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4 Jan
2016

Life Was Hard on the Frontier

A look at poverty in the late nineteenth century during “Poverty in America Month”

“Grandad’s milk cow was in an open-front shed built of driftwood gathered from the river.  Grandma realized the snow would swirl around it and cover it completely in a very short time.  To keep the cow from smothering in the snow, Grandma decided to go out to free her from her stall.  She tied a rope to the doorknob so that she would find her way back to the dugout.  She said later that she would not have made it back to dugout without the rope to guide her.  In the night a herd of horses belonging to a neighbor six miles away, ran right over the top of the dugout.  Grandma could just see those horses breaking through the roof and coming in on top of her family, but that didn’t happen.” (From “Tales of a Sod House Baby: Stories of the Kansas Frontier as told by my mother” by Helen McCauley Merkle.

wagon trainThis is a typical story of life on the frontier in the late nineteenth century.  After passage of the Homestead Act in 1862, people from all walks of life came in search of land on the frontier.  Most were poor…farmers from the East without land of their own, newly arrived immigrants, single women and former slaves.   The opportunity was enticing for many who were tempted by railroad flyers or the exaggerated claims of hucksters.

However, many families were unable to survive for five years to make their claim.  My grandmother was one of them, leaving New Mexico to return to her family home in Nebraska as a widow with five children.  But like many pioneers, she was determined and filed another homestead claim in an arid area of the Nebraska sand hills, a mile from the nearest water.

The physical conditions on the Great Plains were challenging. High winds, tornadoes, drought and plagues of insects also confronted the subsistence life of homesteaders.  Destroyed crops or livestock herds meant that farmers went into debt mortgaging their land to buy additional seed, supplies or replacement livestock.   Blizzards, like the one described in the story above, and bitter cold temperatures were common.

tornado

Family Story

A family story passed down to me describes a howling blizzard with white-out conditions.  My grandmother, crippled from rheumatoid arthritis, and her two youngest children, one of whom was my dad, were living miles from any neighbors.  Dried corn cobs used for fuel for the stove to warm their modest one-room house were gone.  The wind howled and showed no signs of letting up.  She could not, as an invalid, manage herself to go the barn for more corn cobs.  She refused to allow my father, still a young boy, to go out in the blinding white-out blizzard for fear that he would get lost and freeze to death.  So, they burned my grandmother’s books to keep warm.  It must have been a very painful sacrifice for her to make, since she was a school teacher who placed a high value on education.  She had collected her treasured books over a life-time.

Since I am writing a fictionalized story about my grandmother who struggled in poverty raising her five children, I have been curious to learn how poverty at the turn of the nineteenth century compares to poverty today.  In 1900, as reported by Digital History, the average family annual income in today’s dollars was $3000.  Half of all American children lived in poverty and about 60% of the population lived on farms or in rural areas.  Exact comparisons are hard to find but today more than half of our population lives in the suburbs; about 21% of US children live in poverty and the average household income is over $72,641.  Life was hard in 1900 where life expectancy of white Americans was 48 and African Americans was 33.  One in four children had a 50% chance of dying before the age of 5 and half of all young people lost a parent before they reached 21.

Today we hear from the media, politicians and pundits about “income inequality”.    In the San Francisco Bay Area the news, editorials and casual conversation focus on the housing crises and homelessness.  All these terms denote poverty, a condition that none of us like to talk about.  The Center for Law and Economic Justice reports record high numbers of people in the United States live in poverty today…approximately 46.5 million or one out of 7 of us.    The US Census Bureau reports that the poverty rates have remained about the same for the last four years.  Two out of three Americans will live in poverty for at least a year in their lives according to The Brookings Institute.

But numbers are cold, abstract and don’t carry much emotional meaning.  I am concerned that the poverty and homelessness today disproportionately impacts women and children, as it did my grandmother.   The majority of poor children have a single mom struggling to make ends meet with a low-paying job or the reviled welfare check. Those children need health care, nutrition, housing, education and more attention than that single mom may have time to give.

We have no consensus today on a safety net or a government effort to offer opportunities to those women and children.  Our current trend is to leave such support to a patch work of non-profit and under-funded government agencies.  Most of us ignore the homeless, have no contact with the low-income single mom and carry negative images of those who depend on “the government dole”.  Are we willing to acknowledge the poverty in our midst during this month of Poverty in America?  These children are our future.  Will we provide them the support they need to grow up to contribute to that future?

