Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas's Remembered

If you were a kid who grew up in the late forties or early fifties you can Totally relate to Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) in A Christmas story.  I even remember one Christmas my brother got a BB gun almost exactly like the Red Ryder model in this movie.  This is my one of my favorite movies of all times mostly because it is MY childhood too.

When I was little we always had a real tree that my dad would pick out of the tree lot downtown.  And huge bulbs on the Christmas lights.  After a couple of hours you could smell the Pine smell because those honkin' big bulbs were scorching the tree! needles.  Yikes, no wonder people had fires.

Then in the early 60's my mother decided the real tree was old-fashioned and we had to have a Modern Christmas tree.  She bought a silver aluminum tree---yes aluminum.

It looked a lot like this one.  I remember she put all blue bulbs on it.  No lights though and as a ten-year old I REALLY wanted Christmas lights.  You couldn't have them on the aluminum trees because of the danger of electrical shock.  Sigh.  The next year my mother bought a light with a colored wheel that would shine on the tree and change it from red to blue to green to yellow.  Not the same but it was a compromise.

Christmas would always start for us on Christmas Eve when we participated in the annual Christmas Pageant at Church.  For YEARS, I longed to be the Main Angel who announced to the congregation that "Christ the Lord has been Born."  Well I was always a shepherd, probably because I was too little to be the Main Angel.  Slowly I got promoted through the ranks to various sub-angel and shepherd positions until Finally in Sixth Grade I WAS the Main Angel.  It was rather Anti-Climatic by the time I was that old.  It would have been much more fun when I was five.

We would open our presents after Santa came early Christmas morning.  Then about eleven am we would get bundled up to go to our maternal grandparents house.  Now Grandma Desotel knew how to put up a Christmas tree.  It always reached almost to the tip top of her foyer.

Most people used tinsel on their trees.  We used to before the aluminum thing happened.  Now days tinsel is outlawed because it contained lead.  I think what is on the market now is a poor substitute for the shiny bright tinsel of my childhood.

But Grandma DeSotel didn't use ANY tinsel on her beautiful tree.  She always used Angel Hair.
Angel hair was a spun fiberglass product.  She would carefully drape it on the tree and it would diffuse the lights from her bulbs.  She also had tons of shiny bright ornaments and a big star on top of the tree.  I always thought as a child, my Grandma Desotel had the best Christmas Tree in the Entire Midwest.

Christmas dinner was a big affair at Grandma and Grandpa's.  All the cousins were there and there was a big bunch of us.  One of the first years Grandpa DeSotel had made rocking horses for the two grandsons  and desks for the two granddaughters.  Later we grew to eleven grandsons and four grand-daughters so handmade gifts became impractical.

I asked my Aunt a few years back what her most memorable Christmas had been as a child.  She said it was the Christmas she was five years old so that would have been around 1938 or so.  Every Christmas their Grandpa and Grandma DeSotel (that would have my great grandparents) would drive their old Model T into town to have Christmas Dinner at their home.  But one year the snow was simply too deep for the old car to make it.  The son that was still living at home, Uncle Joe, harnessed up the old mare that hadn't been used for many years to the cutter and they drove her into town.  Then Uncle Joe took all the kids out on the cutter for a sleigh ride.  My Aunt said that WAS the greatest Christmas of them all; the one they almost did not have because the snow was so deep.

Later in the afternoons we would drive 3 miles to the next town and have supper at my paternal Grandmother's.  No big Christmas trees at her small home; she had been widowed before I was born.  And the cousins were not as numerous so the celebration was more mundane and not as boisterous as two of the cousins were older than I and only one was younger.  Grandmother Funk always had a huge supper with plenty of homemade goodies.  One of my favorites was her canned cinnamon crabapples and her homemade groundcherry jam.  I've not been able to duplicate either as an adult due to the lack of correct crabapples and lack of groundcherries in Wyoming.

What are your Christmas memories as a child?  I think Christmas and it's celebrations have changed tremendously over the years.  It's much more commercial now than it was fifty years ago and I'm not sure that is for the better.

Happy Holidays to all of You from Sixty Miles North of Nowhere.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Civil War Soldier's Promise is Kept

In the earlier post aout the journey home of Thomas Logan Johnson, I mentioned he had promised his wife, Julia, a home like they had had in Tenneesee.

Ten years after their arrival home, the home was built on their farm 2 miles south of Beulah, Missouri.  There were no nails in the home, rather pegs were whittled by the boys to secure the home together.  My husband's great grandfather was ten years old at the time, so that would have put the year at 1877 when they built the home.

