that for a roof.

A yoke of cattle
that weighed about forty hundred
we bought for about fifty dollars.
At that time you could buy all the meat you wanted
for two cents a pound,
and pork,
five cents for all the pork you wanted
already fatted for the barrel.

I used to go with the Indians,
running around,
go out hunting with them.
We used to gather ginseng
-- that's a root -- ate that.
That was very nourishing.
We used to gather these roots
(there's not much of it).
It's the greatest medicine you ever had.
It's got all the doctors beat.
If you've got a bad heart
and you want something for your heart,
just take a root of ginseng and a beaver castor
(that's the castor out of a beaver),
put that in liquor, heat it up.
Take that for your medicine
and you'll never be sick.
I've lived on it,
lived all my lifetime on that Indian medicine.
I think that's the reason I lived to be so old.

The very best is moosehide.
Moose and camel make wonderful leather.
I never skinned a camel though.

One time
in the wintertime
Dad was in the lumber camps working
and I went out
into the woods,
snow about two feet deep.

Well, I travelled and I travelled
and I got after a deer
but I couldn't get near it
and I travelled for hours
till before I knew it
I was lost.

It was getting about forty below
and I thought, "What'll I do now?
I'm cold and I'm frozen and I can hardly walk.

Just then
I came to an old root
put my arm onto it
and the dirt began to fall off,
soft dirt,
so I pushed the leaves back
dug a hole with my hands
and got in under that root
away from the cold.

I got in there
and felt hair.
I laid myself down
in between a bunch of something
I didn't know what it was
but I was warm as a bug in a rug.

Next morning
I got out and looked
and here I'd been in alongside of three bears
-- all night --
so I got out of there.

At home they thought
"Oh, David's froze. He's froze to death,"
but I got home,
I came home all right.

I don't think the bears ever knew I was there
(they was hibernating)
but I knew I was there.
In a way I was scared
and in a way I wasn't scared
but I said then
"I'll never shoot a bear."

A bee tree has a hole in it and the bees would be inside. See, they go up there to find that hole, go in there, use that for a hive. And it'd be there for years and years. We'd fall the tree. Go in there and cut a chunk out of the tree and split it out, take the honey out. The bees tried to sting me but they never bothered me. I would cut a big tree and never get a sting. Take the honey right away from them. We used to have a great big barrel filled right full of honey, lots of honey. In a way we used to live pretty good. Didn't have to buy too much. We just lived out of the woods, got it out of the woods. We'd go into the woods and get our living.

Did the winters seem colder then than now?
Oh bless your soul yes!
When I was a boy
snow was eight feet deep!
You could just drive anywhere you like,
over the fences,
up through the fields.
You didn't have to have a road,
you could drive all over.
And it used to freeze --
you could walk on top of the crust,
drive the horses over the crust --
it used to freeze hard, hard.
I've seen the ice in the lakes be eight feet deep,
eight feet deep
when I was a boy.
You couldn't fish
because you couldn't get through the ice,
you couldn't get down there
(if you did
you'd have to get the Chinese to come
and make a hole from underneath)
but now -- in late years --
it don't do that.
Milder, milder.

Sometimes we'd go to a corn-husking bee,
husk corn for about two or three hours
then get the fiddle out and start dancing,
danced till daylight.

Oh, we used to have quite a time,
but those days are all gone.


I've seen me when I was a boy, if we couldn't get supplies in to the men [at the lumber camps], I'd tote on the tote road. I'd put a barrel of flour onto my back and carry that five miles right off into the woods. There was five of us toting to the camps all winter. A barrel of salt weighed three hundred.

I was a giant. I never run across the man yet that could ever throw me nor hit me in the face. I was scienced. I was like that there fighter, Muhammad Ali. I was so quick that I was in and hit and was gone and they didn't know where I went. I was just like a butterfly. For a big man -- I weighed two hundred and ten -- for a big man I was just like a steel trap, just like a steel trap.

There was a man in Picton one time. He said that if we didn't vote for him we'd all be eating dry bread. I've never had to eat dry bread in a hundred and eight years. I knowed he was no good when I voted for him, and I was sorry afterwards. That was the only time I voted Liberal. I've always voted Conservative. I said, "When I make a fool of myself once, I ain't going to go back and do it again!"

I was in Bancroft one time
and there was this big Bill Collins.
He was a big six-footer
and he was an awful kicker.
They called him "Kickin' Bill Collins"
and he said, "I'll kick the head right off of you."
I said, "You will, eh?
Come on," I said. "Here's a good place."
And I don't know how I did it
but I took a handspring --
I took a handspring right in the middle of the floor --
and I took him right between the eyes like that with my feet
-- the heels of my boots right between the eyes.
I knocked him end over end.
He withered just like a little dog and crawled off.

Right now I'm all stiffened up like an old carthorse
and I'll bet you a dollar I can kick that ceiling.

