Black Blizzards- The Second Dust Bowl, Abilene, Texas, 1954-1957

The Dust Bowl has always captured my attention and I especially love a well written novel set in that era such as Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust. My ancestors seem to have (thankfully) missed the “black blizzards” (huge, black dust clouds) that rolled across the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s.


Photograph courtesy of http://www.fs.fed.us/greatestgood/images/gallery/depression-CCC/DepressiontheCCC/photos/photo11.shtml.

When the black blizzards rolled through it blocked out everything – even the sun. This photo was taken at 3:00 in the afternoon on Black Sunday in 1935:


Photograph courtesy of http://discovermagazine.com/.

You can see a video recreation of black blizzards at http://www.history.com/.

In the 1930’s President Roosevelt ordered the Civilian Conservation Corps to plant a “belt of more than 200 million trees from Canada to Abilene Texas, to break the wind, hold water in the soil, and hold the soil itself in place.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_Bowl) This did not stop the black blizzards from returning in the 1950’s although it did lessen their intensity. (https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hda01).

My grandparents- Eugene and Audrey DRAKE- and their children lived in Abilene, Texas during the mid-1950’s when the area had a revival of dust storms reminiscent of the 1930’s Dust Bowl storms. My dad was very young at that time. However, he can recall the black blizzards rolling through. He said when they hit, you couldn’t see anything around you. Everyone rushed into their homes and began stuffing wet rags into every crack and crevice possible to keep the dust out. If a crack was missed, dust poured into the home. Even with the wet rags in place, the dust was still a problem. It was like a black wall rolling toward you when the black blizzards rolled in.

1950’s Abilene, Texas

In the 1950’s, Abilene was a dry city so there would not have been any bars there. The Abilene Philharmonic Orchestra gave it’s first concert in 1950 and fine arts groups were active there during this time period. The city boasted a professional baseball team- The Blue Sox- which was associated with the Brooklyn Dodgers and operated in Abilene until 1957. Major employers in the area included the railroad and the military bases. In 1953, Abilene schools were still segregated. (https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hda01) This was the environment in which my dad lived and attended school in Abilene from 1954-1957. He went to school there between his 5th and 8th grade years. He does not remember the elementary school he attended. He said at that time the family lived on North 11th Street in Abilene and they were close enough to the school that he walked to school. I was unable to tell by looking online (especially being unfamiliar with the area) which elementary school he might have attended. He does remember attending North Junior High.

In addition to living on North 11th Street, the family also lived on Burger Street in Abilene.

He was very self-conscious and felt out of place being from the country and now attending school in a city. However, he said he was well-liked and remembers being invited, accepted, and involved in school social and academic pursuits while he was there. Financially, life was very difficult. One of his prized possessions was the 1957 school yearbook his mom saved up to buy for him.

Here he is in 7th grade, 1956-57 at North Junior High:

He was in Mrs. Boyland’s Homeroom 4. Here is Mrs. Boyland in the 1956-57 school year:

The Principal that year was J. M. Anthony. He struck fear in students at North Junior High.

Dad’s favorite teacher that year was the pretty Miss Cole, English teacher:

Outside of North Junior High, the drought raged on in Texas. In regard to the drought, one farmer had these things to say, “…the biggest difference was that in the `30s, it broke people financially. But the 1950s broke them spiritually.” Water arrived in town periodically in tanks on the back of trucks and people rushed to get it. One state official wrote a letter to his peer in July 1950 saying that residents in Abilene were accusing the government officials of being communists, presumably in response to the water shortage issues and other drought-related problems. 1951, 1954, and 1956 were in the top 10 of driest years on record in Texas. Crops wouldn’t grow, ponds dried up, and the ground was so dry it had 6-inch open cracks. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/14/texas-drought-dry-spell-1950_n_926703.html)

In the 1954-56 time period, San Angelo newspapers reported up to 70 mile per hour wind gusts causing horrible dust storms which killed people, uprooted trees, damaged property and crops, and killed livestock; wind spreading fires that destroyed buildings; wind gusts that blew down walls; and, horrific vehicle accidents caused by low visibility due to the dust in the air. At points there was zero visibility due to the dust blizzards. Instead of finding rain in their rain gauges, residents found inches of dust. The storms were often very fast moving leaving little time to take cover.
(http://www.gosanangelo.com/news/rick-smith-where-did-all-the-dust-storms-go) The drought finally broke early in 1957. That was also the year Gene and Audrey and their family moved out of Texas for the final time.

In researching my family’s stay in Abilene, I found two reasons why my grandparents chose Abilene as a residence. My father told me they went there to try and get better jobs and have a better financial situation. In addition to that information, I found a newspaper article on Ancestry.com that helped explain what drew my family specifically to Abilene versus another city. Audrey’s brother, Ralph, moved to that area in 1953 with his wife. Their brother, Carl, was also living there. It’s quite possible that the deciding factor in favor of Abilene was that there were close family members there. You can read about the article I found in my blog post at Days of Our Lives: Close to Home, Close to the Heart, Part 2 beginning at the section heading, “Carolyn Bennett”.

I’m glad my family had that time with other family members but I’m very thankful they moved back here to Oklahoma where my parents married and created my family. Life could easily have turned out so differently. I try to be thankful for every turn mine has taken.

Remember this coming week to treasure family and love each other. For more genealogy goodness, click on over to my Sister-In-Law’s blog at Down in the Root Cellar where she is participating in the same genealogy blog challenge I’m doing this year.

Lisa @ Days of Our Lives

Close to Home, Close to the Heart- Finale, Part 3

Troy BATES

I put out the call for stories about my uncles who have passed on. My cousin, Uncle Troy’s son, responded. He talked about being outdoors with his dad and how much the time he spent with his dad means to him now. He remembers a turkey hunting trip Uncle Troy took with 4-5 of his buddies when my cousin was in junior high. When they got back, all the tags had been filled. They got their picture on the front page of the little town newspaper. His dad killed almost all the turkeys but a couple but he didn’t take credit for all of them. Another story he related was a beautiful memory. He remembered the times he spent fishing with his dad. Sometimes they would get on the lake just before dawn and sit in the middle of Lake Eucha and silently watch the sun rise together. He treasures all the time he got to spend with his dad both in leisure activities such as fishing as well as working with his dad as an adult. He recalls that when they fished together it was always a competition to see who would catch the first, the biggest, or the most. Those trips were just he and his dad, or he and his dad and Uncle Butch. He said “the ribbing was non stop”. His memories bring tears to my eyes. I sometimes very much miss all those weekends at Granny BATES’ house and long for the close camaraderie with cousins and family. Family is a treasure to be protected at all costs.


He was so tall!

Kenneth BATES

When I put out the call for stories about Uncle Butch, one of my younger cousins responded. When she was little, her family didn’t live close enough to my grandparents to come visit them every weekend like some of the others. She says that once when they were visiting Granny’s house on the hill outside of South West City, Missouri, her parents were carrying her up the ladder to put her in bed. She remembers that she was probably younger than 5 years old and didn’t know who Butch was. She saw him as they were going to bed and he scared her to death. This makes me laugh because to me, he was probably the least scary of all my uncles. He was more like a big kid to me. But I could see how to her, he would have been scary because she was so young and she didn’t know him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to scare her on purpose as a joke. He was kind of a practical joker as I recall him.

My uncle Butch was always my favorite uncle on my mom’s side. I loved all of my uncles so if you asked me why he was my favorite, I couldn’t tell you exactly. In general, it was based on a little girl’s perception of the adults around her. I think I felt in him a certain sadness that wasn’t resolved and I wanted to fix it and make it better. It was a sadness that I always vaguely associated with his combat service in Vietnam. My memories of him include him playing cards with my grandparents, mom, and other aunts and uncles during the huge weekend family visits. Every weekend of my childhood (not even exaggerating) we would visit my mother’s parents on Saturday night. My aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and my family would all gather at my grandparents’ house. After my grandparents’ favorite television shows were over the adults would head into the dining room and play cards all night at the dining table. A phrase I frequently remember hearing from my grandpa, Lum BATES, was, “Well, Sumbitch!” That was usually followed by the sound of cards slamming down on the table. It was all in good fun and I remember all those weekends fondly now (although then I would have given a lot to do something else on one of those weekends). There were times I thought Uncle Butch might be sober at Granny’s house and just pretending to be drunk although I really couldn’t say. Most of the times I saw him he was either drunk or very good at pretending to be drunk or well on his way to being drunk. Again, something I associated with his sadness as well as his service in Vietnam. At my Uncle Troy’s funeral I remember having one singular, fleeting moment to tell my Uncle Butch how I felt about him. I’m so grateful I seized that opportunity because three years later Uncle Butch died suddenly and I never had another opportunity before his death to tell him how I felt. I wish I always made those kinds of no-regret decisions.


Mom decorating Uncle Butch’s grave for Memorial Day, 2014.

I’m glad this week that I got to tell you about most of my aunts and uncle who have passed on. I wish I had told all of them how I felt about them when I had the chance. So today this is the moral of the story: Love the ones God gave you. Never forgo an opportunity to tell them how much you love them. To the best of your ability, live your life with no regrets and put love first.

Lisa @ Days of Our Lives

Close to Home, Close to the Heart- Part 2

There were a couple of late entries for stories about Uncle David so I thought I would do a mid-week post. Included in this post is an article I recently found that mentioned my Aunt Carol so I thought I would include it as well.

After publishing the previous blog post, my cousin said he remembered the long drives from Iowa back to Oklahoma that his family made when his dad wanted to go fishing with David. He remembers his dad and David shooting at snakes while the kids swam. Troy and David would sit on the bank fishing while the kids swam and they would shoot at the occasional snake they saw in the water.

Memory is a strange and unpredictable thing. After reading the previous blog post, David’s sister Kay commented that she must have been wrong about David enlisting at such a young age. David was actually 17 years old when he enlisted.

David’s brother-in-law, Roy, remembers going noodling with David over in the Disney-Tiajuana, Oklahoma (Delaware/Mayes County), area when they closed the spillways on the dam. They took a gunny sack to put the fish in. Roy caught some fish and put them in the gunny sack but David made him take them back out and throw them back because David said they were too small. Afterward, David regretted that because they didn’t get too many fish that day. Roy commented that David always knew when they were going to close the spillways and he could go fishing. Overall, everyone commented how much David loved fishing. Here is a photo from the GRDA website showing the Pensacola spillway gates:


Photo found at http://www.grda.com/

Carolyn BENNETT
My Aunt Carolyn passed away a few years ago. Yesterday I was doing genealogical research on Ancestry.com and came across a newspaper article that mentioned her. The article was from the morning edition of the Abilene Reporter-News (Abilene, Texas- Taylor and Jones Counties) dated 14 October 1954. Below is a transcription of the relevant portions of the article:

Tuscola Residents Visits in Missouri
“TUSCOLA, October 13 (RNS)- Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Larkin and children, and his brother, Carl Larkin, visited in Southwest, Mo. with Mrs. Gene Drake, sister of Ralph and Carl, and her family. They were accompanied home by Mrs. Drake and her daughter, Carolyn, who visited the Larkins and the N. J. MINITRA family.”

The Ralph LARKIN mentioned here is not our great-grandfather but rather his and Bess’ son, Ralph LARKIN, JR.. Ralph, Carl, and Audrey were siblings. I have no idea what connection the MINITRA family had to ours.

I love that old newspapers include gossip sections like this. They hold interesting information on our ancestor’s lives that can help us place them in a certain location at a certain time. This article also helps explain why Gene and Audrey moved back and forth between McDonanld County, Missouri, and Abilene, Texas, several times between 1954 and 1957. An article similar to this one that was published in 1953 helped explain why Ralph LARKIN, JR. moved to Abilene, Texas. It stated that his then-wife was a long-time resident of the area and her family still lived there.

Until this weekend,
Lisa @ Days of Our Lives

Close to Home, Close to the Heart

This week’s theme is “close to home”. I wanted to write about someone who was closest to me in physical location. There were several I could have written about but my Uncle David BATES was on my mind this week. So in memory of David, I give you these stories about him along with some photographs shared by David’s sister. (Thank you!!)

David was described to me as being gentle and kind and calm. When he spoke, he meant what he said. I got the impression he didn’t talk a lot but when he did it was meaningful. He was very caring. One of his sisters-in-law remembers that he never failed to ask her how her parents were when he saw her. She observed that his two sons inherited that kindness from their father David. He was a family man and loved his family dearly. David was not saved until after he got married but once he was saved he was very dedicated to his Savior. His sister Kay remembers that he loved being outside and as a young boy he would set traps for rabbits and whatever else he could catch in them. David’s dad, Lum, used to sell pelts and I wonder if David did that as a boy as well.

Dennis and David – not quite trapping age yet.

David is in the front row on the left. He’s with his siblings- Troy, Jerry, Dennis, Paul, and Kay. Doesn’t look like he’s quite made it to trapping age yet. And it looks like Kay isn’t too happy. Troy was probably pinching her. 😉

David is in the front row, the middle child. Here he is with his siblings again. Still not quite trapping age yet. Later in life, David loved to rib his older brother Dennis by saying that it “took a man to have boys” since Dennis had girls and David had boys. Dennis always replied that “it was harder to put the water works on the inside than on the outside”.

David was very smart but school did not hold much interest for him. Kay recalled that he joined the military before he was old enough, and she guesses that their parents must have had to sign for him to go into the military. David’s sister recalls that their mom, Jessie, was told that when they tested David, his scores were those of someone with 2 years of college under his belt.

A school photograph of David. I bet he had an ornery streak. 🙂

David’s sister believes he joined the military when he got out of 8th grade. David served his country in the Marines from 13 March 1961 to 12 March 1965. He was particular about calling his military uniform pants “trousers”. He said that the other military branches called them “pants” but Marines called them “trousers”. He was proud to serve his country in the Marines.

Above is a picture of his Veteran’s Memorial stone at the veteran’s memorial in Jay, Oklahoma.

This is the best copy of his only formal military picture.

David in his beloved Marine trousers.

Another shot of David in uniform.

I love this more casual photo of him in uniform.

Here he is with his dad (Lum), mom (Jessie), and brother Butch. Kay thinks that was David’s car in the shop.

When David met his wife, he was a pipeliner and was gone for months at a time. Prior to getting married, he quit pipelining so he could be at home more. After he quit pipelining he and his brother Paul started driving a truck for Springdale Farm and that was where he was working when he married Rhoma on 28 July 1966. David’s brother Paul remembers the one thing David wanted was a long-nosed Peterbuilt truck that would outrun a Greyhound bus. I don’t think he ever got that Peterbuilt, but David’s youngest brother Mike remembers David driving home from California on a brand new blue Harley Davidson motorcycle. I’m sure he was proud of it- as any young man would be.

David and his wife, Rhoma.

David drove a truck until his first son, Clayton, was born. After his first son was born, David quit driving because it kept him away from his family too much. After ending his truck driving job, he went to work at Beaver Handle Company running a hickory mill and that was where he worked until he passed away in his early 30’s on 1 May 1975.

His wife described him as a very loving husband and daddy. He was a very hard working man and was so very proud of both of his sons- Clayton and Doyle.

His oldest son was only 6 and his youngest son only 2 when David succumbed to cancer. I was slightly younger than Clayton and only have a very vague memory of David lying in a bed and sick. I don’t have any specific memories of him but remember having fond feelings for him.

David has been described as a good and honest man. All his siblings recount that he loved to fish. He would often call his brother who lived in a neighboring state and say the fish were biting and that weekend his brother would be in for a visit with family and a lot of fishing.

His oldest son remembers him as being a good dad with a desire to train his sons to be well-behaved men. Once when his son was still young enough to be in a highchair, his son belched at the table during dinner and David told him to say “Excuse me”. His son refused and David took him from his highchair, gave him a swift spanking, sat him down and again told him to say “Excuse me”. His son refused once again. His son remembers that David spanked him three times before he finally gave in and said “Excuse me”. All I can say is David’s parenting must have had a positive effect because both of his sons grew up to be exceptionally well-mannered men and I know without a doubt David would be so very proud of both of them.

I look forward to the day when I will see David again along with many other family members I have loved in my lifetime. I am so grateful to my Savior for giving me the opportunity and ability to see my loved ones again. I hope and pray you also make the choice that will give you the same opportunity.

Peace and love,
Lisa @ Days of Our Lives

PS- Click on over for more genealogy goodness at Down in the Root Cellar.

Life is Hard…But Worth It

This week’s theme is “good deeds” and can be interpreted as good acts or deeds of sale, etc. I decided to write about my fourth great-grandmother, Lavina (PILGRIM) DRAKE. I previously analyzed a Deed of Sale she and her husband (Ervin Alonzo DRAKE) were involved in so I thought this might be a nice spinoff. The previous deed analysis can be found here: Anatomy of a Move Using a Deed of Sale. Whereas that blog was “research-y” as my daughter would say, this one will be more of a story, I hope. (The previous blog entry does have some interesting links to information so if you don’t read the research, you might want to click the links.)

The Main Parties:
Ervin and Lavina were the paternal grandparents of Poppy Lonzo DRAKE (Ervin Alonzo “Poppy” DRAKE). Ervin’s pension records describe him as 6’1 with black hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion. Lavina was born in Dubois County, Indiana in December, 1821. I don’t know exactly who her parents were. Neither do I know anything about her life prior to her marriage to Ervin. On 1 October 1839, she married Ervin Alonzo DRAKE. Together they had 9 children that I know of- Martha, Silas, Mary Ann (called Polly), George Washington, Margaret, William (my ancestor), Nancy, Henry Arthur, and Jefferson. In 1870, a 6 year old girl named Martha Young lived with the family but I am uncertain of this girl’s connection to the family.

Their Story:
Lavina lived in Orange County, Indiana from 1839 until sometime between the 1860 and 1870 census dates. All her children were born there. The majority of her life was lived there.

Ervin and Lavina were blessed with their first child, Martha, right away. Martha was born in 1840. The following year Silas was born. Two babies under the age of two must have been exhausting. By 1845 Lavina had four children ages 5 and under with the additions of Mary Ann (called Polly) in 1843 and George Washington in 1845. It was shortly after this time that the Mexican American War began. And so it was that about June of 1846 Lavina watched Ervin march away with a group of men that would become Company B, 2nd Regiment of Indiana Volunteers. The men assembled in Paoli, Orange County, Indiana and marched to New Albany, Floyd County, Indiana- a distance of about 42 miles on today’s roadways. One account says the men were escorted out of town by “the brass band of Paoli and a large delegation of sorrowing relatives and friends” some of whom went with the men all the way to New Albany. (Indiana in the Mexican War).

I can only imagine what she must have felt as she watched her husband march away while trying to keep four toddlers by her side or in her arms. She did have family in the area to help her but I’m sure that didn’t replace her husband. The DRAKE, PILGRIM, and FLICK families intermarried frequently and all lived in the same general area so Lavina would have had a large extended family to call on in times of need. Nonetheless, it must have been a long and difficult year without him. Ervin mustered in on 19 June 1846 at New Albany, Indiana. He mustered out a year later on 23 June 1847 at New Orleans, Louisiana. I have not been able to find much information online about the 2nd Indiana Volunteers. One post I found online stated that this is because of the disgrace of their actions during the war- those actions being that many of them abandoned the battle instead of fighting. I am sure not everyone ran away and I would assume that Ervin did not since he was not given a dishonorable discharge or anything like that. I encourage you to learn more about this war at http://www.dmwv.org or, if you want the short version look it up on Wikipedia.

One of the battles fought while Ervin was enlisted was the Battle of Monterey (20-24 September 1846), a depiction of which is seen in the painting above by Carl NEBEL. It was fought in Monterey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. It was said about this battle, “The battle ended with Americans fighting door-to-door within the city of Monterey…”. It was a “bloody three-day battle”. (http://www.umich.edu/~ac213/student_projects06/magsylje/battle.html)

The Battle of Buena Vista was fought 22-23 February 1847 in Buena Vista, Coahila, Mexico, between American General Zachary TAYLOR (among others) and Mexican General Santa ANNA (among others). It was an intense battle. Here is an image depicting the battle:

and a painting by CURRIER and IVES depicting the battle:

On the eastern coast of Mexico in the city of Veracruz, the Battle of Veracruz was fought for nearly the entire month of March, 1847. Mexico was forced to surrender Veracruz to the Americans. Here is a painting by Henry WILLIAMS depicting the battle:

On 18 April 1847, 20 miles east of Jalapa, the Battle of Cerro Gordo was fought between American General Winfield SCOTT and Captain Robert E. LEE (among others) and Mexican General Santa ANNA (among others). Over 3,000 Mexican soldiers were captured in this battle. Below is one more painting by Carl NEBEL depicting this battle:

Paintings and battle information can be found at http://www.umich.edu/~ac213/student_projects06/magsylje/battle.html.

