My life, the musical…

If my life was told as a musical it would begin with

a mild celebration and several questions that couldn’t be

settled, followed by getting lost in the crowd of

a large family and not living-up to my potential, the tune

will obviously be childish and with a hint of upbeat sentiment,

and then a disappointment followed by another and

more questions of where this all came from and why

would I act this way and by this way I had no idea

what they meant because it was just me being me

but no one seemed to like the me of me being me with those

sudden crescendos of anxiety and excitement but

without explanation with some crying and mostly shock

followed a period of conformity and a semblance

of normalcy which pleased most but I wasn’t trying

to be normal because I was chasing things I’d never

known before and I realized that understanding

came later to me than most, but some thought I was

unique and following my own drummer but I

couldn’t hear the beat and then it stopped but I

didn’t hear it stop until it was too late, and that

is my life in a musical – melody to follow soon…


Hunting goose-berries…

Mr. John A. Wakefield:

SIR: — In reply to your request, I proceed to give an account of the attack of the Indians on Apple River Fort. Apple River Fort is situated about fourteen miles east of Galena. It was on the 24th of June, when harmony and peace appeared to reign through the fort, the day before a wagon had been dispatched to Galena for the purpose of bringing a supply of lead and meat, which had run short in the afternoon on Sunday, the wagon arrived with a supply of meat and lead.

About the time the team was removed from the wagon, the ladies of the fort had assembled to go to the river to hunt goose-berries; after starting they discovered coming from towards Galena three men, and being anxious to hear the news from there, they concluded to wait, expecting to hear something about the Indians.

When they arrived they proved to be men on an express from Galena going to Dixon’s ferry on Rock river; one of the men was a Mr. F. Dixon, the other two I have no recollection of their names.

They were all intoxicated , after coming up they recollected that their guns were empty; one of the men dismounted and charged his piece, the other two would not; the man, after loading his gun, mounted his horse and they all rode off in full speed, whooping and hallooing towards Dixon’s ferry.

When they had got to the distance of about three hundred yards, the one that carried the loaded gun was some fifty or sixty yards ahead of the other two, when a large number of Indians, being in ambush; arose and fired upon him; when he fell from his horse, shot through the thigh; his horse fled and left him; he arose and fired at the Indians at about the distance of fifteen steps, but his fire took no effect as was ever ascertained.

The Indians made towards him with their hatchets, when the other two coming up to his relief with their empty guns, they presented their guns, which caused the Indians to halt till the wounded man had got between them and the fort, they kept giving back with their guns presented till the wounded man gained the fort. The firing of the guns gave the alarm just in time for the people to make their retreat to the fort.

Apple River Fort had once been an extensive smelting establishment, and had become a considerable village, the fort being small, families lived in these houses in day time, and every one had his own to himself, but at night all repaired to the fort for safety.

The Indians pursued these men within firing distance of the fort, all on horseback, they rode up, dismounted and hitched their horses, and I think in about three minutes the fort was surrounded by about one hundred and fifty Indians, with all the savage ferocity and awful appearance, that those monsters could possibly appear in.

The inhabitants had all reached the fort in time to defend themselves, which appeared to have been a providential thing, for if it had not been for the firing of the Indians on the express bearers, the fort would have certainly been taken, as the people would have been taken upon a surprise when they were not apprehending the least kind of danger from those savage barbarians.

There was a very heavy fire kept up for the space of one hour on both sides. Early in the engagement a Mr. George Herclurode [sic] was shot in the neck, and never spoke afterwards, he being at a port hole trying to defend himself and the helpless inmates of the fort; a Mr. James Nuting [sic] was also shot at the same time in the head, but not mortally. There appeared to be no dismay in the fort.

Such bravery and heroism amongst women has scarcely ever been surpassed in any country. Women and children were all actively engaged in the defence of the fort. Girls eight years old were busily engaged in running balls and making cartridges, and women loading guns.

The Indians got into those houses before spoken of, and knocked out the chinking and kept up their fire until they got discouraged. They then commenced plundering the houses, chopt, split and tore up a quantity of fine furniture. There was scarcely a man or woman that was left with a second suit of clothing.

