Who is Ruth?
Ruth Eliza Murray was a real girl. She truly did live in Ashtabula, Ohio with her family until they all moved with Uncle Joe out to Illinois to settle down near the DuPage River. No film crew documented the trip. There are no photographs, no diaries, no newspaper accounts. Years later, reporters interviewed the few settlers still living to record their memories, and some families have passed down old stories, but very little information exists about the founding of Naper’s Settlement.
Recreating Ruth’s story meant being a detective. Even simple facts had to be checked and rechecked. How old was Ruth is 1831? Was her birthday before or after the July trip? Is there a birth record or a gravestone to prove it? How did she look? Was she smart? Funny? Nice?
Tiny clues helped to build Ruth’s character: Her parents were Scottish and Irish, two nationalities that have the highest incidence of red hair. Ruth didn’t marry as young as her sisters did. Maybe she felt less attractive. Ruth’s older sister, Sally Ann, named a daughter after Ruth, so there must have been affection between them. Little by little, Ruth Eliza Murray came alive again.
Being a Detective
The same detective work was done for each of the people in the story, as well as for the ship they traveled on and the cities they visited. Woven around the historical facts is the imagined day-to-day life of the twelve-year-old girl who experienced this journey.
Knowing our history helps us understand our own place in it.
- Ruth’s grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War.
- After Ruth settled on the DuPage River, forty years would pass before Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in her little house on the prairie.
- And when Wilder died, Disneyland had already been delighting children for years.
It’s not so far after all to reach back through the years and shake hands with a girl from 1831, when our town, Naperville, was born.
A Few Great Online Resources
Many sources provided dates, names, and other background information so Ruth by Lake and Prairie could be as historically accurate as possible. Books, newspapers, and the Internet were scoured for facts. Interviews with historians and with descendants of the original settlers were also conducted.
Here are a few of the online resources that were referred to again and again during the writing of Ruth by Lake and Prairie:
A Compendium of the Early History of Chicago to the Year 1835, when the Indians left
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
The Naper Settlement
Conner Prairie Living History Museum