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Tagged with " pioneers"
27 Jul
2018

“What About Your Mother’s Family?”

Sod house Bev Scott Author

My grandparents and their sod house in Nebraska (Solomon Butcher photo)

“What about your mother’s family?”

“…Oliver was a man who knew his own mind.  He had two daughters (one was my mother) who were never allowed to attend school. Oliver was sure that they would learn too many things at school that weren’t included in the curriculum. Mrs. Moody was a former school teacher, so Mr. Moody bought the books that were necessary and the girls studied at home. The law stepped in and tried to force the issue. But Oliver was adamant:  he’d go to jail first! So, they let him have his way, and those girls had the highest grades in the county when it came time for eighth grade commencement in Broken Bow. Their father allowed them to go to high school and college thereafter.” (from Clear Creek Echoes)

Custer County, Nebraska

Recently I decided to take up where I had left off several years ago, with learning about my maternal lineage. In 2001 I went to Custer County, Nebraska where my maternal great grandfather, William H. Moody, homesteaded in 1885, to explore the Custer County Museum. I found newspaper articles, quotes from my grandfather and obituaries. I discovered the story quoted above about my grandfather, Oliver H. Moody, shared in the book Clear Creek Echoes which recorded memories of the area between 1878 and 1978. It gave me insight into the man I knew only when I was a child.

My grandmother, Grace, was a school teacher until she was married in 1902. The state of Nebraska frowned on married women teaching school so she left the classroom when she became Mrs. Moody. My grandfather served as the school superintendent until he had to take over the family farm. Among the files I inherited from my mother are teaching certificates from the 1890’s demonstrating Grace’s competence to teach first and second grade and teacher’s contracts dating from 1896 to 1900, some of which are signed by Oliver Moody.

While I was in Custer County, I took a nostalgic drive out to view the land where my great grandfather homesteaded outside Broken Bow, Nebraska and met the current farmers. The one hundred and sixty acres of the homestead seemed like a lot of land to farm with a horse and plow! I researched the deeds for this land at the county courthouse. The “patten” by William H. Moody was filed in November,1885 under President Cleveland. Since my grandfather was the only boy in the family, the land was passed to him. I was very sad when I discovered that my grandparents lost their farm in the Depression after they had mortgaged it and couldn’t meet the payments.

farm, homestead, Bev Scott Author

Farm homesteaded by great-grandfather, viewed from location where farm house once stood.

Solomon Butcher, Prairie Photographer

I discovered at the Custer County Museum that the photo I have of my great-grandparents and their children in front of their sod house, is a Solomon Butcher photo. As a young man, Butcher decided he wasn’t up to the rigors of homesteading. Instead, he began to chronicle the photographic history of pioneer life. He gave one photo to the family and kept one himself. Between 1886 and 1912 he took more than 3000 photos many of them in Custer County. Many of those photos which adorned the walls of homesteading families in Custer County, were donated to the Custer County Museum.  Today the Museum has as one of its missions the preservation of his photos.

Back on the Genealogy Trail

Families are often filled with stories and rumors which may or may not be true. My mother’s family story was that we were descendants of William Brewster of Mayflower fame. But, did it have any basis? With my renewed focus on my maternal ancestry, I not only reviewed my notes from the 2001 trip to Nebraska, but I also rummaged through files that my mother had left me. I discovered a one-page document describing her mother as a descendant of William Brewster! However, there was no documentation. The piece of paper was just as good as the family story.

Many people have heard or read the story of my journey to find information about my mysterious paternal grandfather who was born in 1840. I combed cemeteries, libraries, county courthouses, historical museums and the US Census.  I searched online, on genealogy sites and requested documents from government agencies.  My quest ultimately took me to seven states in the Midwest.

Bev Scott, Author, Nebraska school

My grandmother Grace was a teacher in a school on the Great Plains in Nebraska.

I learned a lot about my paternal grandfather, John Howard Scott, aka Harvey Depew Scott. I discovered the family rumor about him was true.  However, there were twelve to fourteen years when he disappeared from the records. I was dedicated to the pursuit, convinced I would uncover where he was during those years. With the curiosity and passion for that search, I neglected the exploration I had begun of my mother’s family.

Now, refocused on my mother’s side of the family, I was curious to find the records of my maternal ancestry. I turned to Ancestry.com to see if I could use the names and relationships on the page from my mother’s files to find documentation. I was amazed at how easy it was to find marriage, census, death and historical records which documented the relationships for thirteen generations from William Brewster to me. Although the whole family tree is not yet complete, I am thrilled that I had the luck to easily find the information to establish this branch of my maternal ancestry.