They went into my father’s house; there was a large bureau full of fine clothes, they took six fine cloth coats and a number of fine ruffle shirts, with their tomahawks they split the drawers and took the contents.

They ripped open the bedticks, emptied the feathers, took all the bedclothing, and broke all the delf in the cupboards. Some of the out houses were kept for the purpose of storing away provisions; they got into those houses where a number of flour barrels were stowed away; they would lie down on their faces and roll a barrel after them until they would get into a ravine, where they were out of danger; they then would empty the barrels of flour, after they had destroyed this necessary article, and when they found they could not succeed in taking the fort as they expected, they then commenced the warfare upon the stock; they killed all the cattle that were near the fort and took a number of fine horses to the number of about twenty, which were never got again by the owners.

The horse that lost his rider in the first onset ran to the fort, which the Indians did not get.

Mr. Dixon on his retreat never stopt at the fort, thinking from the large number of Indians the fort would be taken, he made for Galena, and not being acquainted with the country he missed his road, and went to the house of Mr. John McDonald, who had a very large farm, of which Apple river formed a part of the fence.

When he got to the house he found a large number of Indians at that place, and in a few minutes found himself completely surrounded; he lit from his horse, let down a pair of draw-bars, and made his escape across the river to Galena.

At the time the Indians commenced the fire upon the express bearers, the people of the fort started an express to Galena for assistance, which never came until about eleven o’clock the next day. Colonel Strode who had the command at Galena, marched to their assistance with about one hundred men. But this little band of men, women and children, had bravely stood their ground and kept the field, in spite of the Black Hawk and his ferocious savage brothers, with all their frightful yells and war-whoops.

But it was not without some suffering that this small handful did it. There was no water in the fort, and being taken upon a surprise, the people had not time to lay any in after the attack was first made upon the express bearers, and the weather being very warm, the men and women became so fatigued and exhausted in time of the engagement that they were compelled to drink dish water, to quench their thirst.

This fort was commanded by Captain Stone, and there were twenty-five men besides women and children.

This small force stood their ground before the great and mighty chief called Black Hawk, and upwards of one hundred and fifty of those hideous monsters, that take so much delight in their savage warfare; as it was afterwards ascertained that Black Hawk commanded in person at this engagement.

It was supposed that the Indians lost several of their number in this skirmish, as they were seen putting several Indians on their horses and packing them off during the engagement, and after it was over there was a quantity of blood discovered on the ground. —

The Indians in killing the cattle would skin and take out of a beef such pieces as they seemed to like best, leaving the balance on the ground.

Apple River Fort is about sixteen miles from Kellogg’s Grove and it is believed by all that this was the war party of Indians that attacked Major Dement’s spy batallion [sic] on the next day at this grove.

Blackhawk’s dreams…

Dictated from the tongue of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, known to the white man as Black Hawk, Chief of the Sac, born on island Saukenuk of Rock river in the white man’s year of 1767 in the Thunder Clan, but soon to die. –This written down by Antione LeClair, U.S. Interpreter for the Sacs and Foxes, on the tenth moon, 1838, but never published before.

Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak said:

When I was just a boy and not yet my people’s Chief, the Great Spirit called me to lead my people, as my father had done bravely in more peaceful times. The hatchet was buried, the bow was at rest, corn was planted and taken-in, women had birthed many healthy children, and the land was quiet.

The Great Spirit had given my father a dream that he spoke to the men before he departed. See the many blankets and the strong young men? he asked. The Great Spirit has told me, when I was just a boy and not a Chief, that a time of peace is not a time to lose courage, but a preparation for what is to come.

The white man will come soon and drive the Thunder Clan from this home, across the river in time of snow. Women and young women will weep and men and young men will become brave warriors, some will take a scalp and dance for the first time. And a child will be called to lead the people. That was the dream my father spoke before closing his eyes to be with his fathers.

On another occasion, Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak said:

The great warrior and leader of our nation was also my father who played with me when I was just a boy and not yet a Chief. He told me of his journey into the forest when a young man, without food or drink or company of his family he sought the Great Spirit who sought him. This is the way of our people.

