Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Go Grandma!

        Today, June 16,would have been my Grandmother's 114th birthday.  I suspect this photo I found of her in braids was probably taken a century ago when she was a young teen.
        She was one of a dozen kids born on a farm in southern Missouri. The biggest event when she was growing up was the annual reunion of ex-Confederate soldiers on nearby Barnitz Lake.
          Although she and grandpa met in St. Louis and lived in the city, they kept a weekend cabin in the country about a mile down the dirt road from the large white farm house where Grandma was born. We kids always considered her a hero of sorts and love to tell stories about her fighting off a snapping turtle at the swimming hole.
          Since she lived in the city and used public transit or walked to the store and church, she didn't learn to drive until and grandpa retired to the farm. It was a good thing she learned to drive. Grandpa died a few years later and she was alone at age 68.
         But she was tough. I remember once when she was in her 70s she got her hand caught in the wringer washer and pulled the skin off her thumb. She wrapped it in a dishtowel, finished making a pie and delivered it to the church before heading to the doctor.
              When she was in her 80s her farmhouse was struck by lightning and caught on fire twice.  The first time she put out the fire with the garden hose. The second time the fire was too far along when it woke her. The electricity was off and the pump didn't work. She escaped in her nightgown and watched her home burn to the ground. She waded through a swollen creek and walked barefoot a mile down a dirt road to her brother's house.
             Grandma died almost 22 years ago, but I know she's watching us even now. Happy Birthday Maxine Tharp Merrell!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Take a bow

Watching tonight's Tony Awards I fell in love with theater all over again.
             Even in my living room I couldn't help but applaud as if these great Broadway performers could hear me.   I love the voices, the dancing, the raging emotions, the innovative stories and flashy costumes.
              But more than anything else I love the diversity. The stage looks like our country. Young, old, black, white, Latino, Asian, even deaf. As the host James Corden said, the Tonys are the Oscars with diversity, and it's true. American Theatre is the best and brightest our country has to offer from the innovative rap of "Hamilton" to the sign language of "Spring Awakening".
              And the show's response to the horrifying news of the day...a mass shooting in Orlando..was sensitive and heartfelt, from the lapel ribbons everyone wore to setting aside the prop muskets normally used in "Hamilton," to Lin-Manuel Miranda's sonnet about the tragedy.
             The Tonys broadcast topped a weekend in which I reviewed two shows and spent several hours Saturday working with my fellow Encore Michigan reviewers to come up with the nominees for this year's Wilde Awards -- Michigan's version of the Tonys. I am delighted to have this small role in local theater and be a part of this ingenious industry.
             We all know our hateful, violent world must change. And I believe American theater has the love, creativity and innovation to lead the way.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Too many cooks

It's always fun to stumble upon an ancestor whose story makes you laugh out loud.
       Andrew Foutz was a pacifist Dutchman who married my gggreat aunt Rachel Merrell about 1771 in Rowan County, North Carolina. Now that was the same year that one of my gggreat uncles Benjamin Merrell was hung for treason for defying the British governor of North Carolina. Benjamin was considered a hero to a lot of the colonists, and the Merrells were rabid Sons of Liberty.
      Although most of the Foutz family refused to support the Revolution, poor Andy must have felt pressure from the Merrells to join. But he tried to do a task that didn't offend his pacifist leanings. He was General Washington's cook.
       According to Rise to Rebellion by Jeff Shaara, that didn't work exactly as planned.

I have two cooks ... one of them, Mr. Foutz ... fancies himself quite the expert in worldly cuisine,” General Washington is quoted as telling Benjamin Franklin. “If we fed this army in the same manner Mr. Foutz has attempted to feed me, there would be mass desertion. He actually set out an elaborate dinner whose main attraction was bugs. Covered in some kind of sauce, mind you, but bugs nonetheless. I made the decision at that moment that Mr. Foutz would better serve this army by shouldering a musket."


