The Poetry of Elsie Strawn Armstrong
"SKETCHES OF MY LIFE"
Pages 8-13

Transcribed and Donated by Leslie Howard Strawn


CHAPTER NINETEENTH

Lines Written on a tour I took
with my two brothers up the
Illinois River in the spring of 1831.

Brother Jacob came for Morgan,

This country to be viewing,

Brought me some of my money,

And to see what we were doing.

We were breaking with four horses

And trying to do some good,

Then they bought a lot of oxen,

That brake, the more, they could.

William Carr and Jacob

Were going up the river,

And I thought it was my chance

Then to go with my brother;

As I wished to have his judgment

In selecting me a claim,

For a home was then my object,

And to find a claim, my aim.

And so we all set out

And traveled up the river,

William Carr, myself,

James Chalfant and my brother.

When we came to Jeremiah’s

He agreed with us to ride,

And so we traveled on,

Rode mostly side-by-side.

When we came to big Vermillion

We found it rather high,

Jeremiah, he rode into it,

That way its depths to try.

We saw it would not swim,

But it came rather high,

I thought I had good company,

Or I would have been rather shy.

I was not willing to go back,

For I wished to go along,

My horse was very good,

And also large and strong.

Jacob placed me close above him,

And the inside reins did clinch

To keep our horses close together

So in that they might not flinch.

William Carr rode still above me,

Close at my right hand,

And so we all got through,

And all got safe to land.

Vermillion River rocky,

The current swift and strong,

There was no particular ford then,

People crossed it all along.

To hunt a claim we rode five days,

On both sides of the river,

To find a claim then was my aim,

My sons might all think clever.

When we came to mouth of the Fox,

We did all on horseback ride,

We crossed the river in a canoe,

And swam the horses by the side.

And when we came in sight,

Brother Jacob spoke and said,

“Here’s the making of a place,

Here a town will go ahead.

“For nature has designed

This place to make a town,

Like Pittsburgh and like Zanesville,

And other places round.”

That fine old Doctor Walker

Sent me first in the canoe,

For fear the horses might make trouble,

And then I’d not know what to do.

But after we go over,

And all was got across,

I climbed upon the cornfield fence

Again to mount my horse.

The Reverend Jesse Walker,

He’d raised of corn a crop,

Where his nephew, David Walker,

Now doth keep his shop.

When we left the mouth of the Fox,

We went a northwest course,

The nearer to the bluff

We found the going worse.

From fetlock to the girth,

Mud and water we splashed though,

Still fearing we’d be mired,

For it seemed all a slough.

Brother Jacob spoke to me,

“Shall we here sink out of sight,

While Jeremiah’s riding yonder

And seems to go it right,

On his flat footed mare,

Why, she seems to walk the sod,

Where our horses here are

Floundering in the mud.”

When he first came to the state,

From his horses took their shoes,

And their hoofs grew large and flat,

And they learned to walk through sloughs.

And we had lately come,

And our horses all sharp shod,

And in struggling through the mud

Struck their feet through the sod.

But now it’s fixed with sowers,

And covered with the town,

And little mud and water,

In this city, now are found.

They say about nine thousand

Of inhabitants are here,

A promising improvement

For less than thirty years.

When we were in the bottom

The mud and water tried us,

But when we came on the bluff,

The wind and sun soon dried us.

We first came to a house

Brother built to save his claim,

At the next prominent point

On a tree he’d cut his name.

And there we made a stop,

And looked around to see

How it might appear

When improved it came to be.

We rode out on the prairie,

And when we came around

They seemed to be agreed,

For me to settle down.

Jeremiah held inducements

That were friendly, kind and fair,

But I did not feel quite willing

To go so far frontier.

For it would be so unhandy

At the early time of day,

For my children to do business,

And the river in the way.

And I thought ‘twould not be prudent

To take my family there,

So large a helpless family,

And no white family near.

From the Mouth of the Fox, the North side,

No white family in those days,

Till below the little Vermillion,

And there lived Mr. Hayes.

The prairie I thought good,

Not much objection to the timber,

But at that time of day,

It was the wrong side of the river.

We were told some tribes of Indians

Had been wronged out of their pay,

And they were determined to murder,

To rob, to kill and slay.

Accordingly the next year

They stole as sly as they could,

And murdered all the North side,

And shed much human blood.

With but a few exceptions,

That chanced to get away,

They killed all that they could find,

That fourteenth day of May.

And so we all went on,

A traveling down the river,

William Car, myself,

And my two youngest brothers.

When we came to Comsagen

One of the men did say,

“This is the finest place

For making of the hay!”

Comsagen bottom’s rich,

The grass grew tall upon it,

I took some grass in either hand

And tied across my bonnet.

While sitting on a horse that

Was full sixteen hands high,

And that kind of wild grass

Looks very much like rye.

And there we did light down,

And lunch we then were eating

While sitting on the ground,

And our horses were a feeding.

Then brother set me on my horse

And rode into the stream,

But before he reached the middle,

I saw it too deep did seem.

Before that he got through,

Run high as the horse’s back,

He found it was to deep for me,

And round about did tack.

Then we rode down the stream,

The grass was tall and thick,

And I was sore afraid

We, in the mud might stick.

We at length came to a place

Were the stream was twice as wide,

Then without any trouble,

We through the stream did ride.