He dreamt of a deer approaching without fear. Their eyes met and it was as they were brothers. The Great Spirit made him ride through the land on the deer and he was shown the river, the forest, the hills, and the fields. He heard the sound of children at play, songs of gratitude, the smell of fires and roasting food but he did not desire the meat. He was told this land was given to the nation for a season of peace for good labor and hunting. But in the next season there would be crying and hunger.

When I was told this dream I asked what would come next, The next season, after rest and after hunger, what did you learn by the Great Spirit? My father said he was not told of this season, but the next leader of our people, a child who now laughs, would be Chief of a crying and hungering people. And the child would be met by the eagle. And like a boy and his father, we resumed our play together.

Seasons passed and we continued to enjoy peace, even while we fought with our ordinary enemies from across the great river, and I enjoyed the first taste of bravery and took my first scalp at fifteen years of age. But I learned the bravery of retreat as well as the bravery of attack, and I practiced the ways of my father who fought when attached, when our hunting grounds were taken, when our food and our home were threatened. We took no joy in this, but enjoyed the success that the Great Spirit gave to us.

But the time of rest seemed to be passed and enemies grew more numerous, and white men with guns who acted not with purpose but often after consuming alcohol threatened us without reason, and my father rested with his fathers and I will join them soon. I blackened my face, did not eat, and asked the Great Spirit about the seasons my father had spoken of; I hunted and fished, but I was not happy. I sought the Great Spirit then by taking no food, drinking no water from the streams nearby and went into the woods. I was looking for the deer that met my father, but I was afraid and the Great Spirit was wiser than a young brave. There was no deer, but I looked up and saw an eagle soaring above me, circling, waiting for me.

With the eagle I flew over the forest, above the trees, and I saw the hills descending into the valley of the great river, and I saw my people, our tents, our women and children but they were not singing or laughing –they were quiet and busy and there was no joy in their labor. In the distance I saw many faces, white faces, angered and cursing

I awoke from my dream and returned to my people to lead them from our home. I became the Chief of women who were crying and men who would be brave but had not taken scalps or tasted blood going against our enemies. But the enemies of my fathers were not to be our only enemies, and the ways of the white men were new to us and hard to understand.

When being transported from Fort Monroe to Iowa, Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak said:

After returning to our home to the east of the great river, we found no peace (this was after being driven from our homes by the white man because of a treaty signed by some of our braves in drunkenness but not agreed upon by me or all the braves as is our custom). And after the invitation to plant corn and make a home once again in the lands of our fathers, I sought the Great Spirit and in my sleep I was met by the eagle again. I saw the grave of my father as we flew toward the sun rising, along the great river. There were white soldiers, riding horses and firing their guns as my people ran, hiding in the woods, children and women hunted by warriors. They were chased as a fish upstream in a river known by trees bearing apple fruits. They hid for one moon in a quiet place and prayed that this might be their home. But the white women and men had made this there home not being content to stay where the Great Spirit had placed them.

I circled with the eagle over the woods, watching over my people, and saw drunken men riding toward their hiding place. When they met there were threats but little bravery, and I was discouraged. The white women and men retreated to hide in a structure that surrounded them for protection while my people had only the trees and hills for their protection. There was no great battle but many noises from the white men, cruses and shouts that sounded much greater than their number. My people moved around the structure and the sounds grew louder, but there was no battle as my people were only looking for a home and passed by this pleasant place.

When I awoke I led my people as I had seen from the eagle, and it happened as I was shown. But I prayed that this place of conflict could be our home and not a place of hiding, but it was not so.

At Des Moines in the land of Iowa, just before his death, Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak said:

This is the last moon I will see, and the Great Spirit made me to see the land that was once the home of my people. I was a brave Chief, but the white man had taken our home. The few women that are alive are crying, and our few children are weak with hunger. Many were killed by the white soldiers or chased into the great river as they escaped. I surrendered not to spare my own life, but to preserve the lives of my people. We were fearful for our weak, and a brave Chief must act not as his pride demands, but in compassion.

