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From: "Kes Truelove" <>
Subject: [BLACKARD] How the Sheriff of Gallatin County.doc
Date: Wed, 10 Jan 2007 23:51:22 -0600
How the Sheriff of Gallatin County, Illinois in 1898
Saved my Life
An Untold Story of the Great Shawneetown Flood
By Kes Truelove, Jr.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, April 3, 1898. It was sunny and very few clouds were present. And while the waters of the Ohio River were at flood level there was no danger of additional rain. And weren't the citizens of Shawneetown, the oldest city in Illinois, protected by the strongest and best levee in the whole of the United States.
Shawneetown was founded in about 1810 at the southern end of Gallatin County on a high bluff overlooking the Ohio River and looking East to Kentucky. It was named after the Shawnee Indians who had a village there in the 1740's. The Bluff looked to me to be at least 60 feet tall with a levee of at least another 30 feet. The land had a gradual slope upward to the West and so the levee had three sides, East facing the Ohio River, North facing upriver, and South facing downriver.
The Sunday Schools had been dismissed and the children were out playing. Couples of all ages were promenading on the top of the broad levee. In the homes many women had already started the evening meal while the men dozed or just sat and gossiped. It had been a glorious day of sunshine, rest, and serenity. There was nearly total confidence in the levee and no worry about the water level. Oh sure, there had been floods before, many times before. The high one in 1867 and was known for years as "the big water". They had just built the levee higher. Then 3 years in a row, 1882, 1883, and 1884. Each one setting a record and higher than the last. The levee grew ever so much higher till it seemed that they had finally reached a height of maximum protection. The water just could not overflow the levee.
And then - - - - the impossible happened - the Levee gave way.
Not like before when the water would gradually creep over the top. No, this time it was different. It started with a small leak about 20 feet from the levee base that rapidly grew to a hole 2 feet in diameter. That in turn ate downward into the body of the levee and with no warning there was a 20 foot wide opening filled with an "angry, tumbling, rushing mountain of water (going) down through the city. The crevice widened, the water spread with great rapidity and with the force of an avalanche, carrying death and destruction with it."
In all the years since the founding of Shawneetown there had never been a death from a flood. Waters had been so high in the past that Ohio Steamboats and Paddlewheelers had sailed down Main Street to bring supplies and help survivors. But this time though the church bells were rung and men ran through the streets shouting a warning the sound of the cataract of water was heard all over town. The north levee broke opposite Locust Street and took much of the town with it.
There were over 150 homes that were washed off their foundations and whirled along southward by the current crushing other buildings and people along the way till the debris reached the south levee. There were hundreds of people who lost all their possessions. But worst of all there were over 30 who lost their lives in the devastation.
My Grandmother, Lilly Myrtle Armstrong was in Shawneetown that day! She had just turned 15 the past March 18 and was working for the Sheriff of Gallatin County, Charles Riley Galloway. The Jail and the Sheriff's home joined each other. The jail was 1 story and the home was 2 stories but there was no inside door or connection. To go from the house into the jail you first had to go outside.
My Grandmother's job was to cook for the prisoners, do the dishes and clean up after. Before the levee gave way the Sheriff noticed that the water was rising faster than he had expected, so he gave her the keys to the jail cells and told her to let the men out so the wouldn't drown and they could go to their homes to care for their families. She asked him if he wanted her to stay with his wife and 2 daughters. He said "no', they were already safe upstairs on the 2nd floor and she should head west to the high ground while he went to the livery to get his prize pair of white horses which he was also going to take to the high ground.
After the Sheriff returned from the western high ground he secured a skiff and went to the courthouse where many of the survivors had taken shelter, then off to his home - but there was no home to be found. He returned to the courthouse with a nervous feeling asking if anyone had seen his wife and 2 daughters, Dora and Mary. Then he went on to the schoolhouse and finally the Riverside Hotel (Nearby was the Rawlings Inn where General Lafayette had stayed in 1825 on his tour of the country). Finally, overcome with grief, he faced the truth that his family was lost and gone for good. Their bodies were eventually recovered and laid to rest at Palestine Cemetery #1 on the north side of Omaha, Gallatin Co, Illinois.
The people of Shawneetown finally had enough in 1937 when the water was 25 feet above the streets and 6 feet over the top of the levee. Every home was flooded to the level of the 2nd floor. With the help of the state of Illinois and the US Government, land was purchased on higher ground to the west about 2 miles and a new Shawneetown was laid out. 250 homes and 32 business buildings were moved.
So there it is, when Sheriff Galloway told my grandmother to go home and not take refuge on the 2nd floor of his home he saved her life and thereby all of her descendents. My grandmother lived until 1980 and died when she was 97. She lived to raise 4 children. My mother was the oldest, Josephine Elizabeth (Creasser) Truelove, born November 30, 1906, my Aunt, Esther Marie (Creasser) Brooks born December 7, 1908 died July 17, 1975, my Aunt, Lucille (Creasser) Powell born September 16, 1911, and my Uncle, Thomas Robert Creasser born November 17, 1913.
When my mother 1st told me this story I had 2 questions. #1 What was Grandma doing working during school time and #2 why so far away from home (Omaha) down in Shawneetown where she had no relatives.
