The Poetry of Elsie Strawn Armstrong
"SKETCHES OF MY LIFE"
Page 67-76

Transcribed and Donated by Leslie Howard Strawn


CHAPTER FIFTEENTH

Before it was a month,

After we had got there

I thought we had best go home,

Of our things to take some care.

Our cornfield and our garden

And our chickens need care,

And for us to go home again

My things I did prepare.

And it was our intention

To set out early next morning,

But that day they killed poor Phillip,

And to us it was a warning.

And then I changed my plan,

My second son and me,

Well mounted on good horses,

Rode home, our things to see.

We planted more potatoes,

Hoed cabbage, vines and beans,

And then rode up to Ottawa

And in the fort convened.

“Twas the eighteenth day of June

When that seed we planted,

And ‘twas naught but eyes and skins,

Though the product was not scanted.

For we dug fifteen bushels,

Which were of the pink eye kind,

They were fine large potatoes,

It is plain still, in my mind.

We had planted a large acre

Early, by the road side,

But the troops took all of them

And left us no divide.

My third son had enlisted,

And Ottawa was his station,

And he could answer to his name

And go to work on the plantation.

And it was our intention

To all go home next day,

And there did all we could

To help ourselves that way.

But when they saw their plows,

They needed some repair,

So they went to work at them, and

That day, they stayed there.

And I went home alone,

To work, it was agreed,

And go to Mr. Reynolds’ and

Next day, bring some seed.

So I started of alone,

And when I came in sight,

From appearances before me

I thought things were not right.

I saw a small black pony

Close by the house did stand,

And a red-shirted Indian

With a canteen in his hand.

And the smoke, like chimneys rising,

Down in the woods below,

Made me think it might not be safe,

On to the house, to go.

My horse walked too fast to suit me,

Him ‘twas difficult to check,

For if I pulled upon the bridle

He would strike a pace or rack.

I looked upon the weed

I was holding in my hand,

And thought if I should turn

I’d like quick to leave that land.

I saw the weed looked tough,

And I thought that it would do

To encourage that good horse

To do all that he knew.

I saw the Indian had no gun,

And him I did not fear,

But there might be more hard by,

And his own gun might be near.

While I was thus ruminating

A white man did appear,

Came round the house, the north side

And banished all my fear.

This man wore a white shirt

And on his head was a hat,

Tall, well dressed and graceful,

And on his shoulder, our cat!

Just then a host of horses

Coining up the bluff I seen,

And they were our troops’ horses

A feeding on the green.

So I went on to the house

And under the shed hung my saddle,

And went to the barn, and

Turned my horse into the stable.

And lots of troops came in

And in the house sat down,

Upon the naked bedsteads

And chairs a standing round.

Some sat upon the doorsill

Where they could get a seat,

While their horses were a feeding,

And their dinners they did eat.

I spoke to Colonel Matthews:

“Last year we were all sick,

This spring we could do but little,

We were drove away so quick.

“We had to leave so soon,

We got in but little seed,

And for all those horses

It would make but little feed.

“And if we lose our corn

“Twill be bad for us indeed,

For we have but little left,

And of that little we have need.”

He said, “Madam, my troops’ horses

Shan’t eat your corn, one stalk;”

And thus the friendly officer

Kindly to me, did talk.

Then I sat in the house

Till I saw the troops a going,

Then I felt I’d idled time

And I hurried to my hoeing.

After having so much company,

I felt myself secure,

And to be there alone

The better I could endure.

I kept myself a hoeing,

And a weeding all the while,

And believed there were not white folks

For nearly seven miles.

After three or four hours

Human voices I did hear

And could not be mistaken

For the sound was loud and clear.

I dropped my hoe immediately

And climbed upon the fence,

For I wanted much to learn

Who it was, from where and whence.

I stood upon the fence and listened,

And looked about to see,

But there I could see nothing,

Neither man, nor beast, nor bee.

Then I went to the house, and

From there went to the bard,

And there I did climb up,

For I thought it best to learn.

And away off through the timber,

Perhaps half a mile,

I saw men there a riding

In single Indian file.

They were going quartering from me,

Across an open space,

And soon went out of sight,

And left that vacant place.

Then I thought I’d hoe no more,

But fix my horse to ride,

For there was neither cow nor calf,

Neither pig nor chicken then inside.

And there I had no company

Except my horse and cat,

For the place looked so deserted,

And I think no living rat.

So I went to Mr. Reynolds’,

And that night I stayed there

And got back before my sons,

For not one did yet appear.

Hartsell, the Indian trader

That day was passing round,

And he took off my buckwheat

And under the shed he set it down.

Then I put away my horse

And went off to my hoeing,

I thought I’d soon have company,

My children were a coming.

I had not been hoeing long

Till human voices I did hear,

Then I climbed upon the fence again

To see what would appear.