I wasn't a man, I was iron. Couldn't hurt me. If they did hit me I wouldn't feel it. They could hit me around the face or pound my body, but they couldn't hurt me. When I got one crack in they didn't feel like coming back. That's all I wanted, just one good smash. That'd take the ginger out of them.

I went to Coe Hill one night,
yeah, Coe Hill.
I went to Coe Hill there
to a dance
and I took another bunch there with me.

I used to go with a girl there,
her father was a fiddler,
he played the fiddle.

Well, we was having a big time
and I didn't know there was anything wrong
so I said, "Come on, George,
give us a tune and we'll have a little dance."

He said, "Tune for a Protestant?"
I said, "You heared it."
He said, "No Protestant is going to go with my girl again."
I said, "What?! What'd you say?"
and I just took him a backhand swat right across the mouth
and the teeth just FLEW!

So he sent across the way for his brothers
and three or four (or four or five) more
and he sent for SEVEN
and the whole seven of them come
and they was goin' to give me a licking.

So I just backed up into a corner
and I said,
"Okay, boys, I'm ready for Coe Hill."

There was two buildings together,
you know, in a corner,
and they couldn't get by me.
And I had them there
and I was just a-kicking and a-flailing.
Well, I knocked the whole seven of them down
just as fast as they could come at me.

Then I grabbed my bottle of whiskey
and my slippers
and away I went home.

Well, that's what you need to do, just go crazy, just go crazy for five minutes. Go crazy. Let yourself loose. Loosen up. Just loosen, see how loose you can get.

There's a fiddle player in Flinton --
he's ninety.
He can tell you all about me.

I used to get onto a horse's back,
ride around a tree,
and cut my name in the tree with the bullets.
When I was a boy and my eyes was all right,
I could put a fifty-cent piece up in the air
and hit it in the air with a gun, with a rifle.

I'll tell you, I could ride horses.
I didn't care how they run
or how they went,
I could take any horse
as fast as the horse could run.

I got married when I was twenty-eight.
Me and the woman lived together eleven years.
We raised nine chiildren.
Then she took a notion that she wanted to go by herself.
Away she went.
I said, "All right, go.
Just as good fish in the sea as ever was catched."
So she went.
I never bothered her;
I let her go.

In a little while I had another woman.
In a little while she died.
I had another woman.
In a little while she died.
I had another woman.
She's the last one I've got,
and she's in the hospital.
She's seventy-eight.
I kept her here as long as I could keep her.
I done the work for years,
look after the house.
I didn't ask her to do no work.
But I couldn't --
I got miserable --
I couldn't lug her around.
So the doctor said,
"Can't have that."
So he put her in a nursing home.

That eleven years I lived with my first wife
was the best time I ever put in,
but I don't . . . the devil got . . .
I don't know, I don't know.
She left me.
I'll never know why she went.
Just got in with the wrong company,
in with the wrong company.

She was Irish.
I never blamed it to that --
I'm Irish myself --
and she was pretty good . . .
In eleven years a better woman you never had,
you couldn't have a better woman than she was.
I loved the woman,
just something . . . the devil got into her . . .
I don't know.

We had a log house and we had cows and we had horses, and we had pretty near everything to plough, to work with. And one night everything burnt up, cattle and everything. We were left with one old horse, and he was burnt so bad he couldn't see out of his eyes. We had to start all over again.

We had some pullbacks.

At Vimy Ridge I got this thumb all smashed to pieces. A bayonet went through here and came out on the other side. We didn't have airplanes; we had horses. We had to fight hand to hand. Bayonets. Hard fighting. The best man won, that was all. You'd see a bunch of soldiers coming with teeth gritted and those soldiers were ready to put the bayonet into you. You had to knock their bayonets away with your own bayonet, then stick them. Walk on and do it again.

The road would get muddy and rain, rain, rain, rain, rain there every day. We lay in the water. Just rubber sleeping bags to sleep on. No blanket, just rubber. You'd lay on that on the ground and just lay on that. Lice on our clothes, in our hair. In a lull in the battle, sometimes we'd have to rip off our shirts and shake them 'cause they was covered in lice.

Scotchmen -- the Scotch -- was good fighters, good soldiers. But the best soldiers the war had was Canadians. The Canadians made the very best soldiers. They could beat anything on the battlefield. They wouldn't run. If one man was out there and there was a dozen against him he wouldn't run. He'd stand there and fight. He'd fight that bunch. And he'd holler, "If you come any further we'll all turn out on you," and that would drive them back. They thought it was a big crowd. Sometimes there was only one man, but he stood his ground. I've seen us when the flag would fall, we'd go out into the bullets and raise the flag.


