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Early Settler - Solon Robinson
Lake Co Indiana

[February 1, 1841]

And you my kind readers, who have read my previous numbers, if you think I am becoming prolix, lay the present one aside. I was led away in my last number from the subject which I was prosing upon in No. 31 I told you of the first night on the prairie, but I have not yet told you of many other nights and sunny days that I have spent here. The month of November, around the head of Lake Michigan, (which is in lat. 41, 38,) is usually a mild pleasant month. Such was the month that followed the first night on the prairie. This was indeed propitious to the newly arrived emigrants, for there was much to do to prepare for the expected rigors of an approaching northern winter. There was neither hay nor grain within many a long mile, for man or beast, and to one accustomed to look upon the gloomy side of things, the prospect of making new settlement under such circumstances would have looked gloomy enough. But an emigrant to the West should not be one of that cast of temper. He should be able to look beyond the many discouraging circumstances attending the beginning of his new mode of life, to the bright prospect of the future. There was but one fleet- ing moment of gloom resting with me during the first winter. The first month had been spent in the numerous duties of preparation for winter, and the beautiful sunny days of November had given place to cold and snowy December, when it became apparent that the little magazine of provisions must be replenished, and that right speedily. And although delays are dangerous, yet, waiting better weather, delay was made to that point, that upon calculation proved the stock on hand barely sufficient to supply the five or six days that it would take to make the journey where a supply could be obtained, and return again while there was yet a little left. So a trusty and persevering messenger was dispatched, with due, though little needed caution, to hasten his return. The weather again was mild and pleasant, and our spirits all buoyant and bright as the winter sunshine, as the cheerful cheering notes of the departing teamsterís joy- ous morning song floated away upon the breeze, that swept unobstructed over miles of prairie, now blackened by the annual fires, to a somber hue, and cheerless winter aspect.

Never were such appetites seen before, as those which daily diminished the fast failing stock of provisions of our little family in the wilderness. Before them I kept a cheerful face, but oh, how my heart sunk within me on the evening of the fifth day, as I descended from a tall tree which I had climbed to try to discover the expected team. For I easily perceived that the weather had been such as to ice over the unbridged streams, though I feared not sufficient to pass over a wagon. On this evening, too, I was still further pained by the arrival of some hungry wanderers, to whom hospitality could not be denied.

On the sixth day, the only neighbor within a dozen miles, came to borrow a little meal. He looked upon the bottom of the empty barrel and turned homeward with his empty bag. The knife had scraped the last bone for breakfast, and the next resource was a small bag of wheat bran, which made very palatable batter (not better) cakes, though they would have been better, but that the lard was gone, and butter was, in those days, among the unknown things. Bran cakes and cranberries, sweet ened with honey, then were sweet diet. Although the owner of a gun that rarely failed to perform good service, it seemed that every living thing in the shape of game had hid up in winter quarters. ĎTis true, that I suffered a degree of nervousness, that might have rendered my hand too unsteady to endanger the life of game, if it had come in the way; not that I heard one word of repining or fear, nor that there was any immediate danger of actual starvation; yet the thought was not a pleasant one, to think I had brought a wife and children intoa wilderness to suffer, even through fear of want.

On the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth days, anxious and watchful eyes scanned the prairie by day, and tended beacon fires by night, for this precaution was necessary, as there was nothing to guide the expected teamster home, should he undertake the perilous passage of the prairie just at night fall. It was about midnight of the last day, and I had tired of watching, and had lain down, but not to sleep. The question of "what is to be done ?" was working up some horrid visions before me, when my ear, which had grown remarkable quick of late, caught a faint sound like steps upon the frozen ground. Sentinel upon his post never started quicker than I. The sounds grew more and more perceptible, but there was nothing like the rumbling of wheels. For the first time, then, did the deep seated anxiety of the good wife and mother show itself. Hope was fast sinking, when the well-known voice of the ever cheerful teamster was borne along the midnight air. How little do we know how to appreciate trifles, until placed in trying situations. What joyful sounds! But the joy was soon damped, as it became manifest that he drove a team without a wagon.

Where was that? was the first question. Fast in the river, a few miles back on the prairie. Do you know we have nothing in the house for your supper ? I expected so, and so I brought along a bagful; here is both flour and meat. Reader, can you imagine yourself for one moment in my situation? Can you realize that the happiness of that moment was sufficient to pay for many weary, watchful couple of days of anxiety? No, you cannot realize that, until experience teaches you. Happiness is only realized by
contrast with misery. And it is because the emigrantís life is full of such exciting scenes, and because the days of pleasure are long remembered, when those of pain are buried in oblivion, that induces thousands annually to add themselves to that irresistible wave of western emigration, that is rolling onward to the Pacific Ocean. The happiness of the teamster too, was such as he will never forget. For he had endured a night of actual peril. When the ice gave way under the wagon, it became necessary for him to plunge into the water to extricate the team, and when he reached the lone log cabin, his outergarments were frozen stiff, and in a short time he would have become an immoveable mass of ice, and per haps have sunk to his final rest upon the bleak prairie. Those who have seen a real log cabin fire of hickory logs, may picture to themselves a scene in the first cabin of the first settler, in the first winter on the prairie; and those who have never seen such a scene of real comfort, must imagine as best they can, a picture of such a scene as was realized in that cabin on the night of the return from the first trip to mill.

Such scenes of excitement, of pain and pleasure, often occur to the western emigrant. I have in memoryís store many that may or may not yet be told; but for the present, I will leave those who have perused this, with the sincere wish that they may ever enjoy their fast fleeting moments of life in a splendid mansion, with as great a

By Solon Robinson circa 1841

Submitted by Jack Childers
Email- INJACK1@aol.com