It was described to me 'as the style where the hall goes all the way through the house'.  That would mean it was a 'dog trot' which is reasonable since Tenneesee was known for it's dog trot cabins.

A single story dog-trot cabin located in Lincoln Parish, LA.  Photo from Wilkipedia

After the first winter, they had to close in the 'dog-trot' as it was too cold in Missouri in the winter to leave it completely open.  The house was also described as large so I've assumed it was a 2 story dogtrot which was quite rare.  Was this like the one they had in Tenneesee where Logan had grown up as a boy?  I don't know, but it's fun to surmise.
A two story dog-trot cabin that is in Alabama.  Also from Wilkipedia.
Sadly, the Johnson Dog-Trot cabin burned to the ground during the early days of the Great Depression.  Toledo Johnson's sister, known as Aunt Mattie, a daughter of Logan and Julia, was living in the home at the time.   It probably also explains why there are no known mementos of Logan's CSA service nor any photos of the family.  It must have all went up in flames.

The caption says this is a photo of Toledo Johnson, the baby conceived on the long journey home from war, holding his first great grandchild in 1942.  The lady is Florence, his wife, holding the same baby.  The photo was taken on their farm near Houston, Missouri.

I am glad that neither Logan nor Julia lived to see their fine cabin burned to the ground.  I think they would have found that very distressing.  I only wish I could find a picture of it. 

As I've mentioned, we are planning to go to the area and re-trace the steps home that Logan and Julia would have taken from Claiborne Parish, Louisana, back to Beulah, Missouri.  I just discovered that Road Scholar (used to be called Elderhostel) has a 5 day program in September of 2012 in Springfield, Missouri on "The Civil War West of the Mississippi River".  I think that sounds like a delightful way to start our journey and will check out the details.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Most Despicable Act

More Civil War Family History from Missouri

Terror lasts but for brief moments in one's life during war; but the memory, sorrow, and hatred can go on for generations.....and that was certainly true for one branch of our family in Missouri.

Thomas Logan Johnson, the Confederate soldier in my previous post, was an ancestor on our "Nanny" maternal side of the family.  On Nanny's paternal side, this tale has survived the generations.   I believe the last name of the boy involved was Page but his first is unknown.   One of the mysteries I hope to solve at a cemetery on our upcoming trip.
Bloody Bill Anderson, one of the more famous Pro-Confederacy Raiders located in Misouri.
From Wilkipedia.

During the Civil War, and then for an extended period of time afterwards during reconstruction, Missouri bore the misery of frequent visitors to their homes called "Raiders" in our family.   The family never seemed to recognize any difference in the political leanings of the scourge and so lumped all together under the term Raiders.  Probably some were pro-Confedracy and some were pro-Union but all had Black Black Black hearts and were feared.  They would show up at your house and take what they wanted, heedless to the fact that perhaps you or your children were going to starve to death after they rode off.  While history says the Pro-Confederacy Raiders 'only' visited Pro-Union homes and visa versa, I think perhaps neither side was very picky.  If you had it and they wanted it, political leanings were damned.  They had an open license to steal and were making full use of it.
William Clarke Quantrill, another Pro-Confederacy Raider who gained noriety for being particularly ruthless and for hosting the James Brothers (Frank and Jesse) in his gang.
As I mentioned before, Phelps County, Missouri had a population of over 5,000 at the start of the war and less than 500 at the end.  This was the end result of the 'raids' on people's livestock and food stuffs and probably also included tools such as harnesses and wagons and anything else that wasn't nailed down.  Lack of cooperation while they were stealing you blind resulted in immediate punishment up to and including death.

On one such raid, as they were leading off the last remaining milk cow on the Page family farm, fourteen year old son whom I'll call Sam, called out from the front porch begging the Raiders to not take the cow as there was a young toddler in the home who needed the milk from her.  They shot him dead, on the porch, ..... in front of his mother.  And rode off with the cow.

And five generations later, our family remembers.  And is passing it on to the sixth.   A stain on the land, a strike in the heart.  No punishment is great enough for such men as those.  May they rot in the depths of hell forever.

Missouri has healed from the civil war.  And her families have endured.  May God keep us united and forever from seeing such horrors in our homeland again.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Family's Struggles in Missouri during the Civil War

When I originally started this blog, I wanted to preserve some family history in it.  So far I haven't done that but since it's the 150th anniversary of the start of the War Between the States I am going to share this:

Laying railroad track into Phelps County, Missouri, 1860
The Phelps County Courthouse in Rolla, Missouri was built in 1860 and used as a Union Hospital during the civil war.
This story was told to me by my mother-in-law.  Thomas Logan Johnson was her great grandfather.

