In the span of a few days, since starting this blog, I came to realize that several–if not most–of my great-great grandparents were the adventurous types. Mom calls them intrepid. While this ancestor is not a European immigrant, he was industrious and was quite the traveler for his time. I wish I could impress you by stating that this post is the “fruit” I collected while doing hard core research. That would be a lie.
Elisha Chadwell Creech is the grandfather of my Mom’s father, who was also named Elisha. He was born in 1831 in Lee County, Virginia, to Elias and Mary “Polly” Gilbert Creech, their third child and second son. Elisha Chadwell’s great grandfather, John, was one of my ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, as was Polly Gilbert’s father, Samuel. Right now, these lines are a work in process because I have to pore through land and probate records to finish up the applications to link the early generations. The Creech’s have been a nightmare to research because of their propensity for naming their sons Elijah, Elias, Eli and Elisha and every variation of that name. Elisha Chadwell had many first cousins with the same names. Adding to the confusion, most of them remained in Lee County or Harlan County, Kentucky. They make my head spin.
How do I know what I know about Elisha Chadwell Creech? The simple, unvarnished truth is because he made it very easy for me by writing a mini, though incomplete, memoir. I cannot properly express my delight and gratitude for this boon. The information he shared in his transcribed biography has proven invaluable when working on his people.
His parents left Lee County when he was young and migrated west; his father died unexpectedly in 1841 in Jamestown, Missouri, and it is only through the most minute clues that I’ve been able to find out more about what happened to his mother and siblings. What really turned out to be a major leap forward for my research was the “thru lines” feature in Ancestry.com. DNA linked me to a bunch of people with the surname of “Scritch”, and it was through Elisha’s memoir that I was able to figure out who they were and how they fit in my tree.
Before I share Elisha’s excellent adventure, I want to retell some of the things he shared about leaving Virginia for Missouri and then Illinois. If you are the kind of person who can imagine yourself as the star in this play, their journey might give you pause. I, for one, hold his mother in high esteem: she was one bad-ass pioneer woman. And I’d put money on her beating out Ree Drummond for that title too.
Elias Creech left Virginia around 1839, and the original plan was to head west to Illinois with a like-minded friend, leaving his wife and children behind in Virginia until he sent for them. He had a change of heart in Illinois and decided to continue on to Missouri to meet up with his cousin, a man referred to as Col. Hughes. He staked a claim in Jamestown, Missouri, and claimed squatter’s rights to 160 acres. He built a house and barn, planted crops, bought livestock, and then instructed his wife to sell their property and head west to join him. I was able to locate the land deed in Lee County in 1840 between he and Elijah (his father), apparently reselling his land back to his dad; in addition, I found another deed there for John Gilbert, Polly’s brother, at the same time, which coincides with the timeline in the biography.
Polly, her brother, John, and 7 young children headed west through Tennessee, traveling in a flat boat down the Tennessee River, making it to Florence, Alabama. They arrived in Alabama, where the townsfolk were battling raging epidemics of yellow fever and cholera; two of her kiddos fell ill, so she decided to stay put for awhile. She wrote Elias and asked him to come meet them so they could travel back together. She waited three months for a reply as she nursed the children back to health. When the response arrived, it was from her husband’s cousin, Col. Hughes, letting her know that Elias had died two months prior, about the time when he sent for her. Polly wrote back and asked Col. Hughes to sell the claim. A reply letter then arrived from Col. Hughes’ wife, indicating her husband been killed by some of the “rough element”. She considered returning home, but they had sold their property and she had no home left in Virginia. Ultimately, she decided to abandon the claim in Jamestown altogether and headed to St. Louis. Shortly after arriving in St. Louis, her brother, John Gilbert, died.
A quick sidebar to ponder. Polly was illiterate and without a means to provide for herself and her children; there was no life insurance and she would have probably had great difficulty finding employment. Heck, women weren’t even enumerated in the 1840 census, so that should pretty much say everything for the average woman in the mid 19th century. I can’t begin to imagine how she might have felt, but if I were her, I would have been terrified.
Polly ultimately remarried twice, and I’m still researching her to see if I can find more about the rest of her life; so far I can account for her as late as 1852. Her death is not addressed in his writings, so I’m on my own here. But according to his account, she and the kids wound up settling down in St. Louis before permanently settling in Bond County, Illinois. Sometime after losing Elias, the family remaining in Missouri/Illinois changed the spelling of their surname from Creech to Scritch. Until the DNA matches showed up, I had assumed they went by Creech, which is why I could never find more than what was mentioned in the memoir. Once I started using Scritch, things started to fall into place. It was also how I found out that Polly had married for the second time after being widowed. I have many DNA matches through the Scritch lines.
