By Jared Olar
Among the stories and anecdotes of Tazewell County’s early settlers, we find a tale of a little lost boy on page 535 of Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.” The story, which concerns the earliest history of Morton Township, is as follows:
“In the early settlement of this country it was not uncommon for children to get lost, yet when they did the intensest excitement prevailed in the neighborhood. When Robert G. Strickland was only two years old, he started out to find his father. The surrounding country there was one vast wilderness of brush and timber. He was soon missed, but no traces of his whereabouts could be had for some fifteen hours. The whole settlement turned out in search of the child. Three district schools dismissed, that all might join in the search. A Mr. Baricks found him over a mile from the house, and took him to Samuel Tart’s, who had just lost a little boy, and their girl was so glad she had another little brother. Mrs. Tart had a little niece about the same age of the lost boy, who lived with her. He was tired and dirty, and his clothes all torn and face badly scratched. To this day he wears the scars on his face. He was dressed in the clothing of her little niece by Mrs. Tart, and was sleeping sweetly when his father called for him. We will close this narrative by stating that the lost boy is now the husband of the little girl whose dresses he was clothed with. He resides on the same old farm, and has seven children, none of whom has he lost either by death or straying.”
One year after Chapman included this story in his county history, Robert Strickland and his family were enumerated in the 1880 U.S. Census, which shows Robert as a 44-year-old farmer in Morton Township, with his wife Rebecca, 39, and their seven children Sarah, 16, William, 15, Eva, 12, Laura, 10, Robert, 7, James, 5, and Myra, 2.
Various Ancestry.com family trees provide additional information, including published obituaries and gravestone photographs, telling of the lives and deaths of the little lost boy who had been clothed in the dress of the little girl he would eventually marry.
Robert Gilson Strickland was born in May of 1836, in Nashville, Tenn., a son of Thomas Monroe and Susan Agee (Bondurant) Strickland. Robert’s wife was Rebecca Frances Drury, born in July of 1839, daughter of William and Sarah (Wells) Drury. In his old age, Robert and Rebecca moved to McLean, Lawndale Township, McLean County, Illinois, where they lived with their son James.
It was at his son James’ home that Robert died of a brain hemorrhage on Aug. 9, 1910. One of his published obituaries states, “At the age of 6 months he moved with his parents to Washington, Tazewell county, Ill., and there grew to manhood … He was married in 1861, and nine (sic) children were born to bless this union.” He was buried in Wiley Cemetery, Colfax, McLean County. Robert’s widow Rebecca died 13 years later in Footville, Wisconsin, on Jan. 17, 1923.