A Glance at Life on the Western Frontier
The following article is an account of Rev. Aratus Kent's return trip to Galena in 1832 after going east to marry his childhood sweetheart, Carolyn Corning. This account was written by one of the other travelers on that journey, Kent's niece. This article appeared in the Galena Gazette in April 1898 and is published on this web page through the kind permission of the Gazette's editor, Carter Newton.
"The story of a trip from New York City to Galena taken when a girl by Caroline Thompson, afterward Caroline Phelps. as told by herself."
"Early in September 1832, I left New York for Galena with Uncle and Aunt Kent, my parents expecting me to return by the first safe opportunity after a year had passed."
"We left by boat for Hartford where we spent a few days with Corning relatives. Next we went to Suffolk, Conn., Uncle Kent's birthplace and home, a typical New England home. Then we went by stage to Enfield to take up Miss Clarissa Pierce who wanted to go west to teach and help in mission work. Then next to Blanford, Mass., by stage to pick up Eli Edwin Hall, a young man of nineteen, who was to finish fitting for college with Uncle Kent and later enter Illinois College at Jacksonville, III., in preparation for Home Mission work. Then by stage, our party of five came to the Hudson River, took boat for Albany, then across New York State via Erie Canal to Buffalo. From Buffalo to Niagara Falls where we spent two days with a friend of Uncle Kent. From Buffalo again we took stage for Wheeling, Va., where we took steamboat for Cincinnati to "spend the Sabbath" as Uncle Kent would not travel on Sunday."
"Sickness of some of our party delayed us in Cincinnati for four weeks. We then took boat for Maysville, Kentucky, where we waited several days for the boat for St. Louis in which place we finally arrived about the middle of October, the time set for our arrival in Galena. We were delayed in St. Louis by trouble with Uncle's eyes and it was nearly the end of November before we could go on. We then took the night and day stage for Springfield, III.. and learning to our dismay on arriving that the stage was then laid off for the winter and only a horseback mail once a week sent to Galena. But it was decided to push on at all risks. The whole country from points not far north of Springfield had been devastated in the summer and autumn by the BlackHawk war and was still unsettled, Indians roaming about, and but few of the white settlers who had fled had returned. Supplies for man and beast were most uncertain and we were assured, that after the first night north house or cabin would not be seen more than once in forty miles."
"However, Uncle bought a span of stout horses, blankets robes, feed and other supplies, with a large sack of crackers and a ham of smoked beef for provisions. With five people and three trunks that wagon was tilted to capacity. The weather was mild for December but the ground was frozen and traveling rough. First night out was spent in Hennepin. We set out next morning on a forty mile stretch of prairie for Daddy Chambers' cabin. We dined on crackers and dried beef and drank water from the streams we crossed reaching Chambers' mansion at night fall. Daddy and Ma'am Chambers gave us a warm welcome, the cabin was log with mud floor and a "stick and daub chimney" and a swing window, a mere board shutter on leather hinges. Daddy and Ma'am had formerly kept a tavern for the stage route but the Indians had burned the house. They had in this cabin, formerly the kitchen, a few chairs, a home made bedstead, trundle bed, a small table and a few dishes, coffee pot and an iron three legged bake oven with iron cover, the only cooking utensils they had. After a super of biscuit and bacon I slept with Miss Pierce in the root house made of sod white the others were stowed in the cabin, Mr. Hall sleeping in the wagon."
"After a breakfast of soggy biscuit and bacon we started at daylight for a forty mile stretch to Dixon's Ferry. Late in the afternoon we reached Daddy Joe's cabin, some ten miles from Dixon's Ferry; but a peril lay before us in the Winnebago Swamp, three miles from Dixon's Ferry which must be crossed."
"After the "howdye" and preliminary greeting Uncle Kent asked him for directions to the swamp and the safe crossing but Daddy Joe advised waiting until the next day as night might overtake us before we got through and that it was dangerous except in the light. Uncle Kent being very desirous of completing the journey, decided to risk the crossing and with careful directions given by Daddy Joe we pushed on. The horses made the best progress possible but it was dark by the time we reached the swamp. After a time the trail seemed to fade out and the crossing hard to find. Finally following what seemed to be the crossing the horses were turned down a bank only to land in a mire at the bottom so deep it reached the bed of the wagon. In vain the horses tried to pull the wagon out and after working for two hours one of them got down and only with difficulty were they unhitched so they could reach bank. We were taken from the wagon by means of some sapling poles placed so as to make a kind of a bridge."
