The Poetry of Elsie Strawn Armstrong
"SKETCHES OF MY LIFE"
Page 38-50

Transcribed and Donated by Leslie Howard Strawn


CHAPTER ELEVENTH

And here I should say something

Of what I came near leaving out,

About a final settlement,

And how it came about.

In the penalty of five thousand,

My brother went my bail,

I’d ask him for no support,

And in that I would not fail.

He made him give five free holders

In the same penalty,

That he would never trouble

Nor ask one cent from me.

And I’d take seven hundred dollars

For my right of dower,

It was concluded and recorded

About the self same hour.

And when I saw my neighbors,

They talked to me like this,

And for my silly bargain

They at me did hiss:

“I was never more astonished,

Have you lost your senses quite?

To take a mess of pottage,

Now for your birthright?”

“Seven hundred dollars!

Why, what a trifling mite!

If you had got three thousand

It would be nearer right.”

“And you should have the farm,

For it was yours at first,

And for you to rear those children,

It should be yours at last.”

Another neighbor said,

And his name was Robert Cross,

And he was our class leader,

Calculated for a boss:

“I took you for a woman

Of common sense to be,

How you can rear those children

I don’t know how you can see.

“To feed, to clothe and educate

That large helpless family,

You should have had the farm,

If not the factory.

“And for that afflicted one there

Should have been provision made,

It may take a farm for his support,”

Thus this neighbor said.

One morning with my father,

Coming out of Beckwith’s store,

We met with Isaac Griffin,

Their class leader, at the door.

“The horses we were riding

Was standing near the door,

When he kindly took my hand,

Said this, and said much more:

“I fear you don’t consider

What you are about to do,

The suffering and the privation

And danger before your.

“For half of them that go there

Die there the same year,

And half of what is left, come back,

And glad when they get here.

“And I fear when you have buried

A part of those nice boys,

We will see you coming back again,

Again from Illinois.

“And I can see no reason why

You should want to go away,

For here you have all you want,

And why not content to stay?

“You have a good house and orchard,

Milk house and garden too,

And everything convenient

And pleasant here for you.

“And the choice of those fine horses

As you like to ride or use,

To stay with your aged parents

You ought not to refuse.

“And here you all are safe,

From Indians and starvation,

And why not be content

When in a good situation?

“I earnestly advise you

To with your parents stay,

Until your sons grow older,

Before you go away.

“I fear that you are going

On your brother Jacob’s say,

And after you get there, you’ll wish

You had never gone away.”

“No sir, not exactly

On my brother Jacob’s say,

For my brothers all have seen it,

And they talk the same way.

.“As we were all brought up together,

I, in most cases, think as they,

And I expect to find that country

About what they do say."

My father answered thus,

“If she does not like it there

I tell her to come back,

To her mother and me here.”

He gave me one hundred dollars

To add to our little store,

In order to assist us

Till we could earn some more.

I do not fear the Indians,

And starvation I don’t dread,

For I never yet believed

I should suffer for my bread.

Of course I do expect

To suffer some privation,

But my hope is that each son

May yet have a good plantation.

I most earnestly desire

To see them on clean sod,

Where they may rise and prosper

With the blessing of our God.

And I have made up my mind

We will go toward the west,

For I firmly do believe

It will be for the best.

I can’t see them grow up here,

Their prospects are so poor,

That away upon clean ground

I have a right to look for more.

And drop us where you will,

If inhabited it be,

I can take care of them

And they can take care of me.

And by the common blessing

Of the Lord, I think you’ll see,

I can take care of them,

And they can take care of me.

When our business all was settled,

And we were ready to start,

I sent for my second son,

That my children might not part.

My third son took a horse

To his brother in the night,

And he rode on before us,

And we all thought that was right.

Till his father sent a messenger;

When the message was received,

From that source of trouble

We felt ourselves relieved.

Then he went on and told his brother,

Then we all came together,

Down the Ohio River,

And that did seem so clever.

For we thought it would be best

To shun the Indiana mud,

That was rough and hilly,

But mostly dry and good.

CHAPTER TWELFTH

And so we left the Ohio

In the year of thirty-one

The fifteenth day of April,

With my ninth little son.