Away down through the timber

I saw a flock of men,

A stooping, picking strawberries,

They were busy then.

I saw that they were white,

And I wanted much to hear

How the war was going, and

How things did then appear.

They said they found a bee tree

In the woods they day before,

But couldn’t take all the honey

And that day came back for more.

But the active little bees

Had carried off the rest,

And conveyed it all away

To some new, secret nest.

So now, my little friends,

You see that how today

The mysteries of yesterday

Are all explained away.

Except about the man

That wore the shirt of red,

His skin was dark brunette,

And a small cap on his head.

And at such a distance

Like an Indian did appear,

With his pony and canteen,

And his naked head of hair.

And I was told, the hostile Indians

Were all a wearing red,

To show their war intentions,

The white man’s blood to shed.

And then, when I went back,

My children then were there,

And I was glad to see them

And to work we did repair.

That day they sowed the buckwheat,

And plowed what corn they could

And I kept myself a-hoeing, and

Trying to do some good.

And that Saturday night at parting,

We agreed to meet again,

On the next Monday morning

To go to work—in vain.

Next day was the fatal Sunday

Poor Barrisford was slain,

And I thought it was not safe

To go home to work again.

My friends they did advise me,

And I thought it would be best,

For me not to go home again,

Till the Indians were drove west.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

My third son had enlisted,

And went to the fight the foe,

My oldest had gone on business

Back to Ohio.

My second and my seventh son

Took a team and plow,

And went to breaking prairie,

Just where they could, and how.

And by breaking up prairie,

And by following the plow

They earned some cash and wheat

And they also earned a cow.

My fourth little son

Went to the war’s seat,

And with his wagon and oxen

He hauled them bread and meat.

I suffered much on his account

Because he was so small,

But at length he did come home

With his wagon and oxen and all.

And when the child came home

He told the cause of his delay,

For he was gone fifteen days longer

Than we expected he would stay.

He said the day they got to Dixon,

One man’s team had gone astray,

And the wagon master said,

“This man’s load should not delay.

“Can’t some of you assist him?

To take his load along,

Some of you have teams that

Are sufficient good and strong?

“I wish some of you would help him?”

Thus the wagon master spoke,

Then my little son stepped out,

And said, “I will spare one yoke.”

Then a man among the crowd

Said, “I will spare another,”

And so they all moved on,

As they had done together.

In the evening, near to Dixon

The wagons moving on,

The day was spent,

Just before the setting of the sun.

The foremost wagons in the slough

Were all a stalking down,

And doubling of their teams to

Get across the sloughy ground.

The wagon master saw it,

And was troubled at the sight,

To see the teams all stopped

And the fore one in such a plight.

My son had but two yokes then,

But they were good and strong,

All five year olds and active,

To take his load along.

He said his team stood fifth

Or sixth away behind,

When he ran up to the slough

A crossing place to find.

And as he went he “kept a jumping

To try the sod,” he said,

“And parting at the grass

That was high above his head.”

And when he got across

He thought that sod would bear,

Went back, stepped on his wagons’ tongue

And for that place did steer.

He put his oxen out

Upon a lively run,

And the first man got across,

Was that same little son.

And the wagon master saw it

And slapped his hand upon his knee,

And said, “Upon my word!

You are the man for me!”

The other wagons followed him

And safely got across,

And the conduct of my son

Was commended by his boss.

Then he said, “You must go with me,

I cannot go without,

I’m sure it never’ll do now

For you to turn about.”

“Come, go with me to Rock Island,

You shan’t have a heavy load,

For you can show the old men

How they should take the road.”

Then he took him to his mess,

And would not let him cook,

And over him he kept

A kind and friendly look.

He took him to his bed,

And with himself he slept,

And thus my little son

The wagon master kept.

But alas! That worthy man

The cholera did seize,

And in his youth and prime

He fell with that disease.

When strangers came with pay,

They could not believe ‘twas him,

Because he was so short,

And he was so much too thin.

They said to me, “Was not that one

Or that his older brother?”

I said, “No, sir, it was that man,

“Twas him and was no other.”

They seemed to look surprised,

And looked upon each other,

And still they seemed to think

It must be an older brother.

Then they took out their paper

To see what was the name,

They asked me what I called him

And I answered to the same.

And when they fell to quizzing him,

What he knew about the place,

He squared himself before them and

Answered with indignant face.

His answer was so pert

It seemed to please them well,

For he felt somewhat insulted,

It was very plain to tell.

Then they took a hearty laugh,

And agreed with smiling face,

This man must have been there,

He has surely seen that place.

Then they counted out his money

With a very pleasant glee,

And that money was a benefit

Both to him and me.

That service was essential,

Although he was so little,

It helped to clothe the family,

And also helped the victual.

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