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Picture of AuthorJanet Halliday Ervin

Hoosier Connection: Janet Halliday Ervin, born in Muncie, Indiana, wrote two juvenile novels set in New Harmony and Gentryville, Indiana, in the late 1800s.

Works Discussed: The Last Trip of the Juno, More Than Halfway There

Janet Halliday Ervin, a sixth-generation Hoosier, was born in Muncie, Indiana, in 1923. After graduating from Muncie Central High School, she attended the University of Chicago. She held several jobs reporting and writing for newspapers and magazines, including positions as a reporter for the Muncie Evening Press, a college guest editor-in-chief for Mademoiselle Magazine, a free-lancer for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, a free-lancer for Toledo Blade, and a writer for several women’s magazines. She was also the Prix de Paris winner for Vogue Magazine in 1946. She has written three published books, two of which are set in old Indiana backgrounds, though she now resides in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. The two books with Hoosier environment are The Last Trip of the Juno, a short, illustrated children’s story about a steamboat on the Wabash, and More Than Halfway There, a novel taking place near Pigeon Creek in Gentryville, Indiana.

The Last Trip of the Juno is about two brothers, John and Jenks, growing up on the banks of the Wabash River near New Harmony, Indiana. As children they watch houseboats, ferries, flatboats, barges, and other boats make their way down the river toward New Orleans. They always want to be rivermen someday, though they can never agree on anything else. One day they finally build their own steamboat, the "Juno," which is the slowest of all the boats. They always arrive last in New Orleans to pick up their cargo and last back to New Harmony. To prove the capability of his boat, one brother wants to arrive first at New Harmony, but when they are almost back, he decides to take the treacherous shortcut. The brothers fight at the wheel to turn the boat in opposite directions, but the Juno crashes into the island at the split in the Wabash. The shipwrecked boat becomes a part of the landscape until it is eventually washed down the river, becoming a ghostly legend:

The river had the last word, because the river is boss after all. Little by little, as the years passed, the currents changed and began to nibble away at the Island. The sand was swept away, then the mud and silt. Willows and cottonwoods lost their toeheads and fell. Juno Island grew smaller and smaller until, one day, the very last bit of it swirled downstream. Slowly, slowly, with nothing to hold her under, there arose from the river the ghost of a boat with her bare, bleached bones gleaming in the sun. (46)

The phrase “the river is boss” describes the power of nature and its ever-changing cycle of serenity to swirling fury, erasing memories of mankind’s will to conquer the environment. In More Than Halfway There, Ervin depicts how humans have impacted another important river, by polluting and overcrowding it. “The Ohio River, between Indiana and Kentucky, has become a busy highway, crowded day and night with houseboats, flatboats, and passenger boats. Travelers wait on the Indiana shore to catch a ride downriver…” (121).

This novel takes place near Pigeon Creek in 1829, where a country boy Albert learns through the mentorship of Abe Lincoln about politics, the importance of reading and writing, and the environment outside of the small town of Gentryville. Since Abe is one of the few literate people of the town, he is reading the newspaper to the townspeople, bringing them up-to-date on current events such as the completion of the National Road through Indianapolis, the buying of land for the Wabash-Erie Canal, and a new railroad line at Shelbyville (131). The Ohio River is an important mode of commerce, and some characters feel that the construction of miles of land transportation paths will add to congestion and pollution, as well as being unbecoming to the environment. “One man declares that he is against railroads, national roads, and canals because they cost too much,” and they are “contrary to nature” (131).

Though humans often harm the environment, Ervin also writes about blossoms marking the history of the land, folklore knowledge using nature to predict the weather, and the beauty of nature and its remedies. The following passage is about the boy Albert cutting through the forest to his cabin stopping only to enjoy the smell of the sassafras tree:

The shortcut through the woods passed by a grove of sassafras trees. A little breeze stirred the trees and wafted their sweet, spicy smell. Albert reached out and caught a leaf. He bruised it between his fingers and held it to his nose, savoring the familiar scent. Orange-colored sassafras tea was good for almost any ailment. It was fine if you were chilled or had a fever and it thinned the blood in the spring. (75)

Later Abe Lincoln is walking with Albert and speaking of the threat of Native American attacks deep in the woods. Abe’s own grandfather was almost killed by a “savage,” except his brother came at the last second with a shotgun (78). Ervin shows conflicting views toward Native Americans when nature reminds Abe of the land’s past – the natives fighting bravely for their land:

He [Abe Lincoln] shuffled about in the dry leaves, searching for nuts that the squirrels had overlooked, taking care not to step on the Indian pipes which rose, pale and ghostly, from the rotting wood beneath the ground. The waxy blossoms, which sprung up so mysteriously overnight, weren’t good for anything that he knew of, but he always imagined that it might be bad luck to crush them. Perhaps they marked the grave of an Indian brave, fallen in battle. (102-103)

Native Americans are not the only threat in the woods. Albert thinks of the gray wolves that creep dangerously close to the cabin. “[I]f there was a big snow and a long hard freeze on top of it, most of the squirrels would be frozen and starved out, and the few left would fall prey to the lean, gray wolves that would prowl closer and closer to the cabin” (55). Also, the settlers feared milk sickness, a poison passed through an infected cow’s milk from eating the deadly plant white snakeroot. Albert’s mother died of milk sickness when he was only nine (76). Finally, Abe Lincoln decides to move to Illinois to “get away from worn-out land and the milksick” (136).

Contributing to Hoosier literature dealing with the environment, Janet Halliday Ervin brings up several important topics such as the overcrowding of rivers, highways cutting through forests, and settlers’ contradicting views toward Native Americans. Writing about the beauty of the Indiana environment as well as its lurking dangers, she shows much insight into pioneer life of the mid-1800s and how the settlers shaped the land.



Ervin, Janet Halliday. More Than Halfway There. Chicago: Follett Publishing Company, 1970.

---. “Purple-White-Fight-Fight.” The Muncie Fieldhouse. Oct. 19, 2005. <http://www.bsu.edu/web/bgeelhoed/memoriespage3.htm>.

---. The Last Trip of the Juno. Chicago: Follett Publishing Company, 1970.

“Ervin, Janet Halliday.” Directory of Indiana Authors and Illustrators. Indiana State Library. Oct. 19, 2005. <http://www.statelib.lib.in.us/www/isl/ldo/childrens/e.htm>.

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