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Immigrant's Guide

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Years ago, when I first read Willa Cather's O Pioneers!, I doubted her theory that the pioneers who first settled the land were made of hardier stuff than you and I are, and that the coming of civilization thinned our blood. The settlers who followed the pioneers still had some energy to endure hardships, she noted, but the city folk like me who came late were lazy weaklings.

Then, a while back, I read The Farmer's and Immigrant’s Guidebook, by Josiah T. Marshall. It was the guide that many immigrants coming into northern Illinois after 1825 carried with them. The Black Hawk War was still a few years away, but the land around Rock Island was already being carved up into counties.

Marshall's Guide gave practical directions for the immigrant on how to go about settling in, and what to expect. Here, for example, is his estimate of the time needed to build a house from scratch:

Cutting, hewing, and hauling timber: four days' work.

Raising the house (with help): one day

Putting on the roof: two days

Cutting out doors, windows and a place for the fireplace, making casings and doors: four days.

Laying floors and making a ladder to the upstairs: 3 days.

Clinking and daubing: three days

Building a chimney: three days.

For a total time of 20 days, start to finish.

Maybe Willa Cather was right about her pioneers versus us soft city slickers. A recent one-room remodeling project of mine might look like this: Go to Menards for molding: one day. Return and get correct molding: one day. Stand back to imagine how the final project will look: one-half day. Find hammer and saw: one day.

Of course, we have more distractions than Marshall's readers. If I hadn't had to interrupt my project to write several Rock Island Lines, I'm sure I could have brought the whole thing in in well under two months.

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.