Monday, May 30, 2016

Where have all the flowers gone?

Irvin Walker died of illness a few months after he "joined"
      Since Memorial Day originally started out as Decoration Day to remember those who died in the Civil War, I thought maybe I should mention some of my ancestors who fought in that war.
      Most of my relatives who served in the Union Army survived. My mother's grandfather,Granville Coleman, was born in Virginia but his family moved to Missouri when he was a child. He joined the Missouri Cavalry when he was 16 and fought at the Battle of Pilot Knob, the opening engagement of Gen. Sterling Price's raid on Missouri in 1864. Granville fell off his horse and was dragged along the ground. He was hospitalized for much of the remainder of the war.
     Granville's father-in-law, William Nicholas Rogers, was a lead miner from England. He served in the Missouri Infantry. They were fighting in Louisiana in  February, 1863, when Nick developed such severe lung disease that he was transported by ambulance boat up the Mississippi to St. Louis. Although Nick and Granville both received small pensions for their ailments, they lived well into the 20th Century.
      Robert B. Walker, my father's great-grandfather, went to Springfield, Ill., in February, 1864, to join the Illinois Infantry, although he was most likely rounded up in Missouri by Union soldiers and forced to join.  He survived the war but died in 1877, the same year his daughter, Dad's grandmother, was born. She was orphaned five years later when her mother died as well.
        Robert's brother, Irvin B.Walker, was 36 and planning to sit this one out when he was "recruited" in  the fall of 1864 to serve in the 48th Missouri Infantry guarding the railroad from Rolla to St. Louis. He became sick at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis and died in January, 1865, about three months after he joined. He was one of 120 in the regiment to die of illness that winter.
       Even more of the Confederate cousins died. The Coleman relatives who stayed behind in Virginia joined the Confederacy. John was killed at Richmond in 1862. Brothers Joseph and Thomas were wounded at Gettysburg and became prisoners of war.
        Andrew Tullock, one of my mother's gggreat uncles, lost his legs in the war, came back and lived with his brother but died a few years later. Another uncle Andrew J. Tullock died as a Confederate soldier at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas in 1862. His brother Samuel was killed in battle a year later.
       Oh the futility of it all! I can't help thinking about that '60s folk song, "Where have all the Flowers Gone?"  If you are out decorating graves today, sing  a verse for me.

"...when will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?"

Monday, May 23, 2016

Tale of two cousins

Kit Carson
Last week I told you about my gggreat uncle James Jamison who was considered an outlaw during the Civil War but became one of the most famous lawmen in Texas. This week I'll tell you about his cousin who was also praised and scorned. Perhaps you've heard of him: Kit Carson.
         Actually Jim and Kit were third cousins. They shared the same great-great grandfather: Moses Carson. And since Jim's sister, Anna, was my grandmother's grandmother, I suppose I'm a distant cousin of Kit Carson too.
         But fame, I've come to understand, is something you want to touch with a long pole.
         Carson was born in Kentucky but moved to Missouri when he was just a baby. His parents settled near Boone's Lick in the middle of the state and were friends with the sons of Daniel Boone. Kit's father died when he was 8 and Kit was apprenticed to a saddle-maker in nearby Franklin.
          Now Franklin is a town where less than a hundred people live today, but in 1821 when Missouri became a state, Franklin was one of the most popular cities. That's where the Santa Fe trail began. People stopped by the saddle shop on their way West. It wasn't long before 16-year-old Kit joined a wagon train full of trappers.
          He supposedly killed his first Indian when he was 19 and became known for his ability to hunt and kill Indians who had attacked settlers or stolen their horses.
          In the 1840s John C. Fremont hired him as a guide for his expeditions mapping the Oregon Trail  and California. Fremont's reports brought national fame to Kit Carson. By 1847 exaggerated versions of Carson's adventures filled dime novels that everyone read.
            Carson served in the Mexican-American War and led New Mexico's Union troops during the Civil War. Since there weren't many Confederates to fight in New Mexico, Carson spent most of the war fighting Apaches and Navajo.
             Carson served as an Indian agent for the Utes and one of his final acts was to accompany Ute chiefs to Washington so they could plead their case to President Johnson. He died in Colorado in 1868 of an aortic aneurysm.        
          In the 20th Century,  many historians criticized Carson's participation the military's slaughter of whole Indian villages during the Civil War era.  Tales of his early Indian fighting years also show an over-eagerness to kill Indians whether they were a threat or not.
          Fame is a fickle thing. The same public opinion that calls you a hero can turn into hatred and blame. Cousin Jim would understand.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Genuinely scary

