Little Egypt Heritage Articles
Stories of Southern Illinois
(c) Bill Oliver
08 June 2003
Vol 2 Issue: #23
Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen of Little Egypt,
These articles are basically history, however, they are
inspired by that branch of history known as genealogy.
Within this discipline is a part known as "psychic"
genealogy where some additional information that one has
been searching for suddenly appears. An example is to
randomly reach out to remove a book from a library shelf and
open the book to a page which contains some information to
assist in solving the mentioned problem.
During the past week a subscriber on one of the lists
maintained by me asked about some notorious southern
Illinois gang members. On another list someone asked for a
"rundown" on Bonnie and Clyde. On a third list a person
wanted some information about the "30's" gangsters that
congregated in the "crossroads" of American [Toledo, Ohio].
To my amusement today's newspaper featured an article about
Bonnie and Clyde, with mention of other notorious persons.
Well, quite often other major newspapers on Sunday carry the
same or similar articles. It is hoped that your local paper
carried the article or a similar one for it is not my
happiest hour writing about folks that do harmful things to
others. Yet, it was interesting to me to see that article
appear today, just because the topic was in my mind. Now,
"psychic" genealogy would really be appreciated if I could
find down along the Ohio River, the gravesite of a third
great grandfather when we will be in southern Illinois
during this month.
Picture the year as pre-1850. Imagine yourself on a slow
sternwheel steamboat. Smoke bellowing forth from twin
stacks, ponderous engines groaning and puffing steam. Dense
forest lines both banks and away from the river bluffs.
Only occasionally is sighted signs which indicate that man
exists here or has ever existed here.
As a traveler, where are you? Are you proceeding up the
Maumee River in northwestern Ohio? Are you somewhere down
river from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on the Ohio River?? Are
you heading north [or south] from St Louis, Missouri, on the
Father Mississippi?? Or, their is yet another possibility;
are you on the Mighty Missouri, heading to new land
Well, it doesn't matter very much where you put your
imagination to work. On all these rivers very similar
things are happening. The "ship" is loaded with bales and
boxes, barrels and bundles, animals horses, oxen, sheep,
cows, pigs, and chickens. On the deck are men, women and
children, and possibly the family dog. All these going
forth to build their own places on the "western" frontier.
When these folks disembark they will go out along their own
ways like the spokes from the hub of a wagon wheel to begin
populating the hills and valleys, the forests and prairies
in whatever is western borderland.
Often, at or near the destination, the Father would have a
brother or uncle or other near relative and he would set
out, on foot, to locate that relative, not seen for many
years. The immediate goal would be to arrange for work
because their money would be low ... running out. And, true
to custom, the Father would not "eat the bread of idleness".
The family in the meanwhile would "camp out". They would
get a fire blazing and fry up some bacon and make coffee and
the odor would permeate the area for awhile. Then with
blankets spread out on the ground the talk would be the
excited talk of new things to come until the voices would
fade and hush as the family would fall asleep beneath the
stars above on this their first night on their western
Father would return, possibly with a wagon and oxen to load
their belongings and begin a trek to where they would make
their new home. Maybe they would have to cross the river
where they were let off by the sternwheeler and they would
have to travel to where there would be a "rope" ferry. To
those of us who only have our imaginations as to what it was
like to be on a western frontier, think simple. A strong
rope is made fast around a tree on both banks of the river.
Two short ropes, with grooved pulleys to slide along the
rope tied to both sides of the river, are attached to each
end of a raft or flatboat. When the "bow" line was
shortened it would put the raft or boat at diagonals with
the current and the water or current would then "drive" the
Upon arriving at their final destination, a shelter would be
constructed. And, when the animals had properly rested they
and the wagon would be returned to their owner. Then the
work of making improvements to the land would begin.
There were different industries which new arrivals might
partake. One might be wool. Somewhere withing fifty miles
or so there would be "carding" mills. There wool was spread
evenly over an "endless" cloth spread over a table and
sprinkled with melted grease. The moving cloth or apron
would be carried along to within reach of the teeth of two
revolving "carding" wheels. When the wool came out the
other side it did so in rolls, ready for the spinning-wheel.
Settlers would come to the mills, bringing their own and
possibly their neighbors, wool in thorn pinned sheets with
the required amount of grease in crocks. Their return home
with the rolls of wool was the beginning of activities.
Spinning wheels were put into order. They were of one type
of two large or small wheels. The smaller wheel
spinning-wheels were the more common, simply because they
took up less room. The small wheels were turned by foot
while the larger ones were turned by a wheel-hook. With the
small wheel, the spinner sat on a stool and manipulated the
roll with her hands. With the larger wheels, the spinner
walked back and forth drawing out the roll to great length
... back and forth until the rolls were converted into
Dying of the thread would be next on the agenda or process,
followed by the weaving of the thread into material. The
final step was to make garments. Of course, there were the
flax-patches for spinning "low cloth" for hunting shirts and
grain bags. The sewing machine and the washing machine were
things of the future, but that is stories for another time.
Besides sewing, there was the everlasting knitting! Girls
began at the earliest possible age. Seems one could never
be too young. Girls and women off visiting, buggy [or
wagon] riding, and even walking, plied their knitting
needles on the way ... just like some folks today. My
neighbor knits while watching television. :)
Information from a cousin has put the idea that my third
great grandfather did some sheep raising down by the Ohio
River. Maybe while searching this month something psychic
will happen to point toward finding out what he did for an
Other sites worth visiting: