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Pioneer boys on the Missouri
Start of Story
by Harrison Adams.
Age Rating 10 Plus.
TWO BOYS IN A DUGOUT CANOE
"WE are on the worse side of the river, Cousin Roger, if a storm
"That is true, Dick; but it may not come down on us for hours yet; and
the fish are taking hold finely now."
"Yes, and no one likes to pull them in better than I do; but it
seems to me we already have enough in the dugout to supply the whole
"Then mother can send some down to the Cragans in the St. Louis
settlement; for they are old, and Mr. Cragan seldom goes out on the
Missouri nowadays. Just wait a little longer, Dick. Oh! what a tug that
was! Why, they keep getting bigger all the while. Look, the finest
buffalo fish we've taken this afternoon, Dick! Did you ever see such
a savage fighter? It makes my arms ache to drag him in against this
"Mine have been feeling sore for a long time, now; but, when you get
fishing, Roger, you never do know when to stop. Well, I'll give in
again, and stay a little longer, though I think we are taking big
chances with that storm. But you must put a limit on the fish to be
taken. When we have three more, no matter whether they are large or
small, we'll wind up our lines and cross the river."
"Make it five, Dick, please; that's only a little thing when the fish
are biting as they are now."
"Just as you say, Roger; but not another one, no matter what happens."
"Oh! I always keep my word, even if they do call me Headstrong Roger,
just as my father, Sandy Armstrong, was before me. Five it shall be,
Dick; and see! that can take only a little while; because I've hooked
one before my line was more than half-way out. And see him fight, will
you? This is the best fishing we've had this year. It makes me think
of the great times our fathers used to have, away up on the Ohio,
where they built their first log cabin, before Grandfather Armstrong
emigrated to the new Mississippi country."
For several minutes talkative Roger had to devote all his attention to
pulling in the large captive that struggled at the end of his line;
and, as his cousin also felt a savage tug about the same time, both
were busily engaged.
We may take advantage of their occupation for a brief time to explain
just who were the two lads, thus engaged upon the rolling current of
the great Missouri River, far back in the summer of the year 1804, when
English speaking people were few and far between in this new region,
but recently acquired by the United States.
Years before the grandparents of these lads had left Virginia at the
solicitation of the great hunter and backwoodsman, Daniel Boone, who
had discovered the richness of the Kentucky country, and was trying to
induce settlers to occupy it, despite the savage Indians who resisted
They had settled on the Ohio, and, with other hardy souls, started
to develop homes in the wilderness; and here the two sons of David
Armstrong, Bob and Sandy, met with many strange .
Later on, a terrible flood, such as the Ohio valley had never before
known at that early day, when its banks were lined with primeval
forests, had swept the cabins of many of the settlers away, and so
discouraged them that a party decided to build a floating house on a
raft, and go further down the river, looking for new homesteads in the
wilderness, this time in the valley of the mighty Mississippi.
This houseboat had managed to run the gauntlet of all sorts of perils
from hostile Shawanees and jealous French trappers, who resented the
invasion of what they believed to be their territory by the daring
In the end the mighty Mississippi had been reached, and at first the
Armstrongs had tried to establish their new home below the junction
of the two rivers. It was, however, just before the breaking out of
the Revolutionary War, when, over the entire country, settlers were
old David went away prospecting, and later on returned with
wonderful accounts of the splendid opening that awaited those who would
settle down close to the new and enterprising border trading post,
which had been named St. Louis in honor of the French king.
In the end they had once more "pulled up stakes," though it was not so
hard to do so this time, as they had not become greatly attached to
the home on the shore of the Mississippi, or their intensely patriotic
neighbors, who delighted to annoy them because they favored the cause
of Washington and his "rebels," as the Continental army was called at
In their new location near St. Louis the Armstrongs had labored hard to
make a permanent home. As the years slipped past, the boys had grown
to young manhood; and presently the older brother, Bob, married the
daughter of another settler on an adjoining farm, one Nancy Adams.
In due time a second cabin was constructed, to which Bob took his young
wife; and just a year later Sandy followed his example, marrying the
young school teacher, Phoebe Shay, and also erecting a home of his own;
so that there was now quite a little settlement of the Armstrongs, with
old David as the head of the family.
As the months and years passed children came who called David
grandfather; Bob had two boys named Dick and Sam; while Sandy rejoiced
in the possession of a sturdy lad, Roger, and a sweet girl who was
named Mary, after her Grandmother Armstrong.
When David obtained the tract of land upon which he settled, and which
was just outside the limits of St. Louis, he believed that he had done
all that was necessary to secure his title to the same. And, as he
watched the adjoining settlement augment in size as the years passed
on, Mr. Armstrong congratulated himself on having laid a foundation for
his family that would bear much valuable fruit in course of time.
Here amidst these pleasant surroundings the children of the Armstrong
brothers grew up, and began to take their places in the little
community of which they were destined to form important units.
As the boys grew older they naturally took to the same things that had
been of such prime importance in the lives of their fathers. Hunting
and fishing were of the utmost necessity to these early pioneers,
since only by such means were they enabled to provide for many of the
family wants. Indeed, but for the bounty of Nature in supplying such
vast quantities of game, the task of settling the waste places of our
country would have been a much more difficult one than was the case.
Of course, as their two sons grew tall and more manly, Bob and Sandy
Armstrong went less and less into the forest, and out upon the waters,
contenting themselves with an occasional hunt in the season of laying
in "pemmican," as the dried venison and buffalo meat of the Indians was
called, for the winter's store. They had plenty to do in developing
their farms, for the work in those days was much more exacting than in
recent years, when so many labor-saving farm implements are used.
The two lads, Dick and Roger, resembled
their fathers as much as people said, they were a pair of resolute
young fellows when, at about the age of fifteen, we make their
Dick was steady-going, though he could be as quick as a flash should
the necessity require. He was more apt to deliberate, and do the right
thing, than his younger cousin, Roger, who had inherited his father's,
Sandy Armstrong's, impetuous nature, and was inclined to be a little
Both were good-hearted, manly boys, and blessings to their parents.
They had early in life learned many of the secrets of woodcraft as
known to those hardy, early pioneers, and could read the signs of the
trail as well as most old trappers, accustomed to spending their lives
in the wilderness, where danger lurked back of every falling leaf, with
hostile Indians, and revengeful French trappers, hovering around.
The English were numerous at the St. Louis settlement, and had,
moreover, taken such good measures to fortify the post that no
successful foray was ever engineered by the allied tribes of the West
looking to its reduction. And as a certain wampum belt, presented to
the Armstrong boys by the great sachem, Pontiac, for valuable services
which they had rendered to him, still seemed to possess a potent
power over the Sacs, Pottawatomies, Foxes, and other tribes of Indians,
the little settlement above St. Louis, on the Missouri, had never once
been molested by the redskins, though other places had been attacked
from year to year.
It was at this time, with spring only lately passed, that we find the
cousins out upon the Missouri, enjoying their favorite occupation, and
having such great sport that Roger could hardly be convinced that they
should give up the fishing if they hoped to cross the wide river, and
reach home, before the threatening storm broke.
It had promised rain nearly all day, which had been a rather hot, muggy
one; but, as it seemed to be the finest fishing day they had enjoyed
all season, both boys had taken chances in coming out. There were times
when the stock of provisions ran rather low at home, since the crops
were only getting their early summer growth, and fresh fish would
always be acceptable among the Armstrongs.
Roger had so much trouble with his latest capture that Dick brought
his to the boat before his cousin could. Perhaps this was because he
went about his task with deliberation; while the other lad, in his
eagerness, allowed the heavy fish to drag the line out several times,
on account of not being prepared for his sudden rushes.
This fact is only mentioned in a casual way to let the reader
understand thus early in the story what the different natures of our
two heroes were; for doubtless there will occur many instances when
these leading characteristics must stand out most prominently.
"That makes two of the five, Dick!" gasped Roger, as he managed to
unhook his capture, and, after once more baiting his stout hook, cast
it far out into the rolling stream for a fresh trial.
"Yes," replied the other, who had already allowed his own line to run
out to its full limit; "and, if they keep on taking hold as they have
been doing, we'll soon have the other three in the dugout. But you
never can tell with fish. They stop biting all of a sudden, and nothing
you can do will tempt them to start in again."
"There comes another big one, Dick! Oh! isn't it too mean, he just
gave a terrible plunge, and broke away. That's bad luck, I'm afraid,"
exclaimed the younger of the fishers, in a disappointed tone.
"And I suppose he was the biggest of the whole lot?" the other remarked
with a laugh.
"There, something's at my bait again!" ejaculated Roger, eagerly.
"Don't I hope he swallows it, hook and all!"
He braced himself for the tug, having learned what tremendous pullers
these so-called buffalo fish of the rivers could be, when they had the
whole force of the current back of their efforts. A few seconds later
his line gave a sudden jerk.
"Hurrah! I've got my second one, and that makes three!" he whooped
gleefully, as he started to pull in hand over hand, for they were not
fishing with poles, and such things as reels were unknown among the
early settlers of the West.
Half way did Roger drag his expected prize in, when he uttered a dismal
"He's gone, Dick, worse luck!" he exclaimed in a disappointed tone.
"Perhaps there's something wrong with the barb of my hook, they seem to
get off so easy of late; I'd better be looking after it. Anyhow, the
bait must be gone, and I never yet caught a fish with a bare hook.
Hope you have better luck with yours," as Dick started pulling his line
in, with something that wriggled tremendously at the other end.
"All of which," remarked the other boy, with a smile, "goes to show
that, as Grandfather Armstrong says, it's poor policy to count your
chickens before they're hatched; and a fish on the hook isn't always a
fish in the boat. Look what I've caught!"
"An eel, and a big one at that!" exclaimed Roger, looking up from
examining the point of his hook, which he found to be in excellent
condition after all, so that the fault, if any there was, did not lie
there, but possibly in his manner of giving the wriggling fish too
much slack line. "Better knock him on the head before you take him in,
because a slippery customer like that will soon own the whole boat, and
drive us over the side, if he gets to whipping around."
This was good advice, as Dick well knew, and, picking up a billet
of wood which they used to dispatch their fish in a humane way when
caught, he finally succeeded in killing the large fresh-water eel.
But, somehow, that seemed to put an end to the fishing, for, although
they tried the most tempting bait, they did not get another nibble.
Even the big yellow catfish, for which the Missouri has always been
famous, some of them running up to sixty pounds, declined to bite.
Dick grew anxious at the delay, and several times hinted to his cousin
that it would be the part of wisdom for them to give up, even though
they still lacked three fish. But it was a difficult task to drag Roger
from anything he had set out to do, and he kept reminding the other
that they had set a limit of five fish, and that the fish were apt
to take hold again at any minute; he was sure he had felt a cautious
nibble at his bait just then, and, given another chance, they could
easily haul in three more, big or little, it mattered not.
Suddenly a gust of wind came sweeping across the river, and made the
dugout rock violently. Looking up, the boys saw that already the breeze
was whipping the surface of the Missouri into whitecaps, as the squall
"We've waited too long, Roger, you see!" declared Dick, calmly; "and
now we've got to find some sort of shelter from the storm, on this side
of the river!"
 The notes will be found at the end of the book.
 See "The Pioneer Boys of the Ohio."
 See "The Pioneer Boys on the Great Lakes."