A side note about Bond County, Illinois. I have been there. I have actually stopped my vehicle there, and not by choice. Victoria, her boyfriend (now fiance) and I were returning to Colorado from New York after her sophomore college year when we stopped for Diet Coke, Twizzlers and more junk food just east of Bond County. I realized we had 2 choices, shared them with the kids and they unanimously chose to drive straight through home to Colorado. It was my turn to drive, so I set the speed on cruise control a little higher to make better time. It wasn’t long before I saw a state trooper whiz by in the opposite direction and held my breath… until Mike spoke up and said, “Uh oh. Mooms, he turned around in the middle of the interstate and he’s heading our way.”I received the most expensive speeding ticket I’ve ever received in my life in Bond County. Make sure you don’t speed there!
Back to the story. Elisha Chadwell left home in the fall of 1849 with a friend, who had persuaded him (his words) to head up the Mississippi River to Stillwater, Minnesota, to engage in the lumber business. I won’t regale you with all the details of his business, but he was a successful lumberman for the rest of his life, a partner in the jobbing firm of Creech, Ayers, Cross and Henney. He married a local girl named Mary Marshall Seed in 1863, whose family had emigrated from Ireland to Canada (where she was born) and then on to western Wisconsin. They raised 4 daughters and one son in the picturesque town of Saint Croix Falls. His only son and my great grandfather, James Seed Creech, also worked as a lumberman as his profession. The lumbering ended with James.
Before Elisha married Mary, he had one intriguing adventure that started in May 1859. It would seem that the townsfolk heard news of the finding gold in Pike’s Peak, so he joined a party of friends and a train of ox and provisions and headed west. The title of this chapter was aptly stated “Pike’s Peak or Bust”. The most entertaining part of his story occurred in Nebraska. They had arrived at their campsite and began setting up camp; a couple men head out to hunt while the rest stayed back to pitch tents, make dinner and tend to the animals. The folks who remained back were startled by a “blood curdling whoop”: a band of 500 Brule Sioux were were on the warpath against the Punkhaw, Pawnee and Omaha tribes. They had rounded up the Pikes Peak party’s stray horses and wanted compensation for their troubles. The party named my great-great grandfather as the negotiator, who then gave the Sioux a quarter pound of tobacco for two old mules. One of the men got so excited about getting two horses back that he gave them all their flour. The Sioux decided to only bring one horse back but not return any flour. My great-great grandfather was not happy that they were without flour for the rest of the trip either!
Ultimately, the entire journey was a true hardship due to the lack of available water. Elisha’s story really centers around their quest for water, and it’s a miracle they didn’t die of dehydration. Unbeknownst to them, a band of Omaha were hunting buffalo and followed them, eventually surrounding the entire party. They were extremely apprehensive about the approach, when the Omaha leaders asked them where they were going; they replied that they were heading to the Platte River. It turned out that the Indians were also heading in that direction and offered to let them travel with them. Ultimately, the Omaha decided they needed to head home and offered them good advice, which they took, but not until they traveled in a 40 mile circle unsuccessfully. Without finding water on the way, either.
In the end, Elisha did not remain with his party and set out on his own with his trusty rifle. Sadly, he did not finish writing about his trip to Pike’s Peak nor did he complete his memoir; perhaps he died before he could finish. It was believed that he made it to Cripple Creek, where he staked a claim in Poverty Gulch, but came up empty. Since I know the end of the story has a happy conclusion in Wisconsin, and he married Mary in 1863, I’ll assume he had safe travels back and was none worse for the wear. He became a widower in 1880 and died in 1907.
When I was in Saint Croix Falls last October, I headed to the cemetery before driving back to Minneapolis to catch a flight home. The cemetery is hilly and beautiful. There was a crew removing trees and debris, and one of them was kind enough to steer me in the right direction. Elisha, his wife, in-laws and at least one of their children are buried on a hill, at the highest point in one of the oldest sections of the cemetery. Their family grave is marked by an obelisk, and until I walked directly in front of it, could not see that it was close to toppling. I took the photo below for my dad to see. (The last time my parents were there, it was upright.) My dad has since hired a local company to do the work necessary to right the stone.
If you ever have the chance to visit western Wisconsin and the Stillwater area, I highly recommend it. The Saint Croix River is beautiful, and the towns of Stillwater (MN) and Hudson (WI) are lovely and rich with history. Val and I went on a trolley tour of Hudson and learned all about the early settlers (to include the corporate birthplace of Anderson windows). The architecture is lovely and it wouldn’t take much for me to imagine myself in one of those 19th century homes. Most of my other ancestors that settled there were from New York, and the landscape definitely reminds me of upstate New York. I’ll be going back at some point, and I’m sure the next trip will be a new learning experience. Not like Elisha Chadwell Creech’s, but fruitful for me nonetheless.