Finally, in June of 1847 Ervin arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana, and made his way home. I wonder if Lavina ever knew of the battles he fought and the horrors he must have witnessed in this hand-to-hand combat. On 1 July 1863, Ervin signed up for the Civil War Draft. I have not found any evidence that Ervin fought in the Civil War so perhaps the Mexican War was his only combat experience. In any case, Ervin arrived home and in 1848 Ervin and Lavina had Margaret and two years later they had my ancestor, William. The family can be found in the 1850 census in Jackson Township, Orange County, Indiana, where Ervin was farming and owned $100 in real estate. In the years between 1850 and 1860, Ervin and Lavina would have their last three children- Nancy (1854), Henry (1857), and Jefferson (1859).

In Orange County, Indiana during the time that Ervin and Lavina’s children were of school age, the schools were “subscription schools”. There was no free public education in the area. If children attended school at this time and in this area, parents paid $1.50 per pupil for a 3-month term of education. The first “free schools” weren’t opened until about 1856-1857 in Orange County, Indiana. A school year during this period was considered 4-5 months per year. If the DRAKE family went to church, they likely went to Cane Creek Christian Church, although I have found no records to support this. Ervin’s brother, Charles DRAKE, and many of the FLICK family attended church here. The church was organized in 1825. Like the schools of the time, the first church building was also a log building built by the area residents.

On 1 April 1859 Ervin filed a land patent for 80 acres in Section 19 of Township 1N, Range 1W in Orange County, Indiana. In 1860, the family was enumerated for the census at French Lick, Orange County, Indiana, where Ervin was still farming. He now owned $400 in real estate and his personal estate was worth $250. French Lick, Indiana, is now a resort area.

In the fall of 1868 the family owned 80 acres of land in Orange County, Indiana, which they sold to John J. CONDRA on 19 September 1868**. Shortly afterward, they moved to Kingsville, Johnson County, Missouri, which is now a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. Sometime between 1870 and 1875, the family moved on to McDonald County, Missouri.

I wonder if Lavina ever regretted the move to Missouri. What lay ahead of the family would not be easy. In Missouri they would survive the economic panic of 1873, followed by an unusually harsh winter in 1873-1874, followed by a very hot and dry Spring in 1874, followed by the Great Locust Invasion in 1874. An interesting account of the locust invasion can be found at http://www.historynet.com/1874-the-year-of-the-locust.htm. It was said the locusts “…beat against the houses, swarm[ed] in at the windows, cover[ed] the passing trains. They work[ed] as if sent to destroy.” This succession of events sent many settlers scurrying back east where they had come from. The DRAKE’s chose to stay. In addition to these hardships, there was a nationwide Influenza epidemic from 1873-1875. Lavina died in Coy, McDonald County, Missouri, on 1 September 1875. I don’t know whether the Influenza epidemic claimed her life or she died of other causes. It is said she is buried at South West City Cemetery in South West City, McDonald County, Missouri, but there is no grave marker there and no record or her burial there. Ervin would go on to remarry and the family would carry on but Lavina’s personal story ends here- even though a part of her lives on in her many descendants.

Don’t forget to check out my sister-in-law’s genealogy blog where she is also doing the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Blog Challenge. This week she talks about her ancestor, Zula Jane ACORD STEPP.

**NOTE: I am presuming that Ervin and Lavina stayed in Indiana until 1868. Ervin’s second wife, Elizabeth MITCHELL DRAKE, stated (in her papers requesting a widow’s pension for Ervin’s military service) that the family moved in 1866. However, time has a way of shifting memories and Elizabeth was not at that time a part of the family so I am going with 1868 as the date Ervin and Lavina left Indiana.

Also, Ervin’s pension paperwork noted that he lived in Echo, Delaware County, Oklahoma. There was a town called Echo. It is currently under what is now Grand Lake. You can read about this in my blog post at The Dam Drakes.

On Ervin’s Civil War Draft registration it says he was blind in one eye. This would likely account for why he did not fight in the Civil War.

Poppy Makes a Comeback

This week’s theme is “love”. I wanted to put a different spin on it than I imagine others might. I’m going to talk about loving family history and how I think you can make that happen for our younger generations- with a story thrown in about Ervin Alonzo “Poppy” Drake.