"After rubbing most of the thick mud from the horses with the coarse prairie grass, robes were put on the horses and the two women placed thereon and we walked the three miles to the Ferry. On reaching the Dixon home we found between two and three thousand Indian warriors encamped prepared to sign a treaty of peace with the U.S. Government whose interests were represented by U.S. troops. We were given the comforts of home in the Dixon house and we were given a glad welcome by Mrs. Dixon and her daughter. It was long past midnight before we got to bed. Early the next morning Uncle Kent and Mr. Hall assisted by the Dixon men took horses with them and went back to where the wagon was still mired and after a time succeeded in pulling it out. In the meantime I had opportunity to go out among the Indians. I had not a particle of fear of them, I hardly know why. The chiefs were in a large tent and I went about among them to see their gay feathers, blankets and moccasins. Their leggings and earrings looked so queer to me. Some of them took me on their knees and touched my cheeks and called me brave squaw because I did not turn pale as they laughed and chatted together."
"After and early and very good dinner we were again on our way. Mr. Dixon and his men went with us to the ferry which consisted of a flat bottomed boat with pulleys to haul us across the Rock River. The horses objected to going on the boat and with difficulty were finally persuaded to go aboard. Mr. Dixon had given us minute directions as to finding our lodging place for the night, a lone house on the stage road. Snow had fallen and as dusk approached and made it impossible to follow the grass-overgrown stage road. The night shut down upon us lost upon the trackless prairie without even a star for guidance. There was nothing to do but halt, unhitch, made the best camp we could and wait for morning. No fire could be kindled for fear of attracting some wandering Indians. We did the best we could to keep warm but little sleep was had that night. The next morning we discovered a column of smoke about half a mile away and not time was lost in breaking camp and getting to the house where we were most hospitably welcomed, warmed and fed and started on the last stage of the journey. It was Saturday and we must reach Galena before Sunday. About nine o'clock on the night of December 13th our jaded horses pulled us into Galena. Our trip from New York ended in the deep clay mire of Main St., Galena, before one of the warehouses near the levee. Uncle Kent left us there, the wagon wheels nearly up to the hubs in mud. white he hastened to the home of Reuben Brush on Bench St. He soon returned with Mr. Brush and we were given a warm welcome by his good wife and most hospitably entertained, giving us a good supper which we ate like wolves for we had eaten nothing but a noonday sack of crackers and dried beef. We stayed with the Brush family until a house could be procured and furnished. The only shelter that could be found was a little frame house on Bench street, next door to the corner of Hill Street. which Uncle Kent purchase of John Delany later, that was the family home for so many years."
"The John Delany corner, where he lived in a house with a big stone chimney, had been used for the "block House", a palisade fort of hewn logs set upright, close together, and banked with earth. It had a rough roof and many portholes for firing guns in case of attack by the Indians. Hither the people hastened from all parts of the region round about in times of alarm."
The only stove that could be procured for heating and cooking was a tiny Franklin. It had a tin reflector to set upon its hearth, wherein to bake. An old log hut stood in the rear of the house, called a kitchen with a roofed space between called a porch. This little hut had a small swing window of four panes, a mud and stick chimney for a fireplace. It had a puncheon floor and here a "bunk" was put for Miss Pierce and me."
"When we landed in Galena, Mr. Delaney had begun to turn the fort into a dwelling and Uncle Kent bought the corner and the side hill back to it, employing Mr. Delaney to finish it as soon as possible; meanwhile Mr. Hall had his bed in a corner of the old court house (with jail under it) partitioned for a study for Uncle."
"The court house he had bought a year or two before and had fitted it with benches for a church and desks along the side for a school room, first occupied by Deacon Wood."
—Caroline T. Phelps
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"Editorial note: The above is an account of the second trip to Galena by the Rev. Aratus Kent, the first one having been made three years previously. Due to the Indian war in 1832 the church which he had established was closed and he journeyed East where he was united in marriage with Miss Caroline Corning. When the church was reopened Mrs. Kent conducted the primary class of the Sunday school and there are still living members of her class. Among the members of the Kent family were Mrs. Henry Phelps Corwith, being a member of the First church, who was married at the Kent residence and Miss Julia Joy, who died some years ago at Platteburgh, New York."
The Galena Daily Gazette, Monday, April 13, Vol. 65 No. 87