I came to Illinois,

And I brought him in my arms,

One year before the troubles

Of the Indian war’s alarms.

When we came down to Madison

We crossed the Indiana State,

To get to Illinois

Before it was too late.

And after I had started

On the road a coming here,

I caught a violent cold,

And my cough was most severe.

A well appearing gentleman

From old Kentucky state,

But lived in Illinois,

One morning rose and spake,

“I am concerned about this lady,

She took cold upon the way,

She coughed most of the night,

And has commenced again today.

“I fear when she gets there,

Her death will be at hand,

And that will bring a bad report

Upon the goodly land.

“The trouble and anxiety

Of leaving home and friends,

All conspire against them,

To bring them to their ends.

“And the exposure and the hardship

Of moving on the road,

When they get to Illinois,

Soon after they unload,

“Their constitution all is gone,

They must lie down and die;

Then, ‘O, the sickly country!

They raise the hue and cry!”

“Don’t go to Illinois

Unless you wish to die,

For people cannot live there,

It is no use to try.”

“Now I want you to take notice

Of what I am going to say,

For I believe it will help you,

At least, I hope it may.

“Get yourself some flour of sulphur

The first chance that you see,

And don’t fear to take it freely,

And better soon you’ll be.

“For you have a tedious journey

To get to Illinois,

And when you will be needed

By all those little boys.”

And so I got some sulphur

Before that it was noon,

And I went into taking it,

And I got better soon.

That night I rested better

Than I had done before,

I felt I was relieved,

And coughed but little more.

When we came near Vincennes

We turned up the Wabash River

The sand was deep and heavy,

And the wheeling not so clever.

We crossed at Terre Haute,

And took Paris on our way,

And we went about five miles

On that holy Sabbath day.

The mud was very deep

And we went through timberland,

And we stayed that Sabbath night

Where Paris now doth stand.

And there, the Grand Prairie

Lay open to our view,

Of the trouble just before us

Then we but little knew.

For then from grove to grove

We were obliged to drive,

No matter what the distances,

Fifteen or twenty-five.

Sometimes we started early,

Almost as soon as light,

And traveled all the day

And sometimes after night.

After a hard day’s travel,

Having trouble on the way,

When it was growing dark,

We did fear we had gone astray.

And then, away ahead,

When we could see a light,

It was a very pleasant

And most reviving sight!

When we came on the prairie

Our trouble did increase,

For there in many places

The earth was soft as grease.

The heavy five-horse wagon

Sunk nearly to the bed,

And then it was impossible

For us to go ahead.

All the horses down,

A lying in the mud,

Except the good old saddle horse,

He, on his feet still stood.

The fourth lay across the other,

And he did most piteous moan,

And Oh! It was distressing to hear

That poor horse groan.

Half buried in the mud,

Walled his eyes as if in death,

While the other lay upon him

He could hardly get his breath.

Soon as they got her off, he held

His head up and looked glad,

Though appearances around him

Still looked rather sad.

I then rode back some miles,

Hired a man to leave his plow,

And bring his prairie team

To haul us through that slough.

He hauled us seven miles,

I paid him his demand,

He said he helped us on to

Where it was higher, better land.

Then I rode before on horseback,

And when I crossed on a slough

I crossed it to and fro, to find

A place I thought would do.

Where I thought it was the best

I would light off of my horse,

And there I’d stand and hold her

Till all were gotten across.

Sometimes I called and told them,

When the team came up,

They had best unload a lot of things,

For fear they might get stuck.

The third son brought a bed,

And then a lot of clothes,

On which his poor sick brother

Might quietly repose.

Then next he’d bring his brother,

He carried him on his back,

A heavy load he was for him,

Through mud and sloughs to pack.

He was fifteen years old,

His brother, two years older,

Through many sloughs he carried him,

And brought him on his shoulder.

With anxious care I then looked on,

To see my little boys

Laboring so very hard

To get to Illinois.

The third son often carried

Lots of things across the slough,

For fear we might get stuck,

And then not know what to do.

And O! With what anxiety

I watched the team to see

If they’d power to get through,

If such a thing might be.

The fourth little son,

It was he that drove the team,

And he had enough to do,

And that it well might seem.

