George Roush is shown with daughters-in-law Virginia Roush, left, wife of Dr. Sigel Roush, and Sarah Brown Roush, wife of Wesley T. Roush.
George Roush is shown with daughters-in-law Virginia Roush, left, wife of Dr. Sigel Roush, and Sarah Brown Roush, wife of Wesley T. Roush.
Ladies and gentlemen, the ice and snow have vanished in the old Strange Cemetery and have been replaced by sunshine, green grass – and my great-great-great-uncle, Dr. Sigel Roush, who has been dead since 1954 and has been in repose in the Barnes Cemetery in Fairview about a mile or so away. Well, except he isn’t in repose just now, is he? At this point, I’d rather not go over and look.

We stand in front of the grave of Sigel’s father and my great-great-great-grandfather, George Roush, who was born in 1827 and has been gone for 111 years come March 19. I had asked the Doc about his father, and he told me about the old Roush homestead near Russell Station, a place he referred to as “the Swamps.”

“Doc, this doesn’t sound like a fun place to live at all,” I say. “Who in their right mind would call a place like this home?”

“The Swamps abounded in game and certain fur-bearing animals, and the gain from pelts had early attracted a few hardy trappers who lived, for the greater part of the year, within these gloomy precincts,” the Doc replies.

“As an adjunct to the wild meat upon which they mainly subsisted, these trappers, who soon became expert woodsmen, were in the habit of clearing away a small plot of ground about their rude cabins upon which they grew a meager amount of vegetables and Indian corn.”

“OK, that still doesn’t sound like fun,” I say. “So what brought your father to the Swamps?”

“These trappers lived a lonely life, seldom met their fellows and rarely came in contact with the outside world,” says the Doc. “They held no legal title to the land, nor did they concern themselves about it, for there was no one to dispute their claim. Yet there was an unwritten law among them that prevented one from encroaching upon the territory of another, and if there ever occurred any disputes or differences between them, it was settled by the law of the jungle and the outside world knew nothing about it.

“On every side of the Swamps the country was hilly, thus converting this tract of marshy forest into a natural amphitheater. In these surrounding hills, the pioneers from the East settled and cleared away their farms. Here they reared their families and wrested from the soil their slender subsistence. In the hills to the south of the Swamps, my forebears, after trekking over the Allegheny Mountains, finally found a home. Here my father and mother were born and lived until they married, which, following the custom of those pioneer days, was at an early age.

“A fortnight after the simple nuptials, my father chanced to meet one of the trappers from the Swamps who was returning from marketing his furs, and the two engaged in conversation,” Sigel continues. “The trapper was old and weary of his life and offered to sell his claim of about 50 acres to my father. The consideration was only a few dollars, and my father bought it ‘sight unseen.’ The next day, the trapper led my father to a one room cabin about five miles into the Swamps.”

“So what was this cabin and land like?” I inquire.

“There was a small clearing around the cabin, a shallow well and a few hand implements of the soil,” Doc answers. “That was all. The next month, my father and mother mounted on a single horse and took up their journey to their new home. Here my mother remained while my father returned to his ancestral rooftree in the hills from which place he brought away, on his second horseback trip, all his earthly belongings. In these unpromising
surroundings, they began housekeeping. Being the youngest but one of a family of six, I have no personal knowledge of these strenuous years, but many a night I have listened, while the logs blazed and crackled in the wide-mouthed fireplace of our then-larger log home, to the thrilling tales told by my father and older brothers of these primitive times.”

“I’d love to hear some of these tales,” I beseech of the Doc.

“Some of these tales I have heard many times, but I never grew tired of them,” he says with a warm smile. “At the dramatic periods, my heart would beat wildly, and in imagination I fought with them, I wrestled with the wild beasts in close quarters, I could even feel the trickle of blood from wounds made by the wolf’s cruel teeth as it oozed my strength away. And I had pointed out to me time without number the places where these thrilling adventures happened, and where my mind’s eye would complete the scene, when with the actors all restored, the pioneer drama would be re-enacted in my excited brain with the verity of living reality.

“Other evidences of the truth of these tales I have had aplenty, not the least convincing of which were certain bodily scars that my father and older brothers received in these conflicts, and which they carried with them to their graves; scars not only inflicted by ferocious beasts, but scars left by ferocious men as well; honorable scars, the badges of heroism bestowed upon them in the fierce struggle they waged to gain and maintain the mastery over the savage conditions of these lawless days.”

Let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue next week.

Steve Roush is a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at