I dreamed and the eagle showed me the island of my birth, my father the brave Chief of my people, my mother and her kindness to me. I was shown the land we returned to and hoped to plant corn. I saw the river of apple fruits and good soil and my heart sank as I hoped this would be our home, but we were feared without cause and fled to escape. And when I awoke from my dream I was crying which surprised those with me, and they asked if a great warrior should cry or was my age the reason. I said that I was not crying for myself, but for my people who were driven from our home and starved and the season had become one of tears and bravery. I tried to save my people and the Great Spirit who shows the Chiefs the seasons stopped my plans.

But I did not tell them about the following season, about the season I asked my own father of, the season that eagle would show to the child who would lead my people. And I went to be with my father and my fathers and dreamed a dream with the eagle that did not end.

Nobody agrees…

Two fires would be enough to discourage lesser churches, let alone men, but the mystery of the rectory fires fueled Baptist suspicions that there wasn’t room enough in a small town for two very opinionated groups of religious people.

No one accused good Christian people of arson, but good Christian people weren’t particularly upset at the rectory fires.

And the only thing more opinionated than priests and pastors are nuns and pastors’ wives. When nuns came to town to teach in a new Catholic school and convent built for them on Catlin Street, the Baptist pastor’s wife complained about, The harem.

It was vindication for the pastor’s wife when a glorious start of forty students diminished steadily until the school and convent closed in less than twenty years, and when the building was just plain torn down a few years later there were a few Baptists in the crowd of onlookers.

Animosity between Catholics and folks in Elizabeth wasn’t limited to the Baptists. Folks didn’t want St. Mary’s to acquire the land for a cemetery, on a hilltop, with a nice view and who needs a nice view if you’re dead and buried.

But since it wasn’t farmable land it was alright because being practical was before cleanliness right behind godliness. The first person buried in the newly consecrated ground was a young girl named Catherine Wand, Andrew and Emma’s beautiful eighteen-year-old daughter.

Father Ruetershoff said a sad mass and the only comfort of that day was the almost proud processional out the church doors, a short walk down the street to a plot of newly cleared land, without even a proper gate or sign to say that it was St. Mary’s Cemetery.

Catholics ever since…

But they still didn’t have their own priest and wrote to the Archbishop about how they built a nice little church, would be happy to rent a nice house nearby for a parsonage, and even the Irish and Germans were Working together in perfect harmony. –But even that miracle wasn’t enough to persuade the Archbishop, until they went with the guilt angle in a follow-up letter and said

What we now pray for, most venerable Archbishop, is that you send a priest to live with us, and take charge of our church and our souls. We live twenty miles from our priest in Savanna.

The Road is a rough country road, almost impassable sometimes and it is hard for a priest to travel in all kinds of weather good or bad.

There is also a stream of water between Savanna and Elizabeth which after heavy rains is so high that it is impossible to cross.

A person being sick and dying at such a time would die without holy sacraments, however strong the desire of the person or zeal of the priest may be.

And that, along with the railway through the town and a significant promise of a growing community, persuaded the Archbishop to send a priest to live in Elizabeth –a man named Father Joseph Ruetershoff (to further test the ability of the Irish to work with Germans, obviously).

He had a rectory built that survived two fires, but still is in the area known of North hill where a nice brick building was built in 1914 and that’s where the Catholics have been ever since.

If god is good…

The oldest problem with the most pain

is why, why, why my own are good but sad,

it’s a mystery to some and to ask is a sin

but the real people who love rather than obey


wonder if god is all anything, good or loving,

and how to live through tears at night’s dark

and brave to rise when the sun calls,

and the god they need to do both with hope,


but if the question never mattered to you,

if you’ve never buried your own without wrong,

if you’re too busy to stop and life hasn’t stopped you,

your god is good enough for you.


The name stuck…

Pastors come and go, but you’d never know it by the way some of them talk. Insecure and egotistical at the same time, or speaking in an almost foreign language of idiosyncratic verbage decipherable to only the initiated; guaranteeing them a prominent place even if most people don’t understand what they say.