And when the team was standing

He would walk around to see

If the gearing all was right,

And in good heart they seemed to be.

And when we came to Bainter Creek,

We found it swimming deep,

And on the other side we were

Obliged ourselves to keep.

For three long days and nights

We were obliged to stay,

And we felt it was against us

To make that long delay.

Two boys took two large horses

That were full sixteen hands high,

And rode them through the stream,

That way, its’ depth to try.

And when they got across

They thought they’d bring their brother John,

To help to make a raft

To cross the things upon.

As so they rode ahead

Full thirty miles or more,

Away out to their uncle’s

Where they never were before.

And then off to the river,

Where they found their brother John,

A working on his claim,

Near the place now called Lacon.

Next day when they came back

They found the stream was falling,

They thought they’d cross next day,

And could do it then by hauling.

And I was very glad

To see my eldest son,

He seemed to be the staff

I mostly leaned upon.

And a joyful meeting

To me it surely were,

For then I seemed relieved

Of nearly all my care.

He was nineteen years of age

When he came to Illinois,

And one year and ten months

Had made improvement in my boy.

And here I should make mention

Of that kind family

Who came here the year before,

From the state of Tennessee.

They were pleasant and were cheerful,

Disposed for to be kind,

Which helped to pass the time

With more endurance to my mind.

Their cooking apparatus,

When all was told and said,

To bake and boil and fry,

Were one oven and one lid.

My skillet, pot and tea kettle

There seemed to come in play,

She said she would much miss them

When I took them away.

I found the pork, she found the greens,

Sometimes we cooked together,

And then we all sat around the board,

And that did seem so clever.

In one corner of the house

They had an Illinois bed,

On which that couple slept

With scarce a coverlet.

They offered me a fine large cow

For a double coverlet;

I was thinking some of trading

When William spoke and said.

“We soon can raise a flock of cows,

But not a coverlet.”

I say the boy was right

And nothing more was said.

In the morning we got ready,

The boys got up the team

And drove off to the water,

And then drove through the stream.

The wagon bed did leak

And let the water in,

And the way it wet my beds and things

Seemed something like a sin.

For in the latter part of May

My things would mold and rot,

If not out of that wagon bed

I soon could have them got.

And so we came ahead,

And the third day it came to pass

I had them out a drying,

And some spread on the grass.

Son John just had a house built,

Likewise a blacksmith shop,

And there was where we went,

And there we made a stop.

That house for early times

Was one among the best,

With seven foot sheds on either side,

One east, the other west.

The house was up and roofed,

But we could not get in;

No log from door or windows;

Cut out had ever been.

But early on Monday morning,

After the Sabbath o’er,

Two boys with cross cut saw

Cut out the place for the door.

Then I commenced the moving

In on the green grass floor,

That grass had seen the sun and rain

Not quite one week before.

The prairie there was level,

No sleepers in the way,

The grass was fresh and green,

‘Spersed with a little hay.

They cut out a chimney place,

And built as best they could;

They made a four-foot table,

And they made it of split wood.

I spread two breadths of carpet

On the fore part of the floor,

And we ate and slept most sweetly,

With a quilt hung in the door.

And off of that square table

Most cheerful meals we ate,

Of fowl, fish and potatoes,

And different kinds of meat.

Then they went to making rails

To fence in twenty acres,

While some were making rails

The others were the breakers.

John then had got ten acres

Broke the year before,

And then with four good horses

They broke ten acres more.

And then to get some seed corn

We knew not where to go,

For there was none in this country

That year, they said would grow.

But as good luck would have it,

We had brought some for feed,

And that, far as it went

Did answer for our seed.

But that corn did not reach

To plant our field all o’er

And then we hardly knew

How to get a little more.

William went to the river

And found the red man’s boat

And then he stepped in that,

And shoved it off afloat.

Away across the river,

And found where they did live,

And bought some corn from them,

And a high price had to give.

He gave one silver dollar

For what filled a small tin pail,

When he poured it into ours,

To fill it, it did much fail.

And it planted out our field,

With pumpkins, beans and such

And if we had not got sick,

It would have helped us much.

To be gone two days away,

John we could not spare,

For we had then the ague,

And needed much his care.

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