Missouri suffered horribly during the civil war, probably as much as the states that actually did secede from the union.  Because Missouri never seceded from the Union, it became sharply divided.  Most of the State north of the Missouri River was Pro-Union while those South of the river were Pro-Confederacy.  Brother was pitted against brother quite often.  This is the tale of one family who lived in the southern county of Phelps.

In 1859, Thomas Logan Johnson (who always went by the name of Logan) took out a patent for a homestead on 40 acres 2 miles south of Beulah, Missouri in Phelps County. Probably 40-50 acres was all a man could farm by himself with a horse or mule or ox. Since this was also in the heart of the Ozarks the entire 40 acres would have been timbered so he needed to clear his fields. He was 26 years old.

It must have taken a few years to get his farm to be productive, but in April 1862, he married Julia Ann Denison. All I know of her was that she was said to be a small dark-haired woman. Genealogy records show she was born in Kentucky while Logan came from Tennessee. Both had moved to Missouri when children with their parents.

In the summer of 1862, the Confederate General who presided over Arkansas and Missouri declared that all able-bodied men must join the CSA or face conscription (draft). This declaration forced the men to make a choice - Union or Confederate. Logan, like most of his neighbors, traveled to Oregon County, Missouri which bordered Arkansas to join the CSA near present-day Thomasville. His enlistment date was August 4, 1862. He was 29 years old--not exactly a young man for that time period.

At first Logan was placed in the First Missouri Cavalry, but 3 days later most of the men, including him, were transferred to the 8th Missouri Infantry. Logan was placed into Company C under the command of a Captain Pinnell. Fortunately for our family, the wartime dairy of Captain Pinnell was recently published and I can trace Logan's path day by day throughout the entire war.

Logan fought in several battles and was in the Camden Expedition which was commanded by General Sterling Price. Conditions were brutal. The men were ill-clothed and ill-fed. Their unit did not participate in the battle of Poison Spring because 80% of them had no shoes. They went into the winter with no shoes. Logan was elected 2nd Lt August 7 of 1862 (3 days after enlistment) and 1st Lt Oct 22, 1863 which was his final rank.

Desertion and illness took a heavy toll on the recruits. The Diary mentions men going to the hospital in Little Rock and then weeks or days later noting they died. A few recovered and returned. Most died from either water-borne or food-borne illnesses like typhoid and dysentery. Pinnell's diary mentions how badly he felt having to raid Arkansas homes for provisions as the country was so 'poor'. They had little to spare. At one point they took farm wagons from the population and used the iron from the wheels to make horseshoes for their horses as they were becoming crippled from the rocky terrain in the Arkansas Mountains.

Meanwhile back home, Logan had a daughter born in March, 1863. Captain Pinnell notes in his diary that Logan was 'ill at Little Rock' in July of 1863 and no mention is made of his return back to the unit. His military records state he was absent sick in July and August of 1863. Therefore I have wondered if perhaps Julia hadn't gotten word to him of the new baby's arrival and he went home but perhaps not. He is mentioned 3 times in Pinnell's diary after his illness so I know he was still with Company C.

The unit participated in the Battle at Camp Pleasant, Louisiana, traveled north and fought in the battle at Jenkins Ferry, Arkansas. The diary says that the men were fighting in water up to their knees at Jenkins Ferry. Imagine trying to keep your powder dry in those conditions? And the snakes!! Cottonmouths, water moccasins, coral snakes are all common and prolific! Thomas Logan Johnson was listed on the Roll of Honor for the Confederacy for his actions at Jenkins Ferry. It was their equivalent of the Medal of Honor today. Unfortunately Pinnell's diary does not detail exactly what he did to achieve this.

The Union actually lost in the Trans-Mississippi area. It was one of the few places the Confederacy was successful and whipped the yanks. After the surrender at Appomattox it took several months for the news to reach Arkansas and Louisiana. In June of 1865, the Confederacy surrendered at Shreveport, Louisiana. Logan's dismissal is different than the other men's; his service records stating he was paroled from Shreveport, LA (Claiborne Parish). Shreveport is not in Claiborne Parish. After some sleuthing I discovered that most of the CSA was camped at a huge encampment near present-day Minden which was in Claiborne Parish.

And now as they say, the rest of the story. 

Back home, Julia Denison must have been very enterprising. For the entire 3 years Logan was in the army, he had received not one single paycheck. Phelps county had a population of 5300 at the beginning of the war. It's county seat, Rolla, however, became headquarters for the Union Army because it had a railroad.