Next time we will look at the history of opportunity for the poor in this country with a focus on the Homestead Act of 1862.

Did your ancestors live on the mid-western prairie?  Were they farmers?  Did they homestead?

What do you think about our current attitude toward poverty in America?

21 Dec
2015

Imagining a Pioneering Christmas on the Prairie

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This is the third in a series of explorations of the holiday traditions at the time of my grandparents, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Last time we looked at the Christmas traditions that emerged and become popular in the nineteenth century. 

The holiday season is upon us. Like many others, I feel the hustle and bustle to decorate, send greetings to friends and family and find the ideal gifts for my grandsons and other significant members of my family. In the midst this full and active time, I wondered how my grandmother would be preparing for Christmas on the prairie over 100 years ago. I am curious about life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the setting of my novel based on the lives of my grandparents. I know nothing personally about how they celebrated Christmas nor is there much written about what homesteading families on the American plains did to recognize the popular holiday season. In my last post, I described the practices and activities that became popular by the end of the nineteenth century.

I am guessing that many of those practices were more common in Eastern and more urban areas of the United States. It is hard to imagine an evergreen tree decorated with popcorn, dried fruit and burning candles inside an earthen dugout. Depending on where and when they homesteaded, dugouts served as the home of many homesteaders in the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. I envision similar decorations on a bough or a sprig from a tree or bush that grew in the area instead. Perhaps there was a lone candle lit near a religious picture of Mary and Joseph and baby, Jesus. Because resources were so limited and many homesteading families struggled to survive, I doubt if gifts from Santa Claus were a major tradition. Perhaps stockings were hung in “hopes that St Nicholas” might leave a special treat of fruit or cookies.

Old-Fashioned-Christmas-Pictures-3Generosity and Sharing

Understanding the values of generosity and sharing that were common among homesteading families, including my grandparents, I am sure giving to those most needy and delivering meals and homemade dishes to neighbors would have been a frequent practice. Homesteaders often lived miles from their nearest neighbors, yet Christmas was a time to gather in community. I imagine my grandparents may have dressed in their “Sunday best” and traveled by horse and wagon or by sleigh to visit with neighbors. They may have gathered at the small community church to meet for religious services, share potluck meals and perhaps sing Christmas carols around a piano or accompanied by a guitar or banjo.

DASHING_THROUGH_THE_SNOW

Homesteaders had often traveled long distances from family to find the free land available to claim, then occupy for five years and to make it their own. I am sure that purchasing and sending Christmas cards was rare at the end of the nineteenth century among homesteaders on the American plains. Yet maintaining ties with family left behind, telling stories of life on the frontier and hearing the news of loved ones back home was priceless. Receiving letters was anticipated with growing excitement, especially at holiday time. I know that my grandmother, a former schoolteacher, wrote many letters from Oklahoma and New Mexico to her cherished family in Nebraska. I also imagine that she probably offered to read precious letters received by her grateful neighbors who could not read.

I have focused on those Christian and secular holiday traditions that might have been practiced by homesteaders like my grandparents. Communities with other ethnic or religious identities contributed their own practices and holiday traditions. Although the commercial and urban traditions of Christmas may not have been as common among homesteaders on the prairie, the belief in hope, community and sharing, shaped the holiday celebrations that many of us practice today.

What holiday traditions were practiced in your family when you were growing up? Do you observed different practices or traditions today? Do you know what your grandmother or great-grandmother did to prepare for Christmas?

14 Dec
2015

The Holiday Traditions We Owe to Our European Ancestors

 

victorianchristmastree3This is the second in a series of explorations of the holiday traditions at the time of my grandparents, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Last time we looked at Thanksgiving traditions.

As this Christmas season bustles with tree decorating and shopping, gift giving and holiday parties, and children’s letters to Santa Claus, I wonder what Christmas was like in the time of my grandparents in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  We often think that the traditions of Christmas have been handed down through the many generations of our multi-ethnic heritage. I discovered that most of the holiday celebrations and activities we observe today emerged in mid-nineteenth century America.

