Shown is George Roush's tombstone.
Shown is George Roush's tombstone.
Ladies and gentlemen, when we left the old Strange Cemetery last week, my great-great-great-uncle Dr. Sigel Roush was chatting about his late father, George Roush, and the family’s trusty rifle, “Long Tom.”

The old Doc recalled the shooting matches he and his brothers would have with their father and how even into his 70s, old George would usually emerge the victor over his sons.

As we stand in front of the grave marker of George Roush, who was born in 1827 and passed away in 1907, I ask the Doc, “So, did you ever come out the winner against your father in these shooting matches?”

“Ah, I remember with poignant emotions when he first failed to prove the victor,” the Doc says with a somber look. “I had been away from home for a while, and my return was celebrated one afternoon by a marksmanship test.

My father proposed it, and though I owned a more modern rifle, he suggested we use Long Tom. I set up the target at 50 paces against the old elm tree in the barnyard, and Long Tom was taken down from the deer antler support above the door and cleaned. From the powder horn, my father carefully poured a charge of powder down the long barrel. He next wrapped the ball in the patching and rammed it home. Then he primed the gun and drew back the hammer. I saw to my sorrow the Old Pioneer was a bit unsteady, and I determined to shoot wild when my time came.”

“That’s understandable, Doc,” I say. “So is that what you did?”

“He must have suspected my intentions, for when his shot failed to hit the bull’s-eye he warned me about any fudging on my part,” Sigel says. “I was in a quandary as to what to do, for I knew I could beat his shot if I did my best. I looked at him for a moment and I realized if he suspected that I was letting him down easy he would feel hurt, for all his life he had played the game with wild nature and wilder men where no quarter was ever asked or given. I determined to do my best. When the score was closed, I had beaten him overwhelmingly.”

“I’m sorry, Doc,” I say. “That must have been a tough day.”

“I shall never forget the look of sadness and sorrow that filled his now dimming eyes as he realized, perhaps for the first time in all his life, that he was nearing the end of the book, that his days of triumph were numbered,” the Doc replies with a tinge of sadness in his voice. “In those early times, we were never much given to sentiment or demonstrations of affection, and while he made a brave effort to accept the inevitable, he did it with awkward grace, for it was the first time in his whole life he was compelled to step down and take a back seat.

“He was no longer young, and the conviction bore down upon him heavily and with deadening effect,” Sigel continues. “I saw him again several times at intervals of about a year, and each visit told a sorrowful tale of the rapidly failing old man. Then one day I was hurriedly called home. The gray-haired patriarch sat in his favorite arm chair, a chair fashioned by his own hands years before out of well-seasoned hickory withes. He was painfully weak, worn and emaciated.”

“And that must have even been a tougher day than the day you were victorious with Long Tom,” I say softly.

“My father’s eyes, always bright and penetrating, took on an unnatural brilliancy as I drew near,” the Doc recalls. “I sat close beside him, and we talked and talked and talked – always of the past, of those savage days when the next meal was not always in sight; of ditching in March when we stood knee-deep in ice-cold mud and slush, digging an outlet to some slough or morass which we hoped to add to our tillable acreage; of that time when a desperate she-wolf in mid-winter kidnapped my baby brother; of the killing of McKimie, the far-West bandit who pursued by a sheriff’s posse had taken shelter in the swamps; of Moccasin Mike, the Indian, killed in a struggle over stolen pelts; of the time when I, as a little tot, wandered with our collie, Tip, up the Big Ditch, and became lost in the Big Woods; of the time I lay at death’s door with the fever; of Jack King, the old trapper, and how he once came upon my father dying in the woods from the wounds of a wolf; of the time when I ran away from home and refused to come back unless I was granted certain privileges that in my youthful egotism I deemed rightfully mine; of how my mother always pleaded for me when I was in for a proper drubbing; and of how at last she lay white and cold in her eternal dreamless sleep.”

“Those sound like some great stories, Doc,” I say. “You’ll have to tell me some of them one of these days. Your father sure had some real adventures. Do you remember any more about that night?”

“And then when the embers burned low, and my father’s voice became scarcely audible, I gently helped him to his big wooden bed, and he soon fell into a natural and peaceful sleep,” says my great-great-great-uncle, who was born in 1862 and died in 1954.

“Then I left him – left him, as it turned out, to his eternal sleep, for no morning for him ever dawned again on earth. That last talk with my father of those pioneer days brought back vividly the scenes of my childhood and the earlier adventures recounted to me by my older brothers and yet those still earlier by my pioneer father.

“I, myself, have reached the stage in the journey of life when I sit with my back mostly to the driver and take more pleasure in the past than in the future, and as I recall these scenes I have formed the habit of setting them down.”

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