Union troops raided the countryside for food and animals. Julia lost all her livestock to the Union troops and it can only be guessed at how much food she had 'put by' for the winter they confiscated from her. By the end of the civil war, due to the hardships caused by Union troops, less than 500 people remained in Phelps County and most of them were in Rolla. Julia Denison Johnson and her 3 year old daughter, Annie Lee, were still on the farm that Logan had established.

Company C was pardoned and placed on a train for home near the end of June, 1865. By July 1st they were all home--except for Logan, which states he was not paroled until July of 1865 from Shreveport , La (Claiborne Parish). Sometime after arriving home, one of Logan's friends came to the farm and told Julia Logan was very ill. Too ill to travel. And he remained in the Union Prison Camp at Minden, Louisiana, 475 miles as the crow flies from his home. (Captain Pinnells dairy noted in at the end of March someone had gone for supplies, beef and water, both bad. Did he have dystentery or typoid? Perhaps but I think it was something else).

Julia probably grabbed what provisions she had and could carry, and taking little Annie by the hand, walked 8 miles to nearby Licking where she was able to get a very poor old horse. Probably her story melted the heart of some Union officer who allowed her to have it. She and Annie rode to Minden, Louisiana, where they found Logan. I figure it probably took her about 3 weeks. It was probably close to the first of August when she arrived.

She built a travois, placed Annie and Logan on it and leading their poor horse, headed back to Missouri. She must have had superb nursing skills as Logan not only survived the brutal trip, but by the time Julia arrived back to Missouri, she was pregnant with her second child, Toledo Lorraine Johnson (my mother-in-laws grandfather), who arrived at the farm on May 3, 1867.

The dates mean it took them over a year to arrive back home and family oral history definitely stated she became pregnant while traveling. Then we come to the name of the child - Toledo. It was not a common family name although Lorraine was. Why Toledo? Two possibilities, there is a Toledo Bend near Pleasantville, LA where Logan had fought. Had something occurred there that the child's name commemorated? Or more likely, near Pine Bluffs, Arkansas lies the small town of Toledo, 150 miles from Minden, Louisana and 300 miles from Beulah, Missouri.

I surmise Logan was so ill they could not get far before winter set in and they had to stop and wait for him to recover his health, which took a long time. I also suspect his illness was tuberculosis as his obituary stated he died from a 'smothering disease'. Several things point to this -- the length of time he was ill and the extended time needed for him to recover plus how he died. Logan died at the age of 59 in 1893 and Julia followed him in 1895 at the age of 52.  They had a total of nine of children, five sons and four daughters.
Shafer Cementary near Licking, Missouri
The cabin they lived in and built burned about 1930 
when one of their daughters was living there. 
There are no known photos of him or Julia and no 
known mementos from the war that survived. 
There is an interesting story about this house which
 I'll tell on the next post.   
Oral histories like this usually only survive two or three
generations UNLESS they are written down. 
I am fortunate that my mother-in-law, the 
fourth generation, told this to me and I wrote it down.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Phillips Maine and the Sandy River Narrow Gauge

A donkey engine with cars from the Sandy River Railroad in the background.
At the end of our loop drive one day, we stopped and looked at the Sandy River Narrow Gauge Railroad in Phillips, Maine.  It last ran as an operating railroad during the Great Depression and now runs only as a tourist train.  Sadly, it was closed the day we were there but it was still fun to just look.   Perhaps one day if we go back we can catch it on a day it's running.
One of the tourist open rail cars.  Looks like fun don't you think?

I believe this little green house used to be the railroad's office.  There were several small buildings like this.

This was the track to nowhere as it ends right before the little building.  I have no idea why.

The round table.  This is amazing.  They could turn the locomotive or any of the rail cars on this -- and I don't think it took that much effort either.  I bet a couple of men could have done it easily by just pushing on the car or engine's sides.
The front of the round table - can you see the wheels under the platform that would ride on the single rail to turn the engine or car around?  There was also some sort of handle/brake on the wheel.
Tracks from the roundtable going to the roundhouse on the left.
A caboose that was by the roundhouse.  I bet if your dad was a brakeman or engineer or conductor; you wanted to grow up to be railroad man too!  Especially if he ever took you to work once, you would be hooked!
The Phillips Maine depot
The Depot from the other side.  This car had long green seats down each side, it had been revamped and was not original.
The Sandy River was very rocky and very scenic!!  Just beautiful.