I love genealogy. I have always loved it. I think that came from a lifetime of watching my parents care for the family members around them- whether closely related or not. It came from watching them ask their own parents questions about their history and their family. It came from yearly reunions where we spent time with extended family and also from my mom sharing her old pictures and talking about them with me when I was young. I can’t remember a time when my mom didn’t take my grandma around to the cemeteries to place flowers in May. I didn’t always go with them but when I did those visits were accompanied by family stories and talk of generations past. I’m so very grateful for those experiences. They helped shape my life and shape who I am. I’m certain they contributed to my love of family history. Even today when I face difficulties one of the things I do (after praying) is look at my ancestors to see how they handled similar situations.

I feel it’s the positive repeated exposure that will help our younger generations learn to love family history and see it as a resource for the rest of their lives. I’m not talking about the names-and-dates kind of genealogy but the personal stories of victory, courage, tenacity, love, hope, and faith- THAT kind of family history. That’s what kids need. They need to understand that in their life there will be good times and bad times and that they CAN get through it all with grace, faith, and hope and that there were generations of family before them who did it.

For about 10 years when my children were very young, we lived far away from extended family. I considered that a loss for them and tried to make up for it by telling family stories and talking about family whenever I thought it would hold their interest. One of the stories my kids always loved to hear (and often asked me to tell) was the story of Poppy’s trip to town for groceries. Now, I can’t tell this story in the same funny way it was told by my uncle, Richard Drake, but I can give you the gist of the story and you can ask Uncle Richard yourself if you want the really funny version. The basic story goes something like this:

One day Poppy rode his horse into town to buy some food. The store had canned
beans for sale. Poppy had never had canned beans before so he decided to try
some. He carried the beans home, opened the can, and heated the beans.
After taking his first bite he spit them out, put them back in the can, and
returned to the store on his horse. He put the now-opened can of beans on the
counter and demanded his ten cents back that he paid for the beans. When the
clerk wanted to know what was wrong with them he told the clerk they tasted
terrible and weren’t even fit for feeding to his dogs. He got his dime back and
rode back home.

Now, my kids thought this simple story was hilarious. They would start laughing during the first sentence when they imagined their 3rd great grandfather hopping on a horse and riding to the grocery store. It seemed that at every turn they laughed harder- when he tasted the beans and spit them out, when he got so mad he rode his horse back to town, when he demanded (and received) his dime back, and when he told the clerk the beans weren’t fit for his dogs to eat. My kids may not have been very interested in the names and dates- but they held on to the stories and enjoyed them. And isn’t that, after all, what we want the younger generations to do? I know this is a story that my grandkids will hear each year at cousin camp in the summer. The more they hear the stories, the more the people in the stories will become a part of them and a part of the fabric of their lives. The more they love the stories, the more they will want to know about their ancestors and that may later turn into a love for pursuing the names, dates, and other facts about their ancestors.

So, in tribute to Poppy, who hated canned beans and fast cars (if you’re asking Richard about the canned beans you may as well ask for the story about the first time Poppy rode in a motorized vehicle) but loved his wife Annie and his family, I give you this picture of Poppy with Annie and one of his dogs. This picture is circa 1948 so the dog is, sadly, probably not one of the too-good-for-canned-beans dogs in the story but one can always imagine…

Poppy and Annie’s graves:

By the way, it is believed that Annie (Mary Anne Baker) was Native American. If you know of any way we can prove her Native American heritage, there are many of us who would like to know for sure. If you aren’t certain but you know of family stories or documents, please let me know. Any little bit of information is helpful.

Don’t forget to drop by Down in the Root Cellar for Becky’s take on the theme of love. I’m sure her post will be fabulous, as always. Theology for Mom is taking a brief break from blogging to take care of real-life issues. We hope to see her back online and blogging soon. 🙂

Until next week,

Lisa @ Days of Our Lives blog

So Far Away From Me


Nicholas Wilhelm Reiter

This week’s theme for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is “so far away”. I decided to use last week’s blog about Nicholas REITER (which got set aside in favor of the Civil War tale of John C. BATES) and tell his story. Nicholas is my 2nd great-grandfather on my mother’s side. I chose him for this week’s theme because out of all my lines, I have made the least amount of progress on this one. Meaning- I’m “so far away” from answers about this family!!

In addition to the information posted below, I did an earlier blog post analysis of Nicholas’ and Sarah’s marriage record and the preacher who married them (Alpheus Brown). You can find that blog post here http://happy-girl-24.livejournal.com/14194.html.

