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The Rolling Stone

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The Strange Adventures of Jonathan Drew, a Rolling Stone, 1821-24 might have turned out neither so strange nor adventurous had he detoured around the new state of Illinois. As it was, he was lucky to live long enough to write about it.

Drew was a young man of 20 when he decided to head west from New York to see the frontier for himself. He took a job driving a team of horses for a Mr. Biddle who was headed for some Illinois land he had invested in along the Mississippi River.

The trip proved uneventful until Drew and Biddle crossed the Wabash River from Indiana to Illinois, after being warned in Vincennes that Illinoisans were on the rough side. Illinois had become a state in 1818. Couldn't be that rough, they thought.

Wrong. Signs of civilization were sparse, but they did eventually find a one room unchinked log cabin without a stick of furniture, more fit for pigs than humans. They asked for a drink of water. "I got to go two miles for my water," the settler told them. They left thirsty.

"Give me the noble red man over that," Mr. Biddle said. Wrong. Biddle and Drew shortly met a party of Miami wrapped in dirty blankets, faces painted with red, green, black, and white splotches, so drunk they could hardly stay on their horses.

That was followed by a party of settlers returning east after half their number had died of Illinois fevers. Thirty miles further on, they finally came across a family willing to take them in for the night. The next day the man warned them to sleep in the woods and risk wolves and bears rather than the cabins along the way. Strangers had a way of disappearing for good.

"He's just kidding us," said Mr. Biddle. Wrong.  The next two cabins they stayed in required them to stay on guard all night to keep from being robbed. They reached the Mississippi and crossed to St. Louis several days later by hiding out from Illinoisans.

"That's a great state, Illinois," said Mr. Biddle as they crossed the river, "or will be when one-tenth of its population shoots, hangs, or otherwise obliterates the other nine tenths."

Wrong. If you have lived in Illinois long enough, you are probably aware that some of them apparently escaped.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

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.