For Baptists it was Bible-language and sympathetic allusions to how the prophets were derided and ignored and therefore they should expect as much themselves. Catholics, of course, used to have Latin, like the words they whispered under their breath over a loved one’s dying body, their words, secret words that were magic and made things happen that were kept from ordinary mortals. When Jesus said he would build his church he said it would be on a rock, probably playing with Peter’s name that meant something like stone, but he didn’t say he’d build it on Pastor Bob, Reverend Geogre, or Father Steve; because pastors come and go.

Having or not having a pastor, let alone one that folks liked, is always a problem, especially at Catholic churches. Of the almost seven hundred people in Elizabeth there are usually somewhere between two to three hundred Catholics.

It always makes them wonder why they don’t have their own cathedral. It’s because Catholics settled into parishes in the hope of covering the known world with the True church without which damnation and debauchery prevailed (the problem was that on occasion damnation and debauchery prevailed even within Catholic parishes).

There was another Catholic parish that began somewhere west of Elizabeth that included Galena and there were a lot of Catholics that way, just like there were a lot more people that way, so Elizabeth’s Catholic church struggled to put down roots.

The Catholic mission to the area was supposed to be headquartered out of Elizabeth, and it was established in 1843 (so they got to the area about the same time as the Baptists).

The priests from Galena traveled to private homes of Catholics in the township and said mass, baptized babies, gave last rites when they arrived in time, and eventually they built St. Elizabeth’s which was a log cabin that lasted about five years, then they built another log cabin, then a small brick building was remodeled and called St. Thomas, then in 1882 they built a nice wooden frame church on Catlin Street to replace an older, smaller brick church; the new place was dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows and called St. Mary’s, and that name stuck.

Reading obituaries…

It’s called ‘bonus’ or at least is should

because this wasn’t expected, nor

should have been; I’m Irish and male,

for the sake of Saint Patrick, and

I should be dead by now but I’m not

and that makes this a true bonus;

I’ve outlived my own father who

saintedly passed before fifty years,

and all his friends it seems, or so

I read in the obituaries in Sunday’s

Chicago Tribune as I scan the pages

in a sobering ritual of paying homage;

now it’s only a matter of what to do

with these extra days and years.

Once or twice upon a time…

Yes, it was once upon a time that I would tell stories,

well, make them up is more like it, and they’d always

start with Once upon a time, in a land far, far away

there lived… and off we’d go on a trip not knowing

where we were going but depending on the hour

and how tired the children were and how tired I was

we’d always wind up back in the bedroom with

everyone tucked-in and ready to hear rejection

when they asked for another story (and they always did,

even when they knew the answer would be No

and they’d laugh that they made me say No every night

so it became part of the story of our stories.



We may meet again…

Candles are lit, a dozen with one Judas put out

For even the Lord had a neighbor ill tempered

Tobacco and pipes, lard and hard spirits were men’s share

Always plenty since there’s no woman to warn

And they’d give them rest and something to do

Rest was allowed but sleeping lacked respect

As the watch carried into night and new morn


Games fill the hours not to pass the time

Playfulness mocks death but not the deceased

This hoolie is underway and will carry on without guilt

As the door welcomes but no one departs

And none contemplate what done him in

Knowing what doesn’t send death to flight

So they dance to show the ache of hearts


The blessed rosary is recited mid-night

A decade signaling the end of the vigil today

But simply a respite in the country as they await the morn

The Father and Mary are made to attend

Invited by the women but observed by all

And stories are woven by the teller of tale

Binding living to dead to grave transcend


All the debts of life are due the widow now

This dying fails to undo anything done

For all the good such men are for, fightin’, bonin’, drinkin’

The scars are deep, the children horde

And friends take up the pub where left off

Sell what she can, no sentiment to afford

Save us from his sins, our merciful Lord


Promises are made but needn’t be kept

‘I’m sorry for your trouble’ is solace enough

Only deeds have value and of course ordering of the coffin

It matters that you show forgetting his mistakes

It’s remembered more than you can imagine

For this is the Irish way when words are many

Only rivaled by the number of our wakes


The keening fades as the morning dawns

When undertaken away the reason to gather

Saddest, last of all farewells this exit will not be undone

Forced to send-off this cheerless bier

Roads no longer rise, breeze is stiff afore

The sun now hides and storms drown all joy

We may meet again, but there not here.