Pioneers and travelers

Listen to this article

(The family farm)

I come from a long line of travelers. My paternal grandmother’s family arrived in America in the early 1600’s. They settled in Connecticut but fanned out across the country. My grandmother settled in Iowa and then moved to Colorado by covered wagon only to make the trip back again to Iowa. My father lived and traveled all over the world seeing 90 countries by his 90th birthday. So maybe those early immigrants had a travel gene they brought with them.

Kinnear Hollister 1906
Kinnear Hollister 1906

I have done some research on my family over the years and came to learn how amazing these people really were. I came across this story about one of my relatives who was living in Connecticut at the time – John Hollister, born in 1612 in Bristol, England and died in 1665, Wethersfield, CT.

From Chapin’s, “Glastonbury for Two Hundred Years,” pp. 12-13:

The nearest approach to hostilities that has come to our knowledge is furnished by the following tradition in regard to John Hollister, which has been supplied by a member of the family abroad: While Mr. Hollister resided on the west side of the river, he was accustomed to come over and cultivate his land at Nayaug, unprotected by company. On one occasion, a huge, stalwart Indian, claiming to be the most athletic and powerful man of the tribe, appeared before him, saying that he had been told that Mr. H. was the stoutest pale-face in the settlement and proposing a trial of strength in a fight. Mr. H. assented, and at it they went. After engaging in combat until both were well nigh exhausted, they agreed upon a truce, and sitting down on a log, rested themselves. Having recovered breath and strength, they fought again, and again rested, fighting and resting until sundown, when neither having conquered, they exchanged tokens of friendship, and ever after lived in peace.

Another member of the Hollister family had a different kind of encounter with the Indians. Timothy’s house and everything in it burned up in a fire so he moved to Pennsylvania. He left his wife and baby, Asa, then 10 months old, in a white settlement while he and his two oldest sons went into the wilderness to clear the land he had recently purchased. They were plowing with oxen one day when they were attacked by Indians who shot at them. The father and eldest son were killed. This was 1763. Isaac, the second son, attempted to escape but was captured by the Indians. He was 14 years old.

Isaac lived with the Indians as a prisoner for several years. During that time, he made one attempt to escape during winter with a man named Bush. Bush fell into a stream they were crossing on the ice and died from the cold. Isaac buried him and returned to the Indians, saying they had been lost while hunting and Bush had drowned. The Indians did not believe him and made him “run the gauntlet”. He had nearly finished the run between two lines of Indians armed with clubs when he was knocked down and would have been beaten do death except a friendly squaw dragged him out and nursed him back to health. She later helped him with his second and successful escape. She advised him to go in summer and to follow the streams to the nearest white settlement.

The Indians who captured him were of the Genesee Tribe. Their campground at the time was where the city of Rochester, NY now stands, a long way from where he was captured in Pennsylvania. He followed the Genesee River and then the Mohawk. He was headed for the settlement at Schenectady, but lost his way and came out at Albany. He told his story to the whites there and they accepted him giving him work as a mason.

Betsy Stroup
Betsy Stroup

Isaac’s brother, Asa, who was left behind with his mother as a baby, married and settled in Amenia, N.Y. About the year 1820, Isaac heard of Asa, who was then living at Groton, N.Y., and sent for him. They met at the house of Isaac’s son Isaac. Asa was the first and only one of his family that Isaac ever found after his return from captivity. He was at that time 70 years of age. He died soon after.

My paternal grandfather’s family left County Monaghan,
Ireland in the late 1700’s and settled in Pennsylvania. One branch moved on to Ohio.

Joseph Reid Gamble was born in Ohio on August 8, 1818, and as a youngster moved to Missouri, about 40 miles south to St Louis, near Hillsboro and DeSoto. He married Elizabeth (Betsy) Stroup, who was the American-born daughter of Dutch immigrants.

Betsy Stroup’s people came to America from Holland because of religious persecution. When she was 4 years old, in 1825, both her parents died in an epidemic that was sweeping the country. She was then bound out to a family until she was 18, where she worked for her room and board and did not go to school. Instead she drove the cows from the pasture, milked them, set the milk in crocks in a cave, skimmed the cream and churned the butter. In the evenings she worked on spinning wool or knitting socks.

When Betsy was 15 or 16 she ran away and married Joe Gamble.

Thirteen years later, Joe left his wife and five children to join the gold rush in California. He and his two brothers and a cousin made it to Colorado where Joe became ill with the measles. They left Joe in Colorado and went on without him. Both brothers died in California. Once Joe recovered, he found that he had lost the sight in one eye. He sold his outfit, bought a spotted Indian pony and rode home.

Back in Missouri, a neighbor of theirs had purchased a young Negro girl at a farm sale nearby and led her with a cord around her waist alongside his horse. The neighbor stopped at Joe’s farm on his way home from the sale to have a slice of watermelon. Joe cut a huge slice of melon and told his son, Greene, to take it to the Negro girl tied to the colt. Joe was a staunch abolitionist and was bitterly opposed to slavery. He was suspected of being one of the promoters of the “Underground Railroad”, a term used to designate a system which provided Negroes wishing to escape from slavery into a free territory with guidance, shelter and protection. The probabilities are that Joe helped a number of slaves to secure their freedom. As the slave issue became more intense, he realized that it would be best for him and his family to locate elsewhere.

In 1851 or 1852, he saddled a horse and rode to northern Illinois. He shoveled the snow away and dug a hole so he could smell, feel and taste the soil, and before he left, he purchased an unimproved 160 acres. He sold his Missouri farm for 800 dollars, all in gold and silver coins. In the spring, he loaded his family of seven children, and all his belongings in ox wagons and started the journey to Carroll County, Illinois. He took nine horses, forty head of cattle, and about forty sheep, along with the yokes of oxen to pull the wagons. Two of his neighbors, who wanted to see the new place, went with him and helped with the stock. Joe’s uncle, William, and his son also went along. It took most of the summer to travel the 320 miles, but they arrived in time to dig a well, build a small house and shelter for the stock and put up hay for the winter. Blue-stem prairie grass was nearly waist high.

Shortly after arriving in Illinois, the nine horses decided to return to Missouri. The horses left in the night so they had a head start. When they reached the toll bridge across the Illinois River, the toll keeper would not let them through the tollgate and onto the bridge, so they swam the river and kept right on going. Joe had to borrow a horse the next morning when he found his horses were gone, and he rode 90 miles in pursuit of them before he overtook them.

The new farm was all prairie land and had to be broken with a breaking plow pulled by three yoke of oxen. Joe built a good house and other buildings improving the place.

In June of 1858 he started to take a load of wheat drawn by two yoke of oxen to the market in Polo, IL. The hired hand did not get the gate open in time. Joe tried to stop the animals before they crashed the gate, but they swerved, knocked him down and he was run over by the load of wheat. His injuries proved fatal and he died after three days of suffering. This was just before Joe’s 40th birthday. He and Betsy had nine children.

The two oldest girls, Nancy and Caroline, were already married. Silas Greene became the new head of the household at age 14. My great grandfather, John Perry, was 12.

Life was certainly not easy for these early settlers and travelers. Somehow they did survive, with hard work and perseverance they just kept going. They all had a common goal. They wanted a better life for their families.