Posts Tagged ‘Squatters’

The Dangers of a “Squatter Life”

September 29, 2009
Log Cabin (Image from http://photographs.mccumber.us)

Log Cabin (Image from http://photographs.mccumber.us)

SQUATTER LIFE.

Among the early settlers of the West were many who moved out and selected sites for their homes upon the unoccupied land they might find, and, by clearing a portion of it and building a cabin, they obtained a pre-emption right to the soil, or, at least, a certain portion of it, and in possession of which they have been protected by the government, at least, so far as that no one could dispossess them without paying them an equivalent for the improvements; and even then they had a prior claim, or privilege of purchasing at government price over every other purchaser. Such pioneers have been denominated “Squatters.”

In an early day a man, who had left the sterile soil of an Eastern State, started with his young and rising family to better his condition in the rich and fertile valley of the West. He was a poor, but honest man; had struggled hard to raise his family, and by patient industry was enabled to obtain an outfit of a horse and cart to journey to the West. Passing through what was then a wilderness, he at length reached a spot on the Illinois river, about two hundred miles from its mouth, where he pitched his tent, and subsequently erected his cabin. His family consisted of a wife and three children the eldest, a boy, was in his nineteenth year, the next a girl, in her eighteenth year, and the youngest a boy of fourteen. They were all vigorous, the very material suited for the hard toil and poor fare of pioneer life.

One day there came to the squatter’s cabin three Indians, professing to be friendly, who invited the father to go out on a hunting excursion with them. As the family subsisted mostly upon game, he finally concluded to accompany them, taking with him his eldest son. They expected to be absent about a week, as they intended to take a somewhat extensive range.

After three days had passed away, one of the Indians returned to the squatter’s house, and deliberately lighting his pipe and taking his seat by the fire, he commenced smoking in silence. The wife was not startled at hsi appearance, as it was frequently the case that one, and sometimes more, of a party of Indian hunters, getting discouraged, would leave the rest and return. This was usually the case when they imagined they discovered some bad sign, and it would not only be useless, but disatrous, for them to hunt under such circumstances.

The Indian sat for some time in sullen silence, and at length, removing his pipe from his mouth he gave a significant grunt to awaken attention, and said —

“White man die.”

The squatter’s wife at his replied,

“What is the matter?”

“He sick; tree fall on him; he die. You go see him.”

Her suspicions being somewhat aroused at the manner of the savage, she asked him a number of questions. The evasiveness and evident want of consistencly of the answers, at length confirmed her that something was wrong. She judged it best not to go herself, but sent her youngest son, the eldest, as we have seen, having gone on a hunt with his father. Night came, but it brought not the son or the Indian. All its gloomy hours were spent in taht lone cabin by the mother and daughter; but morning came without their return. The whole day passed in the same fruitless look out for the boy; the mother felt grieved that she had sent her child on the errand, but it was now too late. Her suspicions were now confirmed that the Indians had decoyed away her husband and sons. She felt that they would not stop in their evil designs, and that, if they had slain the father and his boys, they would next attack the mother and daughter.

No time was to be lost; and she and the daughter, as night was approaching, went to work to barricade the door and windows of the cabin in the best manner they could. The rifle of the youngest boy was all the weapon in the house, as he did not take it when he went to seek his father. This was taken from its hangings, and carefully examined to see that it was well loaded and primed. To her daughter she gave the axe, and thus armed they determined to watch all night, and, if attacked by the savages, to fight to the last.

About midnight they made their appearance, expecting to find the mother and daughter asleep, but in this they were disappointed. They approached stealthily, and one of the number knocked loudly at the door, crying,

“Mother! Mother!”

The mother’s ear was too acute and she replied, “Where are the Indians, my son?”

The answer, “Um-gone,” would have satisfied her, if she had not been before aware of the deceit.

“Come up, my son, put your ear to the latch-hole. I want to tell you something before I open the door.”

The Indian applied his ear to the latch-hole. The crack of the rifle followed and he fell dead.

As soon as she fired, she stepped on one side of the door, and immediately two rifle balls passed through it, either which would have killed her.

“Thank God!” said the mother in a whisper to her daughter, “there are but two. They are the three that went to hunt with your father, and one of them is dead. If we can only kill or cripple another we shall be safe. Take courage, my child; God will not forsake us in this trying hour. We must both be still after they fire again. Supposing they have killed us, they will break down the door. I may be able to shoot one,” — for in the meantime she had re-loaded the rifle, “but if I miss, you must use the axe with all your might.”

The daughter, equally courageous with her mother, assured her that she would do her best.

The conversaton had hardly ceased when two more rifle balls came crashing through the window. A death-like stilness ensued for the space of several minutes, when two more balls, in quick succession came through the door, followed by tremendous strokes againt it with a heavy stake. At length the door gave way, and an Indian with a fiendish yell, was in the act of springing into the house; but a ball from the boy’s rifle, in the mother’s hand, pierced his heart, and he fell across the threshold. The surviving Indian, daring not to venture — and it was well for his skull that he did not — fired at random, and ran away.

“Now,” said the mother to the daughter, “we must leave;” and taking the rifle and the axe, they hastened to the river, jumped into a canoe, and without a morsel of provisions, except a wild duck and two blackbirds which the mother shot on the voyage, and which they ate raw, they paddled their canoe down the river until they reached the residence of a French settler at St. Louis.

Some time after, a party of hunters started over into Illinois, and scoured the country in every direction; but they returned without finding either the squatter or his boys. Nor have they been heard of to this day. Should the traveler pass by the beautiful city of Peoria, in his westward wanderings, the old settlers in that neighborhood can point out the spot where stood the cabin of the squatter, so heroically defended by his wife and daughter, and who so nobly avenged the death of the father and sons.

The pioneer women of the West, like the men, were made of sterner stuff than enters into the composition of most of our modern ladies and gentlemen. They were brave in entering the wilderness, and they showed themselves equally so in grappling with its difficulties, and encountering its perils.

Pioneer of the West.

Richland County Observer (Richland Center, Wisconsin) Aug 11, 1857

*****

Pretty awesome educational site: SQIDOO

The creator is a retired teacher/homeschooling mom and so the info is geared for children/teachers.  This particular page is full of information about the 1780s.