The Poetry of Elsie Strawn Armstrong
"SKETCHES OF MY LIFE"
Page 51-66

Transcribed and Donated by Leslie Howard Strawn


CHAPTER THIRTEENTH

I heard of a good claim,

On the river down below,

I thought the first good chance I got,

To see it I would go.

My sons were making rails,

And the horses then were idle,

And then I took a horse,

My saddle and my bridle;

And got upon the horse’s back

And rode away alone,

There were plenty then of Indians,

But there I saw no stone.

I rode around upon the claim,

And stopped and looked to see

How it might appear

When improved, it came to be.

But I thought it would not suit me,

It did not fill my mind,

And to ride upon the river

I felt myself inclined.

So I turned up the river,

And rode along the shore,

While my mind was still prospecting,

This new country to explore.

As I rode up the river,

On the shore at my left hand,

Exactly on the spot where

Lacon now doth stand,

I came to a little pen,

It was five or six feet square,

And I sprung upon the ground

To see what might be there.

There was a hole on either side

Through which the light shown in,

And there were five dead Indians

A sitting in that pen.

There was one in every corner,

And they looked firm and sound,

But the one set in the middle,

His head lay on the ground.

With their blankets round their shoulders

And their hunting tools all on,

Ready to start a hunting,

With their hands upon their guns.

I was told they had a frolic,

An Indian ‘jollification’,

And in that drunken frolic

They did commit that depredation.

I stood there in solemn awe,

To see the red man’s fate;

O! The fire Water! Truly

How much we should it hate.

Destroyer of the Natives,

And of ten thousand more,

A part of all the emigrants

From every clime and shore.

And then to hunt a claim,

I rode no further out,

But went straight to my home,

And had enough to think about.

A hunting for a claim

I went no more alone,

And still was looking out

For water and for stone.

I was on the hunt for timber,

And when I came in sight,

Well now! I have surely found it,

There is timber about right.

But when I came near,

It would seem to disappear,

And when I was riding through it

The timber was not there.

Sometimes, take with me one son,

And again I’d take the others,

And once I rode five days.

With my two youngest brothers.

We looked carefully on the south side,

Up the rapids of the river,

And then went down the north side

To see what we could discover.

When we were coming back

On the north side of the river,

William Carr along with us,

And my two youngest brothers.

When we came to the Comsagen,

Near the middle of the day,

One spoke and said, “This is

A great place for making hay.”

Comsagen bottom’s rich

And the grass grew high upon it,

I took some grass in either hand

And tied across my bonnet.

While sitting on my horse

Full sixteen hands high,

For this is kind of wild grass,

Looks very much like rye.

I went once more to hunt a claim,

And took my oldest son,

We found a spot we thought would do

To go to work upon.

Not far below the mouth of Fox,

Salt marsh and building stone,

Stone, coal, timber, and living springs,

I hoped to feel at home.

When we moved up, my children sick,

One had the bilious fever,

And ‘twas not long when all but John

Were sick with fever and ague.

One day when all were sick,

And the fever raging high,

Can no one bring some water,

Water, O, some water, was the cry.

I took a small tin pail,

And thought that I would try

To bring my children water,

Though my fever raged so high.

I was so weak and blind

I could not keep the way,

But blundered off the path,

That bright, sunshiny day.

As I was coming back,

Walking up a rise of ground,

It seemed all hills and holes,

So I came near tumbling down.

We were invited in a house

And were told that we could stay

Till it suited our convenience,

And wished to go away.

The house was just one mile

From where we wished to build,

And I thought we best go in it,

As the folks were so good willed.

Before it was a month

The host came there one day,

And said the house was wanted,

And we must move away.

John tried to get a house built,

And worked with all his might,

He worked while he could see

And did the chores at night.

And when he got all ready,

The timber on the ground,

He invited all the neighbors

For more than ten miles around.

There were so many sick,

And the inhabitants so few,

He could not get his house up,

After all that he could do.

He moved for men to help him raise,

But then he moved in vain,

For he could not get it up,

Tho’ he tried and tried again.

We were obliged to move

Five miles another way,

And we could not get back

Till after New Year’s Day.

My children had got well,

And they raised a lot of men,

And got one end up and covered,

And we moved in it then.

There were boards upon the sleepers,

And a hole left for the smoke,

And clapboards for a hearth

Until the winter broke.

John started to Ohio in eighteen thirty-one

The eighteenth of November,

That winter most severe,

And that I well remember.

But they went to making rails

With a seeming new ambition,

And after we’d all been sick

We used quantities of provision.

First they built the chimney,

And then they laid the hearth,

And some were making fence,

Some breaking up the earth.

That ground was in good case

That year to raise a crop,

And we just had got it planted

When our work we had to stop.

For we were all a striving,

Anxious to get in some seed,

And then to leave our work,

With reluctance we agreed.

When I was sowing seed,

Our hired man did say,

“The seed that you put in now

You surely throw away.

“It never can come up,

It will perish in the ground,

You can’t expect to see it up

When frost, the earth has bound.”

CHAPTER FOURTEENTH

Twenty-nine years ago

This country it was new,

And mills were very scarce then,

You may believe it’s true.

