Sarah Elizabeth Cooper Rowan, known as "Eliza," was from a financially secure family. She was deemed to be an "attractive" woman, 5'7" tall, and unaccustomed to hardships and dangers. Her son John described her as "soft, mild, gentle, and kind." She was a sensitive woman who tended to be reserved in her habits, but she possessed a great courage which would surface when needed.
Eliza's courage was tested during the family's move from Pennsylvania to Kentucky on their flatboat. When the family neared Yellow Banks, now known as Owensboro, Kentucky, fire smoke was noticed in the distance. The Rowans realized the fire was created by Native Americans and proceeded with caution. A "war whoop" sounded by the Native Americans and in broken English, the Rowans were ordered ashore. As canoes neared the flatboat, Eliza arose from her seat and without uttering a word, collected all of the axes aboard and placed one beside each of the men, leaning the axe handle aside them. She kept an axe for herself and sat down in silent composure. Fortunately, the dispute was settled peacefully and no harm to the Rowans was committed or to the Native Americans.
After arriving at Fort Vienna, the Rowans relied upon Eliza to prepare foods for their survival. After 6 years of difficult work, she and her husband William together determined that there was great promise in their son John and decided to move the family to Bardstown, Kentucky to secure educational opportunities for him, and their other children. Upon their arrival in Bardstown in 1890, they enrolled John in a local school operated by Dr. James Priestly, a fellow former occupant of York County, Pennsylvania.