The Poetry of Elsie Strawn Armstrong

Transcribed and Donated by Leslie Howard Strawn


When we came upon the land

That my father bought for me,

Our aim was to a spring

That three years before we see.

And when the spring we found,

I sat my child upon the ground

And stepped down to the spring,

And with my hand, I cleaned it round.

I scraped away the leaves,

And the pebbles looked so white,

The water flowed so fast

And looked so clear and bright.

I spoke to my little son,

As he sat upon the ground,

And his face did seem to brighten

As he threw the leaves around.

I said, “My little son,

You’re glad to have got home;”

But his father looked quite glum

And said he wished he’d never come.

“To stay in this wild woods

I am sure will never do,

And I never would have been here

If it had not been for you.”

“Don’t be so soon discouraged,

The wood will disappear;

Get some more good hands with you

And the wood you soon can clear.

“And I can help at that,

I can help pick and burn the brush,

And you can chop and grub,

And we will go it with a rush.

“We had better now go back,

To where somebody’s living,

And not allow ourselves to be

In the wilderness driven.”

“I never can go back,

It would be such a shame,

When we‘ve spent our time and money,

And I’d have to bear the blame.

“I would rather go a thousand miles

If we went toward the west,

Than to go back three hundred

Because I’d think it best.”

At length he went for boards

And put us up a camp,

And then it rained two weeks,

And my things got wet and damp.

And then he went to mill

And I was left alone,

The mill was forty miles,

And in four days he did come home.

The beech and sugar stood so thick,

And the timber was so tall,

The sun could hardly get a chance

For to peep in at all.

I went to work upon a beech,

And I chopped it all around,

And I chopped and chopped and chopped

“'Till it fell upon the ground.

Then I could see the sun

When the weather it was clear,

And I carried out my bed and things

To take the sun and air.

And when my man came home

He said, “Who did fell that tree?”

But when he saw the stump

He said, “It’s plain enough to see.”

But as soon as he got home,

The first thing that he said,

Was, “I have bad news to tell you,

Our fine gray mare is dead.”

“I had her shod in Zanesville,

I saw she was not well;

The roads were very slippery,

I’d be sorry if she fell.

“And when I got to Newark

I was trying to come ahead,

I saw she was very sick,

And in her gears she fell dead.

“Then I took her harness

But did not rob her of her shoes,

For them I paid two dollars,

But with her, I, them would lose.

“She was the fortune of a load,

She was so strong and kind,

And as good for to hold back,

And the word would always mind.

“And now we are broke up,

For we have but one that’s fit to ride,

And when I was on her

I did always feel some pride.

“I would rather have lost two others

Of the best horses I have,

Because she was so fine

And your father us her gave.

And when I wrote to father

I mentioned Nance is dead.

He said, “You shall have another,

You need not be afraid.”

“I am coming out this fall

To visit with you all,

I am sorry Nance is dead,

But I’ll bring one in her stead.”

When I was not thinking

My father came one day,

And brought a good young mare,

And her color was iron gray.

At length he cleared four acres

With the help of three more hands,

And fenced it on the north side

With poles out off the land.

The rest they fenced with brush;

Campbell said to me, “Twill do,

Now I am sure and certain

Witch nor fairy can’t get through.”

He furrowed too close,

And put too much in a hill,

And when the corn came up

It looked too much like a drill.

It stood so thick upon the ground

There was but little did get sound,

But there was lots of food,

Such as horses and cattle need.

Soon after we got there,

An incident I’ll tell

Concerning neighbor Hughes,

Who with his gun an Indian fell.

Not far above our clearing

He saw him on the creek,

He leveled and took aim

And dropped him very quick.

Then he dragged him to the shore,

But no grave for him, he dug,

But covered him with logs and leaves,

And hid him very snug.

Then he took up his hatchet,

His scalping knife and gun,

And in a hollow log

These accoutrements he run.

As I was going to a neighbor’s

With my son upon my arm,

I heard a horse come running,

And it caused a slight alarm.

