The Poetry of Elsie Strawn Armstrong
"SKETCHES OF MY LIFE"
Pages 97-106

Transcribed and Donated by Leslie Howard Strawn


CHAPTER TWENTY-FIRST

My little friends, if you will hark,

Now I will tell you more

About that cruel murder

I alluded to before.

When we were on the Vermillion

In three or four days after

The frightful news came to us

Of that tremendous slaughter.

They killed and scalped fifteen

All in one house and yard,

And captured two young ladies

And kept them under guard.

They ran these girls away

With an Indian to each arm,

Oh! Then it was hard times

And most thrilling was the alarm.

They ran them through the woods,

They lost their bonnets from their heads

Then they gave them handkerchiefs

To tie on in their stead.

And they gave them provision

That they all did take away.

To prepare it for themselves

While it lasted, day-by-day.

They treated them respectfully

With decorum every day,

And at night they spread soft skins

For the ladies to lay.

With an Indian at each side,

Near by them they would lay,

To protect them and to watch them,

Lest they should run away.

But what availed the friendship

The Indians then could show,

To hearts so full of sorrow,

Terror, grief and woe.

The young ladies very handsome,

One had an extra suit of hair,

A young chief did think to marry her,

For she was very fair.

An Indian in authority

Resolved to have her hair,

But the chief that thought to marry her,

Did warmly interfere.

They were about to have a combat,

Upon that very day

The young ladies were returned,

And so they came away.

Our authorities did purchase them

With horses from the train,

Their brother John went for them

And brought them back again.

And after he got back

He directly comes to brother’s,

For his uncles’ family all were there,

And so were many others.

And in a leisure hour

We sat in conversation,

He told me all the circumstances,

Likewise, their deprivations.

He said when at St. Louis

The ladies gave them presents,

And changes of clean clothing

To them must have been pleasant.

For they had not chance to wash

From the day they went away,

While they were with the Indians,

Till they got back that day.

He said that coming up

Where they stopped upon the river,

They met with many a pleasant,

And smiling, cheerful giver.

At places where we stopped,

The benevolent and the good

Gave them rich presents,

Because they said thou could.

They felt that it was better

To give than to receive,

And thus their sister’s wants

They greatly did relieve.

And all seemed glad to see them,

Welcome where they come,

Welcome to all human hearts

And welcome to their home.

Home, then, did I say?

O, Then I touched the sore,

For the last they saw of home

‘Twas a frightful, bloody gore.

For they left them warm and bleeding,

Where they chanced to fall that day,

Both in the house and yard,

And themselves were forced away.

All that worthy family

That occupied that home,

And parts of other families

That to that house had come.

With only one exception,

John chanced to be from home,

The day those savage Indians

To that house did come.

No, never till life’s latest date,

Can they forget the day

They saw their dearest friends all killed

And themselves were forced away.

From that heart-rending scene

Now, we will turn our eyes,

For in the resurrection

Those loved ones all will rise.

Our legislature gave them

Each a section of good land,

For them to sell or keep,

To be at their command.

They are living in this county,

And both are living still,

Both Rachel Hall and Sylvia,

Not far from Munson’s Mill.

They have long since been married,

And families they have raised,

As wealthy and respectable

As any in those days.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SECOND

Lines written on the circumstance of my children
going to Chicago for salt in the year of thirty-one,
in most bitter cold weather.

My brother Jacob charge me,

And told me not to let them go,

Across those wide prairies,

In the winter, on the snow.

For he said, “The snow kept blowing

And drifting all around,

My children might get lost

And perish on the ground.”

He said, “You must prepare for winter,

Get your salt and bread and meat,

And all things else accordingly,

That you may want to eat.

“And when the winter comes,

Don’t let them go far away,

Not much farther than the ravines,

To make rails on a good day.”

Our salt was in a gum,

And was standing on the loft,

But met with a bad accident

When the cover got shoved off.

I had some in a box,

That was standing down below,

Not enough to last till spring,

And we knew not where to go.

A man had been selling salt,

That lived up at Marseilles,

But when I saw the man

He said his salt had failed.

I asked him when he’d have some,

He said, “Never, as I know,

If I go for salt I’ll freeze to death,

And perish in the snow.”

I said I had fat oxen

That were able then to go,

But my children had the ague

And were unfit to try the snow.

When I got home, I told my children

What the man said,

Then William said, “I’ll go myself

And take that big old sled.

In the mimeographed copy

The page after 100 is 102,

It would appear that in typing

Miss Beckel was encumbered

And so that page was misnumbered.