It is such a contrast to the long journey and search for small clues about my paternal grandfather. I had begun that search in the paper files over twenty years ago at the National Archives. Since my grandfather fought in the Civil War I used the only information I had about him, his enlistment information given to me by my aunt. Those paper files gave me many clues, confirmed the family secret and launched me on the journey I described above.   It is now much easier to search for records online. I recently checked online again to see if I missed something in that journey. There is still no information about my grandfather during the times he disappeared.

The Records Reflect Stability and Disruption

What does the difference I describe between my two sets of ancestors suggest? My conclusion is that a stable family life, permanent residence and several generations of the pursuit of learning and education on the maternal side makes it easier to find records and documents. In contrast, losing a father at an early age, moving constantly and the lack of education characterizes my paternal grandfather’s story and leaves fewer records to pursue.

I am excited to be back involved with the genealogy of my mother’s family heritage. Although it is not mysterious, perhaps it will stimulate me to write some of the stories that I have uncovered and find quite fascinating.

Have you traced your family heritage?  What have you learned?

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23 Mar
2018
Posted in: Diversity
By    5 Comments

Racism in the “Little House” Books?

Plains Indian, Buffalo Hunt painting John Stanley

Laura Ingalls Wilder is in the book news again.  There are calls to remove her books from children’s libraries!

The American Library Association (ALA) is considering removing her name from their life-time achievement in children’s literature award. The librarians are re-considering the name of the medal based on the treatment of Native Americans and African Americans in the Little House books. Their concern is the conflict of the ALA vision to “respect and honor children’s families’ history” with the values of respect, inclusiveness and integrity with the racism depicted in the books.

Caroline Fraser, author of Wilder’s historical biography, Prairie Fires writes in an article in the March 14 issue of the Washington Post, that “no book, including the Bible, has ever been ‘universally embraced.'” Those who have decried the white supremacy which lies at the heart of so many children’s books, have demanded that the books be removed from school libraries. Some have been motivated by a story Fraser reports of an 8-year old Native American girl came home in tears after hearing the story read in school. Others have admonished publishers to address the racial imbalance in children’s literature by publishing more stories about Native Americans or African Americans.

Indeed, Wilder’s most famous novel, “Little House on the Prairie” (1935) has inspired both disapproval and devotion. Many of us grew up enamored by the sentimental description of family values in the Little House stories, but not all of us are white. Fraser tells about an immigrant girl born in Saigon attracted to the story and how Hmong families from Laos living in Walnut Grove were drawn by one girl’s devotion to the television show. The town features a public mural with a smiling Laura alongside a Hmong woman in traditional dress.

African American family, historic photo c. 1930's, packing car to leave

Publishing more books and stories for children with Native American, Hispanic, African American or other ethnic perspectives is incredibly important to understand today’s diverse world. But, should the name of the medal be changed or the books removed from school libraries because they are racist? Perhaps changing the name of the medal is not wrong. It certainly is not censorship. It might be argued that it is acknowledging the cultural shift that no longer recognizes or rewards books with such blatant racism.

In contrast, removing the books from libraries or refusing to read them to elementary school children is not only censorship but denies all children the opportunity to learn through story the history of homesteading as well as the promotion of white settlement which violently took over Native American lands. I agree with Fraser that the answer to the racism of Wilder’s books is not to ban them but to provide the opportunity to learn that history is interpreted from cultural definitions and perspective. How exciting it would be to have the opportunity to learn about the white cultural perspective current during Wilder’s life. Imagine adding to the conversation, with alternative cultural viewpoints from the Native Americans who were losing their traditional lands or the African Americans who were just freed from slavery.

What is your opinion?

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2 Mar
2018

“It’s So Cold!”

hut in blizzard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a howling blizzard with below freezing temperatures and 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. Grandma refused to allow my father, still a small boy, to go out in the blinding white-out blizzard for fear that he would get lost and freeze to death. So, she decided to burn her precious books to keep warm. (from a family story passed down to me.)

The last few weeks in the Bay Area we have experienced unseasonably cold weather. We are bundled in warm jackets, scarves, gloves and hats to keep out the cold wind. And we complain to friends and colleagues and even strangers at the store or in the elevator, exclaiming “It’s so cold!” Yet, our cold weather is nothing like the below zero temperatures with deep snow drifts that other parts of the country have experienced this winter.

It is a minor inconvenience compared to the family story above or the incredible winters our ancestors experienced on the prairie.

