Pilgrimage to the Past

Betsy Stroup

Joseph Reid Gamble was born in Ohio on August 8, 1818, and as a youngster moved to Missouri, about 40 miles south to St Louis, near Hillsboro and DeSoto.  He married Elizabeth (Betsy) Stroup, who was the American-born daughter of Dutch immigrants.

Betsy Stroup’s people came to America from Holland because of religious persecution.  When she was 4 years old, in 1825, both her parents died in an epidemic that was sweeping the country.  She was then bound out to a family until she was 18, where she worked for her room and board and did not go to school.  Instead she drove the cows from the pasture, milked them, set the milk in crocks in a cave, skimmed the cream and churned the butter.  In the evenings she worked on spinning wool or knitting socks.

When Betsy was 15 or 16 she ran away and married Joe Gamble.

Thirteen years later, Joe left his wife and five children to join the gold rush in California.  He and his two brothers and a cousin made it to Colorado where Joe became ill with the measles.  They left Joe in Colorado and went on without him.  Both brothers died in California.  Once Joe recovered, he found that he had lost the sight in one eye.  He sold his outfit, bought a spotted Indian pony and rode home.

Back in Missouri, a neighbor of theirs had purchased a young Negro girl at a farm sale nearby and led her with a cord around her waist alongside his horse.  The neighbor stopped at Joe’s farm on his way home from the sale to have a slice of watermelon.  Joe cut a huge slice of melon and told his son, Greene, to take it to the Negro girl tied to the colt.   Joe was a staunch abolitionist and was bitterly opposed to slavery.  He was suspected of being one of the promoters of the “Underground Railroad”, a term used to designate a system which provided Negroes wishing to escape from slavery into a free territory with guidance, shelter and protection.  The probabilities are that Joe helped a number of slaves to secure their freedom.  As the slave issue became more intense, he realized that it would be best for him and his family to locate elsewhere.

In 1851 or 1852, he saddled a horse and rode to northern Illinois.  He shoveled the snow away and dug a hole so he could smell, feel and taste the soil, and before he left, he purchased an unimproved 160 acres.  He sold his Missouri farm for 800 dollars, all in gold and silver coins.  In the spring, he loaded his family of seven children, and all his belongings in ox wagons and started the journey to Carroll County, Illinois.  He took nine horses, forty head of cattle, and about forty sheep, along with the yokes of oxen to pull the wagons.  Two of his neighbors, who wanted to see the new place, went with him and helped with the stock.   Joe’s uncle, William, and his son also went along.  It took most of the summer to travel the 320 miles, but they arrived in time to dig a well, build a small house and shelter for the stock and put up hay for the winter.  Blue-stem prairie grass was nearly waist high.

Shortly after arriving in Illinois, the nine horses decided to return to Missouri.  The horses left in the night so they had a head start.  When they reached the toll bridge across the Illinois River, the toll keeper would not let them through the tollgate and onto the bridge, so they swam the river and kept right on going.  Joe had to borrow a horse the next morning when he found his horses were gone, and he rode 90 miles in pursuit of them before he overtook them.

The new farm was all prairie land and had to be broken with a breaking plow pulled by three yoke of oxen.  Joe built a good house and other buildings improving the place.

In June of 1858 he started to take a load of wheat drawn by two yoke of oxen to their market in Polo, IL.  The hired hand did not get the gate open in time.  Joe tried to stop the animals before they crashed the gate, but they swerved, knocked him down and he was run over by the load of wheat.  His injuries proved fatal and he died after three days of suffering.  This was just before Joe’s 40th birthday.  He and Betsy had nine children.

The two oldest girls, Nancy and Caroline, were already married.  Silas Greene became the new head of the household at age 14.  My great grandfather, John Perry, was 12.

Fast forward to 2012, 154 years later….

It was a sunny summer day.  Not too hot, with a cool breeze. My father was on a pilgrimage to see where Joe Gamble lived and died.  Joe was my father’s grandfather’s father.  Three generations back.  As we drove over back roads through small towns in northern Illinois, it was obvious why Joe moved there.  It was fertile land.  All the crops were thriving and healthy.

We were three generations in the car.  I was driving and my son was manning the GPS.  Our final approach to Union Cemetery was on a gravel road surrounded by cornfields.  The cemetery was small, no sign, no fence.  Just a cleared area with lovely big trees and cornfields all around.  At least half the headstones were so old we could not identify them.  We did find a couple we recognized and we knew where our plot was so even though we couldn’t read the headstone, we knew we were in the right place.  The cemetery was well kept and neat.  My father was pleased.

The cemetery was in Wysox Township and the Township Clerk had an office in Milledgeville, population 1,032.  We headed over to see her in case she had any other information.  It turns out our family purchased three plots right next to each other.  They don’t know who or how many people are buried there but we have records showing there were probably at least eight relatives.

It was getting to be lunchtime and the clerk recommended a good restaurant in Lanark, a neighboring town, population 1,400.  We had a good meal and wandered around the cemetery in Lanark for a bit.  It was much bigger and we had no idea what, if anything we would find so we enjoyed the shady veteran’s memorial and headed home.

All in all a lovely day.

(My cousin Bud is responsible for gathering much of this family history.  Thank you!)