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Solomon and Tom Sawyer

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

I have no doubt that Solomon was a wise man. He was a king and the builder of a temple. You remember that he cleverly found the true mother of that disputed baby. But I wonder how well he would have done along the Mississippi River in the frontier days before Illinois became a state. I might bet instead on a Dr. Reid who lived with his wife and baby girl in the wilderness near where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet.

The Reids lived in peace among the Tamaroa Indians—until the misunderstanding. One morning while Dr. Reid was away from the cabin, a party of Tamaroa Indians dropped by for water. The men left, but the women remained behind to admire the Reid baby, in its pretty dress and light curly hair. As the women were leaving, one of them remained behind. Suddenly, she put her own baby dressed in rags on the floor, said "me swap," snatched the Reid baby, and ran to join the other women.

Dr. Reid returned hours later to a distraught wife. What was to be done? Grab the rifle? Call out the militia? Take some scalps? Teach those Indians a lesson?

Well, yes. Dr. Reid and his wife washed the Indian baby, combed her hair, put ribbons in it, and dressed her in a fresh new bright dress. Then the Reids walked over to the Tamaroa village. Soon, they had a crowd of Indian women surrounding them, oohing and ahhing over the beautiful child.

Eventually, even the woman who had taken the Reid baby came over to the circle, saw how beautiful her own baby was. She handed over the Reid baby, took her own, and said again "me swap." 

It's not often that the settlement of a dispute leaves both sides happy. I'm sure that Dr. Reid had read his Bible and was taking a cue from Solomon in his use of mind over gun. But if Reid borrowed from Solomon, he also added a healthy dose of pure American frontier ingenuity. An example, you might say, of what you get when you combine Solomon with just a bit of Tom Sawyer. A lesson not just for the Tamaroa Indians, but for us all.

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.