I have been reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser, which describes the incredible winters suffered by Laura Ingalls¹ and her family with the other South Dakota homesteaders in 1881.²

Construction of sod houses had been abandoned on the South Dakota prairie in favor of cheap goods shipped by rail. Americans seem to always prefer the latest and easiest approach even if it is not the most effective. Shacks with board and batten construction with a layer of tar paper for insulation offered little protection from the wind and snow blowing in through the nail holes. The only heat source was a single wood stove.

pot belly stove

Blizzard followed blizzard. The snow banks piled twenty-five feet high. The last train with supplies came to De Smet, South Dakota in early January, 1881. A hundred people were trapped in town, hoping for a lull or a thaw which never happened. The Ingalls family also expected a barrel shipment by train of winter clothing and a Christmas turkey. It never arrived.

They ran out of coal to burn in the stove and began burning hay producing a little warmth. “There was no meat, no butter, no fruit, no coffee or tea. Sugar ran out and the cow went dry.”³ The Ingalls family began grinding seed wheat saved for next year’s crop. The entire town was barely surviving and starvation loomed. Seed wheat was running out. Two men, one of whom was Laura’s future husband, Almanzo Wilder, volunteered to drive twelve miles south with a horse and sled to find the farmer rumored to have wheat left from last spring’s crop. They managed to find the farmer, negotiate for the wheat and return to De Smet before the next blizzard struck. They saved a hundred townspeople from starvation.

Finally, the first of April the weather warmed after four months of no fresh supplies of food or fuel. The first trains that arrived in May carried farm machinery and telegraph poles. A riot was eminent until a freight car with provisions was discovered, broken open and rationed out. The Ingalls’s Christmas barrel finally arrived in late spring with the long-anticipated turkey still frozen.

The sacrifices made by homesteaders and pioneers are almost unfathomable for us. It must have been a very painful sacrifice for my grandmother to burn her books. She was a school teacher who placed a high value on education. She had collected her treasured books over a life-time. But she felt she had no choice. Spending days in a dark underground dugout is unimaginable for us. Yet the experience of characters in my novel, Sarah’s Secret, Sam and the widow Peggy and her daughter during a frightful white out blizzard in Kansas was common among our pioneer ancestors.

The Ingalls family took in a young couple and baby without a home into their small crowded home. It meant stretching the dwindling supply of food to nine mouths. Laura was scathing when she wrote in her journal how thoughtless and rude the husband of this family was in grabbing more than his share of the sparse food before his own wife or anyone from the host Ingalls family. Charles Ingalls may have felt obligated and certainly felt they couldn’t put them out into the blizzard. It was a generous sacrifice by his family.

Blizzard in City

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These stories are a good reminder for me. I can no longer complain about the cold, windy weather. I am grateful for food, a warm secure home and our modern conveniences. Are you?

—————————
¹Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House Series”
²The stories reported below are from Fraser’s book.
³Fraser, p. 110-111.

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7 Feb
2018

Laura Ingalls Wilder, American Author

Did you read one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series when you were growing up? Or perhaps you watched the “Little House on the Prairie” television show based on her life which aired between 1974 and 1982.

There was only the enormous empty prairie, with grasses blowing in waves of light and shadow across it, and the great blue sky above it, and birds flying up from it and singing with joy because the sun was rising. And on the whole enormous prairie there was no sign that any other human being had ever been there…In all that space of land and sky stood the lonely, small, covered wagon (From Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder).

Laura Ingalls Wilder circa 1885

Laura Ingalls Wilder, circa 1885 (Wikipedia)

Today, February 7 is Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s birthday. She was born in 1867 near Pepin, Wisconsin. In my research and writing of Sarah’s Secret, I stood on the shoulders of this amazing woman who persisted in revising her writing before she achieved the success for the beloved autobiographical sages of the Great Plains. This connection was especially vivid for me in writing Part Two of Sarah’s Secret, much of which takes place on the prairies of Kansas, the setting for Little House on the Prairie. I called up images in my imagination from her writing as I imagined my character riding across Kansas.

Wilder’s family homesteaded in Dakota Territory. Their life on the prairie as homesteaders was grueling with many similarities to the life of my grandparents who inspired Sarah’s Secret. Like my grandparents, who also homesteaded on the Great Plains, the Ingalls family faced severe hardships of blizzards, near starvation and poverty, the challenges that became stories of triumph in the Little House series.