(Lhs 12Nov2006)

“Mother, do not be uneasy,

None but lazy people freeze,

Because they will not exercise,

They are so fond of ease.

“There is no fear for me, Mother,

I will jump and kick the sled,

I will keep myself in exercise,

Run, and kick the wagon bed.”

The sled roller was so low

That the gopher hills it hit,

Then they’d have to stop, hitch on behind,

And haul it back a bit.

And take another course,

So they might get along;

Their team was good and active,

All four year olds, and strong.

With an axe he had along,

When he could, he chopped them down,

And that did save the trouble

To unhitch and drive around.

When at the mouth of the Fox

They did take off their team,

For the river was frozen over,

And very smooth did seem.

Squire Cloud and George E. Walker

Helped them over with their sled,

“For the cattle had enough to do

To keep their feet,” they said.

Then they hitched on their team

And drove on out of sight,

That first day they got lost,

And lay out all that night.

It was most bitter weather,

A terrific, freezing night,

The Good Lord did protect them,

They did not freeze one mite.

And when the child got lost,

He drove till late, he said,

Then chained his oxen on

To the hind part of his sled.

Where he gave them corn and hay;

After the team was fed,

The next thing to be done

Was to creep down in his bed.

And that good dog was at his feet,

His brother at his side,

He said he slept most sweetly;

The Lord doth still provide.

When he awake next morning

He saw a man in sight,

A riding very fast,

Soon after it was light.

He called and did inquire

Where he might find the grove.

He point out the course

And then on did move.

His boots were very tight,

And his socks were very thin,

And his feet were still a growing,

Made long before they’d been.

And they hauled frozen people

From day to day, they said;

People that were traveling,

Glad to get in their sled.

A lady lately told me

That when he asked to stay,

He turned about immediately

And put his team away.

She said, “When the men came in,

They came to the fire to warm,

Leaving out their teams

Standing hungry in the storm.

“But that manly little boy,

Went back and fed his team,

And when he came to the fire,

He not much cold did seem.”

A man called for spring water

And said his feet were froze,

And as the boy came in,

Said, “I must lose two of my toes.”

He saw six toes upon each foot,

And he replied, so grave,

“You will have as many left

As other people have.”

No one had taken notice

That he had so many toes,

Then they took a hearty laugh,

Though some of them were froze.

His little brother had come in,

His eyes looked black and bright,

And those children cheered the company

All the forepart of the night.

The weather was extremely cold

All the time that they were gone,

Hard freezing day and night,

I could but sigh and groan.

And of those dear lost children

I hardly could make mention,

I could not sleep, my heart was full

Of direful apprehension.

When they came to the mouth of the Fox,

Come to the other shore,

Those kind gentlemen did meet them,

And again did help them o’er.

Then it was after night,

Though it was not late,

When they brought over their sled,

But sometime after eight.

And came with them through the timber,

Perhaps more than a mile,

For fear he might get lost,

That they might help the child.

At length the tedious week rolled round,

And on the appointed night

Those children did come stepping in,

O, it was a joyful sight.

On that same night a young man stopped,

That day he was some froze,

He was riding upon horseback

And froze his cheeks and nose.

We all set by a good log fire,

Talking of those poor boys,

When we heard the front door open,

In the entry, heard some noise.

The room door quick flew open,

In stepped those precious boys,

I never shall forget that hour,

It was so full of thankful joys.

Their cheeks they looked so red,

And their eyes they looked so bright,

O, I was one glad mother,

And my heart, it felt so light!

The distance more than ninety miles,

To Chicago, where they went

And brought us back six barrels of salt,

And but one week they spent.

Its thirty-one years now

Since those children went away,

Twenty-seventh day of November,

They started on that day.

The little one was seven years old,

His brother was fifteen,

The little one rode in the sled,

The other drove the team.

He said he had not ague

From the day he went away,

His health was still improving,

He grew stronger every day.

He took three yoke of oxen,

As sound as might be found,

To bring six barrels of salt,

If the snow should leave the ground.

But that was not the case,

The snow was but too plenty,

And did lay upon the ground

Till January Twenty.

That salt prove quite essential,

Bought corn and apple trees,

Although predicted by the neighbors

The little boys would freeze.

For we had hogs and cattle,

And all the horses still,

Except the one that killed herself

A grinding in the mill.

And some we got the cash for,

And that went near Lacon,

When my brother came to visit us,

It was my brother John.

I should be very thankful

For so much mercy given,

O, grant me, gracious Saviour,

But the lowest seat in Heaven.

June 21, 1862

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