I stepped out of the way

Just as he passed me by,

His hind feet broke the saddle off,

And in the road it lies.

Then I took up the saddle

And carried it with my child,

But I found it inconvenient

Before I went a mile.

Soon after I got there,

He came upon the run,

And said his horse took fright

At the firing of his gun.

And then it was the next year,

The British war broke out,

Then he went and got his gun and things

And told it all about.

He said he killed an Indian

He killed all that he could find,

Because they killed his parents

It seemed to suit his mind.


When we went to Ohio

The snakes were very plenty,

And while we lived in camp,

We killed fifteen or twenty.

My child went on all fours,

And he could go a lively gait,

And he could travel to the spring

At a common walking rate.

And of those big timber rattle snakes

I killed two a day,

I believe he could have caught them

If they’d been trying to get away.

One evening at my milk house,

Putting my milk away,

As it was growing dark,

Just at the close of day.

I heard an awful scream,

Close by me it did sound,

And I thought it was a panther

All fixed on me to bound.

You may guess I did leave sudden,

And went straight to the fire,

In order to improve it,

And make the flames rise higher.

That scream was so terrific,

The sound so loud and shrill,

It sounded in my ears

And I seemed to hear it still.

I looked upon my sleeping boy,

And most sadly did I feel,

As I thought ‘twould take both him and me

To make the beast a meal.

At length it screamed again,

And when I found it was a fowl,

It was then I did feel fault

To be frightened at an owl.

I suffered much with fear

When my husband was away;

I was not afraid of spooks or ghosts,

Neither by night nor day.

But I feared voracious beasts,

I was reared near Laurel Hill,

Where the panther, wolf and bear

Had pretty much their will.

And my husband killed a wildcat

The third day we’d come,

And to see that ugly beast

Increased my fears some.

I remembered in my childhood

Of hearing people say

The smell of burnt gunpowder

Would frighten beasts away.

So I burned some powder

On the stumps and logs around,

In order to prevent them

From coming on that ground.

I hauled up lots of logs

And limbs to make a fire,

And when the most afraid,

Wanted the flames higher.

And in that open camp

In that wild woods away,

I stayed to guard the stuff

Three months, both night and day.

I hardly dared to leave for

Fear the neighbor’s hogs and cattle,

Would come while I was gone,

And destroy our goods and chattel.

One night when alone

With my baby on my arm,

The ducks under the wagon bed

Did give me alarm.

A girl had penned some ducks

Under the wagon bed,

And she would come next day

And take them away, she said.

I heard the ducks moving,

And I thought it was some beasts

Affixing and preparing

Of us to make a feast.

The beasts could walk right in

And take us out of bed,

My little son and me,

And then go straight ahead.

The cowbell just had gone,

And lonesome then were we;

And oh! How unprotected

My little son and me!

But when the cows lay quiet,

I was not so much afraid,

For cows will run when wild beasts come,

I had often heard it said.

My child was much afflicted,

And he would often cry,

Then I was much afraid

That he must shortly die.

I was afraid the beasts would hear him,

And they would come and us devour,

And O how slow and tedious,

Came and went the hour.

And still I kept up my fire

To keep the beasts away,

And I was glad and thankful

When I saw the light of day.

Alone in that wild woods,

And so young, with my sick child,

It was but the grace of God,

Kept me from going wild.

For He was then my helper,

And has been all the while,

And I’ve trusted in His name

Ever since I was a child.

I have found Him “A present help

In every time of need,”

And through His loving kindness

Thus far I did succeed.

Sometimes my path was dark,

And my way was hedged about,

But he gently cleared my way

And kindly led me out.

The mercy of the Lord

Has surely me surrounded;

And they that trust His name

Shall never be confounded.

My trust was in my God,

And in Him I was secure,

Or those frights and fears and terrors

I never could endure.

But I am still among the living,

My probation lengthened out,

To see the fourth generation

A-living round about.

Back to LaSalle County Illinois History and Genealogy

Back to Illinois Genealogy Trails