And so we traveled on,

Looked no more for claim that day,

For the earth seemed rough and rocky,

And stony all the way.

When again we came to little Vermillion,

There we lit upon the ground,

For the bluff was very high,

And nearly perpendicular down.

Jeremiah said the Indians

Had a way of getting down,

It did not take him long

Till the Indian trace he found.

It wound around the bluff,

I thought it full of danger,

For if we chance to drop off

We’d fall slap in the water.

For if we chanced to slip,

Make a mistake or a blunder,

We might fall from fifty feet

To, perhaps, more than one hundred.

They led the horses down,

They led one at a time,

And when they led their own

They also did lead mine.

The next thing to be done

Was to ride the Vermillion River,

I thought we had escaped

One imminent danger.

The waters all were high,

And the rived loud did roar,

As it foamed and lashed to rocks

And it also lashed the shore.

We all went safely through,

And rode on down the river,

Till we came to a boat

That was owned by Mr. Crosier.

And there made a stop,

And stepped into the boat,

And when we all got in

They shove it off afloat.

And on the other side,

Not far up in the woods,

There was Mrs. Crosier

In a cabin selling goods.

The house was low and small,

And so were goods and all,

My brothers, five feet eight,

Under the joist, could not stand straight.

That house was built of small round logs,

And all the bark kept on,

And nails driven in the joist

Sieves and hats to hang upon.

And among the sieves and hats,

If you chanced to turn around,

If you were not very careful,

Some of them you’d tumble down.

I bought a corn meal sieve

And paid her eight cents,

And took it in my hand,

And toward my home I went.

I carried it on my lap,

Away below Lacon,

To a house I lived in then,

Built by my son John.

Long since I saw that lady,

On the North side of the river,

In a full store of goods,

And you could buy just what you’d rather.

CHAPTER TWENTIETH

Stories of animals are entertaining;
I thought I would tell my little friends about the animals
and game that were here over thirty years ago.

Over thirty years ago,

Soon after we came here,

We were told some time before,

The winter was severe.

There fell a tremendous snow,

It was some years ago,

And it covered up and froze to death

Whole herds of buffalo.

From appearances they chose

Low ground for to lie down,

To screen them from the wind,

But snow drifted round.

And covered them so deep,

And the crust became so stout,

That these strong wild animals

Never could get out.

I have seen perhaps half acres

With their bones all looking white,

Especially at a distance,

When first I came into sight.

And the wolves no doubt carried

Lots of their bones away,

For they were very plenty

In this country at that day.

My children killed fourteen

The first winter we came here,

They rode on them and stamped them

Without mercy, dread or fear.

We had two large fine horses,

That seemed to like the fun,

As soon as they were bridled

And their riders mounted on.

Away off after a wolf they’d go,

As fast as they could run,

And I watched them with anxiety,

As they were going on.

The first that overtook it

Would spring upon its back,

The other following after

And round about they’d tack.

And so they kept a stamping it

As fast as they could go,

Till they thought that it was well killed,

And the riders would say, “Whoa.”

The wolves were often sneaking round

To catch a pig or hen,

If the boys and horses were handy,

A chase they’d give them then.

I have seen them at their breakfast,

And suddenly leave the table,

And in the shortest order

Take the horses from the stable.

And away and kill a wolf,

And come back in finest glee,

And sit down and finish breakfast

As pleased as boys could be.

And they made a wolf trap,

It was a sort of pen,

They baited it with meat

And they caught some in it then.

They caught the large sized timber wolf,

Both the black and gray,

For there were all kinds of wolves

In this country at that day.

The deer were rather plenty,

And turkeys by the score,

But not so very plenty

As in Ohio long before.

There were lots of prairie chickens,

And different kinds of fish,

The wild geese and the ducks

Oft made us a good dish.

Son Washington called me

Soon after we came here,

“Come, Mother, to the door

And see our flock of deer.”

When the children were collected,

And talking rather loud,

They raised their milk-white tails

And loped away so proud.

Some wore large horns with many prongs,

Looked dignified and bold,

No doubt but some of them

Were ten or twelve years old.

The bears were rather scarce,

I heard of only two,

The panther and the wild cat

Of them, there were a few.

My children killed a catamount

The first winter we came here,

And beautiful it was indeed,

And it the dog did fear.

My children saw and treed it

And William shot it down,

And brought it in the house and

In its head, the bullet found.

I could not describe its color,

It was neither black nor white,

Neither red nor yellow,

But it was sleek and bright.

It partook of all those colors,

And perhaps of many more,

An extra animal it was,

A handsome coat it wore.

Its coat was of the finest fur,

It looked so grand and gay,

It was so soft and beautiful,

Seemed dressed in rich array.

Large as a good-sized dog,

But longer, round and fat,

Its ears and head and tail

Resembled much the cat.

Its teeth were large and hooked,

And tapered flat and then

Its claws were long and crooked

And sharp, seemed as a pin.

Its eyes were round and bright,

And of a large size,

Resembled most the human’s

Of any other eyes.

A young man from Virginia,

To warm himself came in,

And when he saw the animal

He seemed to want the skin.

He said, “No doubt your sons

Will soon be getting more,

And this one’s mate to find it

Will soon come near your door.

“I would like to take it with me,

It would be such a treat,

Because in Old Virginia

The like we never meet.”

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