Christmas Holiday Barely Noticed

Americans, religious or not, northern or southern, barely noticed the Christmas holiday as late as the beginning of the nineteenth century. The “creation of an American Christmas was a response to social and personal needs that arose at a particular point” in our history, concludes Penne Restad in History Today. The customs that emerged, addressed the insecurities, conflicts and confusion created by the civil war, urbanization and industrialization.

Christmas was not a holiday in the early colonies of the Puritans.  In fact, the holiday was anathema and illegal for the Puritans who considered it raucous and sinful. They also banned any celebration because “Christmas” does not exist in the Bible nor did they believe that Jesus was born in December but rather in September.  Christmas is often traced to the effort by Pope Julius I who chose December 25 to celebrate the birth of Christ to co-opt a Roman pagan ritual characterized by food drink and revelry.  Thus, the lack of any theological justification for Christmas allowed the holiday to emerge in America as an event to be celebrated by the diverse ethnic, mostly Christian, immigrants to this country.  The ‘American’ Christmas holiday captured the sometimes conflicting themes of “commercialism and artisanship, as well as nostalgia and faith in progress, that defined late nineteenth-century culture”, according to Restad.

Albert_Chevallier_Tayler_-_The_Christmas_Tree_1911Popularity Grew

The popularity of celebrating the Christmas holiday grew after the Civil War, and the message of peace and goodwill resonated with many Americans who yearned for reconciliation and unity. By the end of the nineteenth century many of the familiar components and traditions as described by Robert McNamera in “The History of Christmas Traditions” of our modern Christmas had begun to take hold throughout the country. German settlers had introduced the tradition of the Christmas tree. It became popular outside German communities after Prince Albert, the German-born husband of Queen Victoria decorated a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle in the 1840’s.  Decorating Christmas trees and the commercially boosted practice of giving gifts and sending Christmas cards blossomed in the 1870-80’s.

St. Nicholas was considered the patron saint of Early Dutch settlers who practiced the ritual of hanging stockings.  Clement Clarke Moore wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, often called “The Night Before Christmas” in 1823.  Thomas Nast, a famous cartoonist is credited with creating in 1863, the modern portrayal of Santa Claus showing him on a sleigh and introducing the notion that Santa lived at the North Pole keeping a workshop with elves. In 1897 a young girl wrote to a New York newspaper and received a response from editor, Francis Pharcellus Church.  It became the most famous newspaper editorial ever printed.  The eloquent editorial asserted in an often quoted sentence, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Santa_Coming_Down_the_Chimney_DrawingChristmas Traditions Firmly Established

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, the popular traditions of Christmas celebration were firmly established broadly throughout the country.  Ethnic Christian and Jewish communities added their own traditional twists.  Families from humble circumstances found ways of sharing the joys of the season with handmade Christmas decorations and gifts, writing Christmas letters instead of purchasing cards and cooking more modest meals to share with family and neighbors.

Next time, I’ll explore how I imagine my grandparents may have celebrated the Christmas holiday on the mid-western prairie.

What Are Your Family Traditions?

Do you have special traditions in your family? Are there special decorations that have been handed down? Do you have favorite foods that are served at Christmas dinner? Did Santa or St. Nick visit your house?  How do you imagine the holidays were celebrated by your ancestors? Please share your traditions and stories below.

6 Dec
2015

Imagining Thanksgiving on the American Prairie

Photos ThanksgivingI think about my grandmother often since I am working on the revisions of my novel, a fictionalized version of her life and the life of my grandfather. As I did the genealogical research on my grandparents, I was reminded that she was born one 145 years ago just before Thanksgiving. So this a time for me to honor her birth as well as to be grateful for her inspiration.

This year I celebrated Thanksgiving in Ireland where a dear friend cooked us a delicious traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Ireland is a country that doesn’t celebrate this most American of holidays. Thinking of my grandmother, I wondered how she might have celebrated Thanksgiving and her birthday which would have often fallen on Thanksgiving Day. I have no clues from my own family traditions. My curiosity led me to explore some of the history of one of the most favorite of American holidays. Thanksgiving combines the ancient traditions of harvest festivals and the religious observances of the Puritans grateful and giving thanks for their survival after a year of sickness and scarcity.

