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A Prairie Bride

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

"There were giants in the Earth in those days," as Eliza W. Farnam could tell you. In 1835, three years after the Black Hawk War, Eliza came from New York to visit a sister living on the northern Illinois prairie. A year later she married a lawyer from Peoria and settled in to observe the first pioneers of this new land.

That's how she happened across an Illinois farmer who had built a cabin and then gone looking for a wife. "I see you built a cage, and then went back for the bird," Eliza teased. Birds aren't worth anything, he replied, "but a good stout woman, I calculate she can pay her way."

"You intend to make her useful, then, as well as ornamental," Eliza asked. "Why, yes," the farmer replied. He explained that he had gotten tired of toting his washing and mending over to another man's woman, and "thought I might as well get a woman of my own" "Cooking and such is easier for them than for us; they take to it kinda natural," he explained.

The farmer went on to complain that a shortage of good stout woman required him to go way out of the settlement to get his new bride. Then he had to make complicated arrangements with the girl's father in order to get her. “Women are like horse and oxen,” he told Eliza, “the biggest can do the most work.”

Eliza interrupted to put a good word in for a husband and wife talking around the kitchen table in the evenings. "That ain't what I got her for," the farmer said. Besides, "she'll think pretty much as I do, or not at all."

It was clear the honeymoon was over. At this point, the wife came into the room, and Eliza turned to her. "How long have you been married," she asked. "Two weeks yesterday," the woman replied, and added that she had talked to her husband three times before the marriage.

Eliza asked if she missed her father and mother. "Well,” the woman replied cautiously, "I reckon I'll want to see them and the young ones a little, till I get broke in."

Unfortunately, Eliza Markam's accounts of pioneer life were cut short. For reasons that are not entirely clear, she soon left this land of giants and returned to New York to live.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.