       They called him Genuine Jim, the real thing. But as I sort through reports of my most notorious ancestor, I have a devil of a time deciding what is real and what is legend.
         I can't even tell you for sure when he was born. His tombstone in Yoakum, Texas, says he was born in 1841 yet on the 1850 census he was listed as age 6. Other age reports conflict as well.
          About all we know for sure is Jim Jamison was a healthy young man in the unhealthy state of Missouri during the Civil War. Imagine if you took all the political disagreements of today and tried to solve them by shooting anyone who held an opposing view. That was Missouri in the 1860s!
           According to his widow's pension application, Jim served as a Confederate soldier from 1862 to the end of the war. But even that service is in dispute. Some say he spent the entire war in prison. Some say he wasn't an official soldier but a "Bushwhacker" who rode with the likes of Bill Wilson and Quantrill's Raiders.  The most frightening tales come from the memoirs of a former Union soldier, Col. William Monks, who describes Jamison as terrorizing southern Missouri in the years after the war, slaughtering returning Union soldiers for no reason.
          By 1870 Genuine Jim moved to Texas where his gun-slinging ability was appreciated. He served as a deputy or marshal in several Texas towns -- Halletsville, Luling, Flatonia, Schulenberg, Gonzales. Even those records don't always agree on his title and jurisdiction.He supposedly killed about 20 people during his lifetime, and was wounded at least that many times.
        When he died of pneumonia in 1906, an obituary called him "one of the best known peace officers in the state of Texas... He never knew what fear was and handled the toughest desperadoes with a facility and fearlessness that caused his very name to strike fear to the hearts of lawless people."
           Evidently Genuine Jim still has the ability to be pretty scary.
           Lavaca County Attorney John Stuart Fryer keeps a picture of Jamison on his office wall in the courthouse. Even in black and white, Jamison's icy blue eyes are so menacing that Fryer said one visitor commented that he looked like he was going to kill him.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

A Crane in the family

        The Indians called him The Crane. Historians call him a mountain man, a contemporary of William Sublette and Jim Bridger. I call him Uncle Sam.
         Samuel Tullock was one of the six sons of widow Jemima Tullock. She moved her boys to the Missouri territory in 1814 when Sam was 13. A decade later, Sam was a trapper and fur trader for the American Fur Company. He injured his wrist in a brawl at the fur traders' rendezvous in Idaho in 1827 and lived with a permanently withered hand. Didn't slow him down much. He slugged a  Frenchman named Bray who teased him about his hand at a Wyoming rendezvous in 1829. Bray never got up again.
         Sam built two forts in Montana for the American Fur Company: Ft. Cass in 1832 and Ft. Van Buren in 1835. Both forts were on the Yellowstone River, near the Big Horn River, in the middle of Crow country. He traded with the Indians: seven fur robes for a flint-lock gun, six robes for a red blanket.
         Sam returned to Missouri in 1839, married an Irish immigrant and raised seven kids. He served as a county judge in Iron County, Mo., from 1858-1860 and lived to be almost 80.
         But he left his name in Montana where Tullock Creek still flows into the Big Horn River less than a mile from where the Big Horn empties into the Yellowstone River.