We learn as children in school about the Pilgrim story of Thanksgiving. But I had no idea that earlier ceremonies by other British Colonists and Spanish explorers in North America occurred before the Plymouth celebration of 1621. Although Thanksgiving in the colonies became a regular event by the middle of the 17th century, the first national Thanksgiving was proclaimed in 1777 by the Continental Congress. The early Presidents continued to proclaim a national day of Thanksgivings but it was not an official holiday. In fact, by the middle of the 19th century Thanksgiving was limited to individual state observances and had evolved from the religious and civil day of commemoration and giving thanks to a family holiday of feasting. President Lincoln was convinced to declare a national holiday in 1863 in an effort to unite the war-torn country. Lincoln’s successors proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day each year. It became a fixed annual celebration in 1941 when Congress established the fourth Thursday of the month of November as Thanksgiving.

Imagining Thanksgiving

Old Thanksgiving images

Without any family stories or traditions, I turned to my imagination about how my grandparents might have celebrated Thanksgiving Day. Since it was not a firm national holiday and observed differently by state, my grandparents, as struggling homesteaders, might not have even celebrated Thanksgiving. Certainly after my grandfather died leaving my grandmother in dire and impoverished circumstances, her ability to provide an extravagant feast would have been very limited. Yet, the tradition of acknowledging God’s blessings and giving thanks would have been important to my grandmother as I remember her. I imagine that when the President of the United States did declare a day of Thanksgiving, which may or may not have been in November, that she probably commemorated the day. She may have cooked something special and I am convinced that she would ensure that she and her children offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings in their lives. I also imagine that she ignored or discounted any celebration of her November birthday as too frivolous and extravagant.

What are Your Traditions?

Do you have inherited family traditions on Thanksgiving? What do you imagine your grandparents or great grandparents did to celebrate a day of family feasting or to express gratitude and give thanks in their faith on Thanksgiving Day? Please post your comments and share your stories below.

30 Sep
2015
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Book Review: “The Mind of an American Revolutionary” by Jon Foyt

The Mind of an American RevolutionaryReviewed by Bev Scott

Jon Foyt has written a well-researched and engaging book about the American revolutionary, Robert Morris.  We follow Robert’s life from his youth in Liverpool without a father or mother to his success in ocean commerce and trade connecting the New World to the rest of the world.  He became a trusted leader and influential citizen of Philadelphia during the American Revolution helping to finance the Revolution itself.

This is not an action-packed story of the intrigues and horrors of the Revolutionary War.   Foyt takes a different path than many authors in emphasizing the thoughts, opinions and feelings of the protagonist. Hence, the book is an exploration of the developing mind of Robert Morris as he achieves success, articulates the rationale for the Revolution and struggles with temptations which will increase his wealth or meet his sexual desires.

Early in the book, the author introduces a Major Lowenstein a Hessian Mercenary and doctor sent by his German Landgraf Prince to learn about what goes on in the mind of Revolutionaries.  Through conversations and interviews with Major Lowenstein, we learn about the dreams, beliefs and values of Robert Morris.  Morris articulates his dreams of freedom from the laws of the English Crown which he believes will bring expansive future economic opportunities.  Another character, a barmaid named Betsy, is also used in similar fashion to unearth the thoughts and opinions of Morris.  Although Morris was considered a member of the elite society, he remembered his own origins as an uneducated youth from Liverpool.  He knew that many of the subjects in the Colonies were intelligent and curious yet unable to read and write.  As he engages in conversation with Betsy, the barmaid, he treats her with respect and answers her questions and shares his views of the growing movement for freedom from the King.

Morris’s quick financial mind and his trustworthy reputation enable him to build a prosperous commercial ocean trading business and to marry into the upper class of Philadelphian society.  However, his expanding dreams for the new Republic and his belief in his own ability become contaminated with his own arrogance and greed, leading to his downfall.

Foyt opens the book by introducing us to an established and confident Robert Morris, and brings both Betsy and Major Lowenstein into the scene.  The author’s effort to provide the context for the relationship among these characters and to use them to explore the mind of Robert Morris results in a slower and less engaging start than the book deserves.  The pace picks up when we learn about Robert’s early life and the challenges he encounters when he arrives in the Colonies.  Because of the approach taken by the author to explore the mind of the American Revolutionary, the character of Robert Morris is well developed and engaging.  I was lost in the extensive description of the waterfront seen by the young Robert on his arrival to the New World, but Foyt brings in historical detail and “real” characters from our Revolutionary history which add depth and interest as the story unfolds.