I used to hunt. I used to be a champion of the woods for hunting. Catch ducks nobody else could catch. Catch deer -- I'd go in the woods and if I was within a hundred yards, two hundred yards, of a deer, I could smell him. Nobody could smell a deer. My boy does. He can smell them. I can go in the woods and if there's a deer in a hundred yards I know it 'cause I can smell him. Or a bear or a wolf. I can tell you what's in that hundred yards away from me. And you can't shoot much over a hundred yards. You've got to get that close.

They used to hire me
to witch wells.

I used to take the crotch of a willow
and point that to the ground
It'd lead me to water every time.

Same thing with metals.
I can take a steel rod
and tell you where there's mineral;
or a compass --
a compass will just spin round and round.

I was on the Harlow Road one time, going to the back of Weslemkoon. I was working into a mill at that time. At quitting time I came out with another fella and I had everything on my back and my coat on my arm. He went around with a horse and I cut across country through the woods past the mill.

I came up to an old bush shanty and I saw a big bear. There was a wagon road nearby and a bridge, so I said, "I'll hurry up and get down to that bridge and I'll give that bear a scare."

I ran down to the bridge and she was coming right on till I was as close to her as I am to you and I said, "Where you going?"

"Agh!" she said, and she spit right in my face.

So I said, "Hold on, old girl, that's too much."

I throwed my coat down and I hit her a swat but she come again and when she come again I hauled off just all that was into me and I just jumped and I drove her on the nose, hard as I could. She stood there holding on to her nose. I fought that bear, and she with her mouth wide open. I drove her so hard I made her toenails jingle. I just knocked her cold -- with that hand. That knocked that thumb out of place when I hit her.

I hit her so hard I drove her till there was no name for her.

She took all back that she said.

That's true. If it isn't true, where are you going to find a witness?

In 1941 I was over seventy and I got my back broke. A tree fell onto me, broke my back in two and split my head open. The other fellas lifted the log off of my back and went to lift me but I said, "Don't touch me. Don't touch me. I'm in misery. Don't touch me." I laid there and I thought about getting up, and when I was ready, when I thought I could make it to my feet, I started to struggle and I managed to get up onto my feet. I made myself do it. Two men fell in alongside of me, and one in front and one in back, and I walked five miles into the camp. They took me in an ambulance to Belleville to the hospital, and I got worse and worse and I thought I was going to die. Then gradually, gradually, I got better, and the doctor said one day, "You'll live but you'll never walk again." I said, "Who's telling you I'll never walk? I'll walk again and I'll carry your boat." And I did. And that doctor has been dead for thirty years.

There's a dark face to the moon and a bright one, and as the light reflects back to the earth, so does the shade. You've got to plant in the bright side, and the brighter the better it is. A dark moon is the worst time. I see people planting, and they don't pay any attention to the moon. Half the time they end up with a crop of nothing. But I plant in the moon and I have as pretty flowers as you ever laid eyes on. In my garden this year I growed 'taters, tomatoes, onions, cabbages, lettuce, radishes. I give it away. Give it to my neighbors. 'Tain't mine to keep. The Lord gave it to me and I give it to my own.

I'll tell you, this world's a funny world. A lot of people here tell me, well, they don't know what to make of me. I'll be honest with you -- they don't know what to make of me. I go out to my flowers and put my hands on them. You feel the power in my hands. I talk to my flowers. The flowers understand. And if anybody wants a slip of flowers they come to me. I'll show you a little flower in here, a beautiful thing. I put this in this summer. That's this summer's flower. Geranium. Isn't that wonderful? I talk to it just the same as I talk to you. And this is a waxflower. Here's another. This is a king's coat, a coat of all colours, a king's coat of all colours. That's what I call it anyway. And this is a beefheart, what they call a beefheart.

I smoked and chewed and smoked and chewed
and drank and everything
until I was a hundred and one -- a hundred and two --
and then I quit
and I haven't hardly smoked ever since.
I said, "I'm going to be boss;
if I can't be boss of myself once in awhile
then there's no point in me living,"
so I just said, "no sir, no more."

. . . but I'll have one now.

I've had so much trouble in my life
that I don't worry over nothing.
I just let the tail go with the hide,
let the tail go with the hide.
You heard that old saying?
Everything that comes along,
just let the tail go with the hide.
Don't worry,
no use worrying.
I've had a lot of hardship,
a lot of heartbreak.
I don't know sometimes
how I got through it all,
but I weathered it all down,
weathered it all down.

I often wonder why I was left and all my friends that I was raised with are all dead, all gone years and years before I ever thought about dying. They're all gone. I ain't got nobody now that I had -- no boys, no young fellas that was when I was young. And I often wonder how I done it. I'll tell you, as I told you about that rapture. I figured on that rapture. I wouldn't die until my time came. What the Lord's got me to do I'm going to do, and nobody's going to stop me. I don't know what it is going to be, but he's not keeping me here for nothing. He must be keeping me here for some good.

Excerpts from: When I Was a Boy, by David Trumble. Edited by Glen Ellis.
Published in 1976 by J.M. Dent & Sons (Canada) Limited

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