Two of my little boys

Went one hundred miles or more,

To grind upon a horse mill

With our horses four.

And the labor and the strange work,

Of grinding that first bread,

Caused the finest horse we had

To kill itself dead.

The labor was so hard,

And so unusual was the noise,

She never heard the like

Till she came to Illinois.

And when they paid their quarter

For every bushel ground,

And were ready to come home,

Their horse lay dead upon the ground.

Then one of my little boys

Came back all of that long road,

To get another horse to go

And help haul home the load.

We had all the fever and ague

The first year we came,

And the next year had to fort,

And we were discouraged some.

My sons had just commenced

To work on the plantation,

When the hostile Indians

Commenced their depredation.

Some were breaking up the prairie,

Some planting corn and beans,

Some sowing oats and timothy,

Some harrowing were seen.

But here I would something say,

Of that memorable day,

When Squire Cloud came to warn us

From our home to go away.

I saw him at a distance,

When he was far away,

A coming very fast

Upon his horse of gray.

And as he drew nearer he called,

And beckoned to my sons

To leave their field and business,

And to that house to come.

So they all came a running

To hear what was the matter,

He said the hostile Indians had

Commenced an awful slaughter.

He drew a paper from his pocket,

And from that paper read

How many that had slaughtered

How many there were dead.

Likewise the devastation,

The houses they burned down,

The whites that they had scalped

Before they could get to town.

He said, “Will you send a son,

With this express below,

In order to inform them,

And let the people know.

The signs of the times,

And warn them of their danger,

For fear that they may fall

In the hands of hostile strangers.”

My third son, William, took the paper,

And started off below

On the swiftest horse we had,

As fast as he could go.

He said to me, “Be fixing

And coming up to town,

For the people’s all collecting there

For to defend that ground.”

I said, “’Twould be bad policy

The enemy to meet,

If I must leave my home

I’d from the enemy retreat.

He said to my second son,

“You must come to town this night

With your gun and ammunition

And be ready for to fight.”

They brought the teams from the field,

And to the wagon hitched four yoke,

And drove up to the house,

And then no ground they broke.

The fourth little son said,

“We had best not go away,

For if we go we’ll starve to death,

We’d best mind our work and stay.”

He was very much excited

And did earnestly examine,

If it would not be as well

To die by the sword as famine.

But I thought it was not safe

For us to longer stay,

We would have to leave our home

But not to go away.

Of that unexpected moving

He seems to have some warning,

While making up the fire

Early in the morning.

He said, “I’ve just been dreaming

We had to go away,

And I was much displeased

And would much rather stay.”

Then William spoke and said,

“Such a dream I would not tell,

For we have now got settled

And things are going well.”

It was scarcely two o’clock

Upon that very day,

When we had gathered up

And were upon the way.

Almost as soon as started

A little one did say,

“Where are we a going?

Are we going far away?”

“To which uncle’s are we going?

Now I would like to know,

Or going back to grandpa’s,

Away to Ohio?”

I thought I would keep silent,

From Joel I wished to hear,

He was so loath to leave

And starvation seemed to fear,

“We’ll go till out of danger

And not go one rod further,

And soon as e’er we may be safe,

Come home and work away.”

Now, Joel, you have said it,

It is hard for us to leave,

It might be worse for us to stay,

And it is no use to grieve.

Washington assisted us

Until we got away,

Then he runs himself some bullets,

Then he gathered up the tools,

Hid them under the floor,

Put the things to rights,

And fastened up the door.

And when he had got started,

He went to town that night,

With his gun and ammunition,

To be ready for a fight.

We had a famous pig,

His name was Tommy Tarter,

We fed him corn and milk,

And it made him grow the larger.

If Tommy had have known

When we were going away,

He would have come along,

And that, without delay.

If we had thought to call him,

He knew his name so well,

He would have come upon the jump,

Answering well, as he could tell.

He was a pet that we had bought,

And he seemed to like the dog,

He was fond of our company

But greatly feared a hog.

He would have weighed two hundred,

When he followed off the host,

Away down to Magnolia,

And of him, there they made a roast.

The small ones drove the cattle,

And the fourth one drove the team,

And I the mare and colt, that

Would not much trouble seem.

But the colt was very young

And that mare was very cross,

And I was riding upon

The good old Charley horse.

Of times she would come at us

Showing her ivory, and would leer,

I thought it did enrage her

For the horse to come so near.

But I had a good large rosinweed

More that six feet in length,

And with it I did strike her,

And that will all my strength.

And then she’d turn and walk a piece,

She seemed to fear my weed,

And to be civil she seemed to be agreed,

And then she’d stop and feed.

And when we would come near,

She threatened to upset us,

And kick us over, clear,

And that did much distress us.

When we came to the bluff

We found it very steep,

For then there was no road

For anyone to keep.

My son then spoke and said,

“We will have to change the yoke,

For the one that’s on the tongue

Is already nearly broke.”

So he turned the oxen loose,

And they ran about to feed,

Then for to be caught again,

They did not seem agreed.

At length we did succeed,

And the oxen yoked again,

And a pair to the hind axle

To hold back he then did chain.