I recommend this book if you love American history and you are intrigued by the development of the thinking, philosophy, and beliefs that led to the Revolution and to our Founding documents and the principles of democracy.

Author website: www.jonfoyt.com

17 Sep
2015
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Book Review: “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain

pariswifeReviewed by Bev Scott

The Paris Wife provides an intimate perspective of the famous writer Ernest Hemingway from the personal experience of his first wife, Hadley. The book explores the developing success of Hemingway as a writer intertwined with their relationships with each other and with their famous friends in Paris. Experiencing their marriage from Hadley’s first person voice offers an intimate view of what their relationship might have been. At times the pace of the book moves a little slowly especially in the beginning but as the characters develop, their famous friends enter the scene and Hemingway achieves recognition as a writer the story becomes more engaging. The author brings us into the passionate and emotionally charged bond between Ernest and Hadley as well as the liaisons and friendships that threaten it.

Author website:  www.paulamclain.com

14 Aug
2015

Journey to Fiction – Part 7

This is the seventh and last in a serial documentation of the journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents.
Please see the earlier blogs describing the journey to this point at bevscott.com/blog/.

New Mexico, Dugouts and the Decision to write a novel.

Dugout 2My grandfather, H.D. Scott died in Hanley, New Mexico January 27, 1911 at the age of 70 leaving my thirty-nine year old grandmother a widow with five children. Although I know that she eventually returned to Nebraska where her parents and several siblings lived, I am curious about her life in New Mexico especially since she was severely crippled with rheumatoid arthritis. I would like to find where my grandparents lived and my grandfather’s grave. I planned a trip to New Mexico.

First stop is the Tucumcari Historical Museum. I learned almost immediately that my grandparents probably lived in a dugout given the time they arrived, 1910.  As my research continued I learned that settlers at that time frequently arrived on the railroad with boxcars divided into one area for livestock and another for farm equipment and household belongings.  Some also had a raised platform on one end for the family to eat and sleep during their journey.  The Homestead Act had opened land to settlers for free as long as they lived on their land.  The initial dwellings were frequently dugouts because they were cheap to build and didn’t require lumber and other building materials.  Settlers were lured by the railroad who advertised the “choice farming” and clean air.  But nothing was said about the low rainfall and the difficulty of finding water.  Guessing that H. D. was attracted by the promises of a climate good for asthma and tuberculosis, I looked for land records of a homestead claim with no results.  Because H.D. died a little over a year after they arrived and Ellen left for Nebraska they did not fulfill the requirement to live on the land for five years.  I was out of luck in finding where they lived.

Grave marker

However, the museum staff helped me locate my grandfather’s grave which is now on private property.  It is a white marker provided by the Veterans Administration with his birth name of John Howard Scott.  Thirty years ago two of H.D.’s sons, my uncles, visiting his grave site discovered that the grave marker was broken and falling apart.  Their request for a new grave marker from the Veterans Administration began the family search to learn more about H.D.’s life which I later took over and have chronicled in this blog series.

Although I could not find much information about where H.D. and Ellen lived, I was still intrigued by how Ellen, severely crippled, managed to get her five children back to Nebraska.  Reviewing the National Archives documents, I found correspondence between the Pension Bureau and my grandmother.  She submitted an application for widow’s benefits almost immediately after H.D. died.  Then in the summer of 1911 she wrote that she would be going back to Nebraska and would send them her new address by September. One Government Agent’s report tells that they “drove all the way from New Mexico, where the soldier died, to her old home in Nebraska.”  From our perspective today, it sounds like they “drove” a car.  But I am sure they could not afford to have a car at that time so I assume they drove a horse and wagon which matches the family story that her older sons drove the wagon and she laid in the back as they made their way back to Nebraska.

I also learned from the Archives documents that the Government Agent who came in April of 1912 to interview my grandmother in person, filed a sensitive descriptive report of that meeting.  She was living in a tent south of Thedford, Nebraska where she had filed a land claim.  He reports that

“she hopes to establish a home for herself and children; but it looks like a most hazardous undertaking as she is practically an invalid because of rheumatism (sic), and her children are undersized puny looking little fellows, and they are more than a mile from the nearest water….In their present desolate surroundings their condition is pitiable in the extreme.”