Nicholas Wilhelm REITER was born in Hesse Darmstadt, Germany on 9 June 1825. He immigrated to America at a young age. My granny always said he was a stowaway but another story is that he came over on a ship with his parents when he was 5 years old. Granny always said there were 3 brothers and when they were young, they split up and each moved to a different place and they never saw each other again. I don’t know if that’s true.

What I know for sure is that I can pick him up in records on 16 August 1852 the day he married Sarah C. DAVIS in Pike County, Illinois. Nicholas and Sarah lived (as far as I know) in Perry, Illinois, until sometime between 1880 and 1900. Nicholas and Sarah always lived close to Sarah’s family and in Nicholas’ last decades he continued to live close to her family- even moving to the panhandle of Oklahoma to where Sarah’s sister lived. I have always assumed that he stayed close to her family because it is the only family he had and he needed help raising the young children he had because he was single. Nicholas and Sarah’s known children are John Wesley, Rachael Davis, Jennie Hurst, the twins (both of whom died at a very young age), and William Sherman (my ancestor). Granny always told me that the twins were one boy and one girl and they were named George and Georgie. She said they died as infants.

Nicholas’ name has been spelled several ways on official documents including Reiter (the original spelling as far as I know), Riter (the name as it was when Granny was born), Rider, and Ryder. On a record about his son William, I saw the name spelled Ritter.

Nicholas registered for the Civil War draft as Nicholas RYDER. As far as I know, he never served.

The family was still living in Perry, Pike County, Illinois, in 1870. The family name was shown as RITER. Living in the home were Nicholas and his children: John, Rachael, Jennie, and Willie. Nicholas’ birthplace is Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany. Nicholas could read but he could not write and he was working as a laborer. The family was living next door to Sarah’s sister Chloe (DAVIS) REEDER.

Sadly, Sarah was not with the family in the 1870 census because she passed away in February of 1870 due to consumption. Consumption was the name for Tuberculosis in 1870. Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that most commonly attacks the lungs but can also attack other parts of the body. Classic symptoms include chronic cough with blood-tinged sputum, fever, night sweats, fatigue, and loss of appetite/weight loss. The final stage of the disease occurs about 12-24 months after the initial infection. It was not until the 1820’s that Tuberculosis was identified as a disease and it was not called Tuberculosis until 1839. In 1882, twelve years after Sarah’s death, Robert Koch was finally able to identify the particular bacterium causing Tuberculosis and he received the 1905 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery. The first successful immunization against Tuberculosis came in 1906- 36 years too late to help Sarah.

In the late 1860’s to 1870, she likely did not receive good treatment. Toward the end of her life she was probably separated from her family. The disease would have caused clubbing in her fingers and toes. She would have been feverish, extremely tired, and in pain from all the coughing. She would have had to have a rag with her to catch the blood she was coughing up. Her body would have been thin and frail. I have not found her burial place.

Up until this week when I was writing and doing final research for this blog post, I believed that Nicholas never remarried after Sarah died. However, in reviewing each document to make sure I had everything straight, I noticed that in 1880, Nicholas was married to a woman named Sarah who, if she gave her age correctly, would have been about 6 years older than Sarah DAVIS. I have not been able to find a record of a second marriage for Nicholas so I have no other information about this second Sarah or the marriage between she and Nicholas. In 1880 the family was still living in Perry, Pike County, Illinois. Nicholas listed his birthplace as Baden (Germany) and stated both his parents were also born in Baden. The second Sarah was born in Illinois and stated her parents were also born in Illinois. If she had children of her own, they were not living with she and Nicholas in 1880. Jennie was not in the home at the time of this census. She was living in Perry, Illinois, with the William and Almena Taylor family and working as their servant.

On 7 October 1884 in Dubuque County, Iowa, Nicholas finally officially became a U. S. citizen.

The next census that is available is 1900. In 1900 Nicholas and his son William were living in Webster Township, Woodward County, Oklahoma, with Nicholas’ daughter Jennie REITER FULLER. Nicholas was no longer farming and stated he was a widower. He was now a cabinet maker. He could read, write, and speak in English. Nicholas died on 27 October 1904 with all of his children living near him except Rachael (who stayed in Illinois) and the twins who were buried in Illinois.


Nicholas Reiter’s grave