The back end of the one of those long one-unit farmhouses across the Sandy River.
This was on the way back out from the Narrow Gauge Railroad by the road.  If only this house could talk.  I would love to know who built and the story behind this house.  It did not look like it had been modernized or was being lived in currently.  I hope it will be preserved in the future.
Here is a link to the Sandy River Railroad and it's history (and schedule)

It was fun to see and I hope someday we can RIDE on this narrow-gauge.  This is the end of the postings for our Maine Vacation.  Hope you enjoyed.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park

We only did a day trip to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.  I think that was way toooooo short.  The area is beautiful and I would have liked to have taken a carriage ride in Acadia, one of the things it is noted for.  The Rockefeller family donated the land to the National Park Service and they had had a summer home there for many years.  Driving was one of their passions and they had built numerous carriage roads which are still there today.

Did you know the Rockefeller family was also instrumental in establishing a National Park in Wyoming?  Can you guess which one?  I'll put the answer at the end of this post but onto to Bar Harbor or as they say in Maine - Bawh Hawboor. :)

The Bar Harbor Inn.  Nope didn't stay there and I bet it was pretty pricey to stay here.

A cruise ship and a sailing vessel in the Harbor.  Note the dock full of seagulls!
The Bar Harbor Wharf.  They have Puffin and Whale Tours off this wharf.  Would be fun to take if we ever make it back!

It said on the wharf you can walk over to the big island in the background during low tide.  I imagine one would need to know when high tide was going to occur before undertaking such an adventure!

Bar Harbor at Dusk - time to go home!

Acadia National Park - see the little cottage on the beach? 

Acadia, viewing the Atlantic Ocean.

Acadia National Park.  One of the many views from the scenic highway going through the park.

Acadia National park.

Close up of the mosses on the rocks.

I apparently neglected to get any photos of the carriage roads!!  Maybe next time, sigh.

Today was cold in Wyoming, winter is upon us I fear.  We've already had one good snow of 6", the horses are furry and our pellet stove is burning 24/7.  Summer is way too short.

The Rockefeller family donated land to Teton National Park near Jackson, Wyoming.  Did you know the answer?

Next blog will be the Phillips Maine narrow guage railroad.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Long and Short of it in Maine

Maine is a rural agricultural state and no tour would be complete without me showing you the animals we saw visiting the DIL's farmer relatives.  These chickens were a bantam breed, ie. small and I thought they were very beautiful.

The same chickens next to a Buff Orphington Hen who is normal sized so you can see just how small they are.

Highlander cattle are a scottish breed and a good many of the farms seemed to have them.  I suspect because the Maine winters were much easier for the Highlanders to thrive in.

This little mini foal was only four  weeks old.  She had been rejected by her momma and was being bottle-raised.  DIL's brother would put her in his pickup and pack her around so he could bottle feed her every four hours.  He hadn't named her yet and we all suggested it could be nothing else but Minnie!

A black Highlander calf with a bell

The view from where the Highlander cattle's pasture was located.  I think the Red tree is a sugar maple.

A Highlander family - Bull, calf and cow.

A duck - I have no idea what breed but certainly something we don't find in Wyoming.

A pair of ponies with some ducks.  Neither of these were Minnie's parents. Both of the ponies were broke to drive.
The ducks and chickens with two dwarf goats in the back.

A regular sized dairy goat.  I was quite smitten with her and could have taken her home but I suspect Delta airlines would have objected to the new passenger.

A 1800's Maine farmhouse.  These were all over Maine and they are one long continuous building, house, wood shed, tool shed, and barn.  This one is unusual in that it still has the silo standing.

The front of the same Maine Farmhouse

The right side of the same Maine Farmhouse.  These were built so they could go milk their cows and feed livestock without having to go out in the Maine winter.  They told me they used to get snow up to the 2nd story of the homes but they don't get that much anymore.  Can you imagine snow that deep?

The silo and the back of the barn of the same Maine farmhouse/barn.  Note the iron bands holding the silo together.  Some of the bands were getting loose and slipping down.  It did not look like it was used anymore and I bet will probably be taken down in a few years.  I am glad I have the photos of it.

In town also, the attached concept was used in the 1800's.  Here is a typical set-up you would see in town, a home with an attached carriage house/barn for the horse(s) of the family.  Usually the barn and house were all painted the same color but in this home it looked like the carriage barn was in disrepair and not being used at all. Or perhaps they were renovating a home and just have not gotten that far yet.
Sometimes the barns/or homes would catch fire from mouldering hay or maybe the wood stove.  Then they would lose all their buildings and homes in one fire. They started to build separate units sometime in the 20th century.  I found all them very interesting, don't you?

Next post will be Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.