Dismal River

Not only were Ellen’s circumstances dire and “pitiable in the extreme,” but they were a mile from the nearest water from a river aptly named, the Dismal River.  It also appears that this was the occasion when she learned about H.D.’s first wife.  The agent describes that

“until I informed her of the fact, claimant declares she had no knowledge of the existence of a former wife.  Her grief and tears where convincing of the truth.  She begged me not to tell anyone in her home neighborhood.”

The report, that she begs the Government Agent not to tell anyone, helps explain why no one in the family knew about H.D.’s first family, why my grandmother shared no information about him with her children and why she avoided answering any questions about him.  I had exhausted my sources about H.D. and Ellen Scott.

This journey of the genealogical research uncovered a fascinating story that deserved to be told.  But, there were several missing pieces.  Although I had much to learn about writing fiction, historical fiction, I decided to write this story using what I had learned as the foundation for the story and creatively filling in the missing pieces.

17 Jun
2015

Journey to Fiction – Part 6

This is the sixth in a serial documentation of the genealogical journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents. Please see the earlier blogs describing the journey to this point at bevscott.com/blog/

Dear Readers to “A Journey to Fiction”,
I am back to writing again after five months. As some of you know, my family has suffered sadness and loss this year. I have wanted to be available, to be of support, to grieve and to find the path for the new ways of living our lives. Hence, the hiatus in my blog and my writing. I hope you enjoy the next installment below of “A Journey to Fiction”.

midwestregion_map

My grandparents, H.D. and Ellen Scott moved to Oklahoma in 1898 with three of their children. My father, the fourth son was born in Oklahoma in 1907. I described in Part 5 of this “Journey” my speculation about why they moved and what I was able to find in official documents about their lives. The correspondence I found in the National Archives reveal the deteriorating health of my grandfather as he is desperately trying to comply with requirements to receive Veteran’s Benefits from his service in the Civil War. From the documents, I learned that his doctor had urged him to move to a warmer climate than Oklahoma.

He spent the winter in Phoenix in 1909 living in a tent according to the Examiner who wrote, in April, 1909, “In view of his poverty and physical condition and the fact that he has a family of young children and that it is his desire to remove his family to some place in the Rocky Mountain region, a matter of large expense, I recommend that the claim be made special, especially since the examination may take considerable time. He is old and his condition is precarious.” He was 69.

The 1910 US Census lists the family residing in Quay County, New Mexico in the community of Hanley outside of Tucumcari. They must have moved after H.D. returned from Phoenix in 1909. But why? The only clue is his deteriorating health and the recommendation from the doctor that he move to a warmer climate. But why Quay County, New Mexico? I learned from additional research that the area around Tucumcari had been publicized as choice farming land. My grandparents and many others were probably tantalized by the railroad advertisements offering free land and clean air good for those ailing from tuberculosis and asthma. I suspect that H.D. suffered from asthma. With the hope of finding a farming paradise, a warmer climate and improved health, my grandparents moved to New Mexico. In August of 1910, a fifth child was born…a girl.

Tucumcari-Mountain

In April, 1909 the Examiner had reported that there were discrepancies in H.D. (alias John Howard) Scott’s statements. In reviewing the Archive documents, the deposition given by my grandfather reveals what those discrepancies were. He was shown evidence, in September of 1909 that the soldier John H. Scott was not known by any other name during his service, that he married Harriet Foncannon and that he lived with her for many years. Yet, H.D. claimed he had never married her. When asked which statement was true, he replied “I will not answer. I will not discuss the matter.”

Although my grandfather now going by Harvey Depew Scott denied his first marriage, the Examiner must have been convinced that he was really John Howard Scott who served in the Civil War. The Government finally approved the awarding of his pension. In December of 1910, in Hanley, New Mexico, a H.D. received his first pension check. He died one month later in January at age 70.

tucum-nm-1913

What does my thirty-nine year old grandmother do now that she is a widow with five children living in rural New Mexico? I know that my grandmother had severe rheumatoid arthritis from an early age. So she was not only a widow but probably disabled. I know she ultimately moved back to Nebraska but I wonder how she gets there and when she leaves Hanley. I want to know more about life in New Mexico and to find my grandfather’s grave. I planned another road trip to New Mexico.