Mother told me the answer to Question #1 but it took many years to uncover the answer to Question #2.
Grandmother's parents were William Louis Armstrong 1855-1898 and Elizabeth Ann "Lizzie" Blackard 1858-1937 and they were 2nd cousins because ----
William Louis Armstrong's parents were James Washington Armstrong 1824-1891 and Margaret Susan Blackard 1836-1918 and
Elizabeth Ann "Lizzie" Blackard's parents were William Laffett Blackard 1825-1895 and Margaret Jane Kinsall 1830-1878.
I believe the middle name of William Laffett Blackard to be Lafayette and named after General Lafayette who stayed at the Rawlings Inn in Shawneetown the same year that William was born in Sumner County, Tennessee - 1825. I call him "La-fett" because that's what my grandmother called him - though I have never seen his middle name spelled out.
My grandmother's father got sick with TB about 1893 or so and became so weak he had to stop farming. The family did whatever they could to stay together. The father, William L. Armstrong, would make brooms with broom straw and sell them door-to-door as well as to stores in the general area. The mother, Lizzie Blackard Armstrong, took in washing, did mending, knitted and crocheted cloths to order, and had a large loom that she weaved rugs for homes. The older brothers of my grandmother would take any odd jobs on the various farms while the younger brothers would spread clean sheets on the roof to sun dry apples and other fruits to sell as well as keep for the winter. My Grandmother's job (Starting when she was about 10) was to attend to the households of women who couldn't take of their homes because of sickness, injury, pregnancy, or whatever. She worked with many of the local physicians around Omaha and the area around the Mount Olive Church in White County. In December, 8 months after the Shawneetown flood, William Louis Armstrong died and was buried at Mount Olive Cemetery located in Indian Creek Township, White County, just across the Gallatin County line. He died in the same house in Omaha that his father-in-law, William Laffett Blackard had died in 1895.
Question #2 was why was my grandmother so far away from home (Omaha) and working in Shawneetown where she had no relatives. I found that the Sheriff Galloway was born in White County January 10, 1850 and married 1st to Brunette Pearce July 16, 1868 in White County, daughter of John Pearce and Elender "Ella" Jones. After having 1 daughter, Virginia Ellen "Jennie" born October 27, 1870, Brunette died May 20, 1875.
Charles Galloway then married Sylvestra Jane McMurtry January 20, 1876 in Gallatin County who's Grand Uncle, John McMurtry Jr., was married to Sarah Blackard. Sarah was My Grandmother's Great Grand Aunt as well as sister to my Grandmother's 2 Great Grandfathers, Thomas and William Blackard Sr.
My Grandmother was a 2nd cousin 2X removed to the Sheriff's 1st wife on her father's side (the Pearce Family). My Grandmother also knew Sheriff Galloway quite well. He was a miller and moved from White Co. to Omaha, Gallatin Co when he "took an interest" in the mills of J.B. Latimer and Co. in 1882. In 1883 he built a new home in Omaha. So Grandmother was related to his daughter by his 1st marriage and had common McMurtry Relatives with his 2nd wife and their 2 daughters.
Jennie Galloway, The sheriff's daughter by his first marriage was married to Lewis Harper in 1890 in White County and had one son that I know of, Ray, who was killed in France during WWI. Jennie lived till 1945 and both she and her mother, Brunette (Pearce) Galloway are buried in the Village Cemetery, Indian Creek Township, White Co, Illinois.
After her husband died in 1898 Lizzie Blackard Armstrong kept the family together - 5 sons and 1 daughter ages 17 to 2. They moved about 1902 to Washington, Daviess Co, Indiana when the 2 older boys took jobs on the railroad. Arthur was 21 and Orley was 18. My Grandmother met my Grandfather in Washington and they married November 6, 1905. Grandfather was Walter Noah Creasser born October 4, 1882 and he too was a railroad man. Then the family's last move, about 1913, was to Indianapolis, Indiana, still following the railroad jobs. Lizzie had kept the family together all those years with no husband.
Lizzie Blackard Armstrong used to tell her daughter, my grandmother, "Myrtle, If you don't take me back to Omaha to be buried when I die I will haunt you till you die". But a couple of years before her death in 1937, Lizzie told Myrtle that it would be OK for her to be buried in Indianapolis since nearly all her friends back home were dead - and she is, in Memorial Park, along side her daughter, Lilly Myrtle (Armstrong) Creasser and 3 of Lizzie's sons, Orley, Elton, and Howard Armstrong.
Not to far away from Lilly Myrtle (Armstrong) Creasser is her daughter, my aunt Esther Brooks with her husband Ralph, Myrtle's son, Thomas Creasser and his wife Louise, my mother Josephine Truelove will be buried there also alongside my father Kesler Estes Truelove. My site is alongside my parents where my wife & I together with several of my 1st cousins will be the 4th generation buried there.
Dedicated with my love to my mother, Josephine Elizabeth Creasser Truelove, who guided me in my youth, kept the family stories alive, and gave me the interest as an adult in the family history and the pride in what they endured to keep and develop a strong family.
Kes Truelove - 12/22/2002
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