And so he started on,

Nearly perpendicular down,

And a key came out the bow

And let the near ox go.

But we were nearly down

When the ox walked up the river,

But he was not hard to catch

And behaved himself quite clever.

Then he geared the Charley horse,

And hitched him on before,

And he rode on the horse

And I sat in before.

And so we started on,

But the Ohio wagon bed,

Because it was not chained,

It soon began to spread.

Jolting among the rocks

I saw a plate roll out,

Then to chop a piece of bed cord

I turned myself about.

While chopping off the bed cord,

I thought it would turn over,

I turned and saw two yoke

A traveling down the river.

And the boy was on the horse,

Away out in the river,

And we were going down the stream

Faster then than ever.

But then I called aloud

And the boy saw our condition,

And then it took some time

For him to change position.

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THIS PAGE IS MISSING!

Killed by the Indians or

Washed down the river?

Which will it be?

Proceed to the next page

And there you shall see!

(lhs-8nov2006)

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And they gave them that provision

That they did take away,

To prepare it for themselves

While it lasted, day-by-day.

The young ladies, very handsome,

One had an extra suit of hair;

A chief’s son thought to marry her,

For she was very fair.

An Indian in authority

Resolved to have her hair,

But the one that thought to marry her

Did warmly interfere.

They were about to have a combat

Upon that very day that

The young ladies were redeemed,

And so they came away.

Our authorities did purchase them,

With horses from the train,

Their brother John went for them,

And brought them home again.

They are living in this county,

And both a-living still,

Both a Rachel Hall and Sylvia,

Not far from Munson’s Mill.

They both long since were married,

And families they have raised,

As wealthy and respectable

As any in those days.

I had but a boy of seven

To help in these days,

And a little girl of eight

I had taken then to raise.

And they drove up the horses

And I caught one for me to ride,

But when I found my saddle,

There was nothing to be tied.

I chopped of a piece of bed cord

To tie around my saddle,

While those little boys

Were starting off the cattle.

I stood my son upon a stump,

And from the stump, I mounted on,

And in the act of stooping

To the stump to take my son,

I turned the saddle off,

For it was so badly tied,

And I had to scrabble hard

To keep on the upper side.

And I rode off through the ravines

And gullies with my child,

Over hills and through the hollows,

All of three long miles.

When I came to Squire Seeley’s

I was still sitting on the flap;

He came out to help me down,

With my son upon my lap.

And when he took my child

And I lit upon the ground,

My saddle turned clear under,

With the seat toward the ground.

He exclaimed, “Oh! My God!

How did you ride one rod?

I wonder you aren’t dead,

Both you and your child,” he said.

My second and my fourth son

Had gone home to break again,

But when they heard our neighbors

On the north so many slain,

They thought it was bad policy

To longer there remain;

The oldest took his firelock

And went to town again.

Because he was requested

At night to come to town;

The fourth one took the team

And to us was coming down,

When he crossed the big Vermillion,

To the wagon hitched the team,

And came to Squire Seeley’s and

To go, on did anxious seem.

I said, “My son, impossible,

We can’t get there tonight,

But tomorrow we will start

As soon as it is light.”

He said, “O, mother, come,

To uncle’s we will go.”

And so we started off,

For he importuned me so.

But when we went five miles,

Discouraged was the child,

When it began to rain he said,

“We must go back again.”

When walking by the team

He suddenly called “Whoa,”

And from the oxen’s necks

The yokes he quick did throw,

And turned toward the point,

And nimbly, he did go,

Saying, “Mother, do not scold me,

Again, I’ll not do so.”

“I will mind what you say,

Though I have done wrong today,”

No milking then was done,

But we turned and traveled on.

One child upon my lap and

Two more stayed on behind,

And we turned toward the point,

Squire Seeley’s house again.

Early the next morning

We all set out again

To cross that wide prairie,

And that day fell no rain.

When we came to the wagon,

The cattle all in sight,

The poor dog came to meet us,

And he’d not been fed one bite.

He, of course, was nearly famished,

And appeared in wretched plight,

For he’d been guarding the wagon

For three long day and nights.

The boy spoke to the dog and said,

“Watch, you shan’t be killed,

When you get old, you shall be honored

Because you’re so well willed.”

I alighted on the wagon tongue,

Stepped up and chopped some meat

And gave it to the dog,

And to him it was a treat.

Then I milked lots of milk,

We drank what we thought best,

And to that extra dog,

I freely gave the rest.

His hind feet and his fore feet

Stood farther then apart,

And his back was straightened out

And he seemed in better heart.

The ponds were full of water,

The sloughs were soft and deep,

But still towards the West

We strove, our course to keep.

We traveled round the ponds

Just as we saw it best,

Sometimes went north, sometimes south,

But our aim was to the West.

I rode before on horseback

To find the firmest ground,

And motioned to my son

Which way to come around.

The wind blew cold and bleak,

But the weather, it was clear,

We could see all around

The prairie, far and near.

The distance, fourteen miles

By the sections, brother said,

But we traveled more than twenty

Before his home we made.

It was more than two o’clock

When we got into port,

And in a few days after

We helped to build a fort.

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