10 May
2015
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Book Review: “The Stolen Girl” by Zia Wesley

The Stolen GirlReviewed by Bev Scott

An intriguing story that begins in Martinique as Aimee Dubuq du Rivery snuck off with her cousin Rose to hear their fortune told by an African Obeah predicting they will both be Queens. The author masterfully weaves this prediction into the story of Amiee who tries without success to enter Parisian society to find a husband and decides to become a nun. Sailing home before she enters the convent, she is abducted by pirates and is ultimately sold into the harem of the Sultan of Turkey. The character of Aimee is well developed as the reader experiences both her fears and her joys. In the first part of this totally engaging story, Aimee is conflicted by her actions which are violations of the rules of her Catholic faith but she ultimately adopts with utmost pleasure the culture and expectations of the Ottoman Sultan and Empire. The story moves at a lively pace and kept me enthralled to the end. The author provides excellent historical detail in the descriptions of Martinique, Paris and life in the Ottoman Sultan’s palace.

Author website: www.ziawesleynovelist.com/books.html

18 Nov
2014

Journey to Fiction – Part 5

This is the fifth in a serial documentation of the journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents.

Move to Oklahoma; Claiming Veterans Benefits

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My grandparents, H.D. and Ellen Scott were married in Thedford, Nebraska in 1892, purchased land from the Russell’s, Ellen’s family, and had three of their five children. I continued to review the documents I copied from the National Archives and discovered that H.D. filed for Veterans Benefits due to disability in 1897. According to the documents they moved to Dewey County, Oklahoma in 1898. Thomas County, Nebraska land records show they sold their Nebraska farm land back to the Russell’s in the same year. The family is listed in Oklahoma in the 1900 Federal Census.

By 1909, H.D. was living in a “canvas home (a tent with board siding) and ‘baching’” in Arizona, according to the documents filed by Pension Bureau Examiner. “He is evidently in very straightened circumstances…as a great sufferer from asthma.” He reportedly went to Arizona “two or three times to get relief from his affliction.” But, he left his wife and four children in Oklahoma.

Why Oklahoma? Was H.D.’s health already deteriorating in 1898? Alas there are no clues in the Archive documents.

Oklahoma was one of the last territories to be open for homesteading. Dewey County was Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian land. In 1892 it was opened for settlement. A search of homestead records however, does not show H.D. or Ellen filing a land claim in Dewey County between 1898 and 1910. During my road trip to Oklahoma, unfortunately, I did not get to the Dewey County Court House to review land records before they closed. But H.D. Scott and wife must have purchased land there, because later I discovered records in Thomas County, Nebraska that Ellen’s father and brother bought land in Dewey County, Oklahoma from Ellen and H.D. in 1901. Perhaps it is they who were investing in land in Oklahoma and H.D and Ellen purchased it and then resold it to them. I know from family lore that H.D. raised horses. Perhaps although his in-laws owned the land, H.D. raised his horses and settled his family there. Or more likely H.D. and Ellen needed the money.

Clay Scott - Oklahoma I

As I mentioned, the family is listed in Oklahoma in the 1900 Federal Census. My father was born in Oklahoma in 1907. Recording of births did not begin in Oklahoma until October of 1908. I have a notarized statement from the woman who attended my grandmother when my father was born documenting the date and location. I also have a picture of the house in which he was born taken many years later in the 1950’s. When I visited Dewey County in search of his birthplace recently, the small town they lived near, no longer exists.

During the time the family lived in Oklahoma, my grandfather was trying to obtain his Veterans Benefits. The documents in the National Archives include correspondence regarding his deteriorating health. In April,1909 as mentioned above, he was living in a tent in Scottsdale, Arizona, a community of sick people, and according to the Examiner, was “favorably known considering the short time he has been there” (since November, 1908). By this time, he had filed three claims for Veterans benefits. My grandmother wrote to the Examiner when she sent her only pictures of him, “I do hope he will get his pension before it is too late.”

The Pension Examiner wrote in April, 1909, “In view of his poverty and physical condition and the fact that he has a family of young children and that it is his desire to remove his family to some place in the Rocky Mountain region, a matter of large expense, I recommend that the claim be made special, especially since the examination may take considerable time. He is old and his condition is precarious.”

However, due to “discrepancies in the soldier’s statements,” the Pension Bureau ruled that more investigation was required. I wanted to know how they investigated the discrepancies and if my grandfather received his pension before he died in January, 1911.

Have you done any genealogical research? What is your experience?

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