Wilder was also a teacher like my grandmother a few years later. In 1882 Laura Ingalls passed the test to obtain her teaching certificate. At 15 years old she taught in a one-room schoolhouse about 12 miles from her parent’s home. The family friend, Almanzo Wilder, who was sent to bring her home for weekend visits became her husband in 1885. She quit teaching to raise children and work the farm with Almanzo. Her daughter, Rose, was born in 1889. They, too, faced relentless challenges of illness, death and poverty before they ultimately settled and farmed in the Ozarks near Mansfield, Missouri in 1894.

But it was not until the 1920’s with encouragement from her daughter, Rose, did Wilder attempt to write her first autobiography which was rejected by publishers. Wilder was determined to succeed and like authors today, she reworked her writing over and over. In 1932, she published the first book Little House in the Big Woods. She completed the eighth one of the series in 1943 when she was seventy-three. She died in 1957 on the farm she and Almanzo had settled sixty years earlier.

Today, on her 151st birthday, I honor this American woman author writing stories of the challenges and triumphs of homesteading on the Great Plains. Laura Ingalls Wilder is an inspiration and role model whose persistence won her hard-fought success in a male-dominated profession.

I just purchased Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline  Fraser, a historical biography. The description says that the true saga of Wilder’s life has never been told and that this book fills in the gaps in Wilder’s biography. Needless to say, I am anxious to read it. Look for a review in the near future.

What are your memories of the Little House book series or the television program “Little House on the Prairie?”

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8 Aug
2016

Thank You! Now, the Sub-Title

Help Me with My Book Sub-Title!

 

Thank you to those of you who made suggestions and contributed ideas for the title of my new book. You are great friends and supporters! It was so helpful for me to see what you liked and endorsed. I gave it much thought and as a result I have narrowed it to the following title:

SARAH’S SECRET OF BETRAYAL AND FORGIVENESS

BUT I would love your suggestions and thoughts about a sub-title. I am interested in getting either words or images of the West or Western themes. What are your suggestions???

Thanks so much for your help.

Here is a short summary of the book or you can read the longer synopsis of the book I included in my last post requesting your help in choosing the title.

SUMMARY

The story is told from the perspective of two protagonists. In the 1880’s, Sam, irresponsible, lonely and untrustworthy has abandoned those he loves until he seeks redemption and marries Sarah. In 1911, Sara, struggling to find the inner strength to overcome loneliness, poverty and illness to support her children after Sam’s death. After a perilous journey by wagon from New Mexico to Nebraska, she learns of Sam’s betrayal. Will Sarah find forgiveness in her heart and the resolve to accept her new life alone?

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21 Jul
2016

Help Me Choose the Title

I am excited to be finalizing my manuscript for publication. But I can’t decide on the final title. Would you be willing to help? I have listed four of the finalists below. I would be so grateful for your help.

Book Titles, Bev Scott

Which title do you like best?

Let me know which title is most likely to attract your attention if you were looking for a book to read. You might have other ideas or combinations, which is fine, too.  Let me know your choices and your thoughts in the Comments section of the blog.  Thank you!

Here is the synopsis to give you context for the title.

Synopsis

The story is told from the perspective of the two key protagonists, Will and Sarah.

In 1878, Will is on the run after killing a man in a bar room gunfight. He escapes the Texas Rangers by joining a cattle drive headed to Dodge City, as the cook. He struggles with the dilemma of saving his life or attempting to return to his pregnant wife and five children. Just when he thinks he might be able to return home, he is confronted by a bounty hunter who captures him and plans to return him to Forth Worth, Texas to be hanged. Will is freed by his trail boss and a buddy from the cattle drive. He finds himself “riding the owl hoot trail” in Kansas as a wanted man.

Will finds refuge on an isolated homestead with Peggy, a widow and her daughter, Margaret Ann. He helps her with the livestock, building a corral and a “real” house while he hides out from the law. He struggles with his responsibility to return to his wife and family and his increasing attraction to Peggy. When Will learns that his wife and children may have perished in a tornado, he gives in to his desire for Peggy, only to find that he is too afraid to take on the responsibility Peggy asks. He abruptly abandons Peggy and finds himself on the dodge from the law again when he meets an itinerant preacher named John who saves his life. John recognizes Will’s guilt and challenges him to grow up and be a man. When Will struggles with his culpability in abandoning the women in his life, he turns to John who guides him to find redemption. Will decides to homestead in Wyoming ready to settle down with a good woman.

In 1911, Sarah, a widow with five children struggles to find the inner strength to overcome betrayal, loneliness, fears, and self-doubt. Her husband, Sam, thirty years her senior, died with a curious and defiant declaration, “I won’t answer!” Despite poverty and a crippling illness, she is determined to keep her family together, leave New Mexico, and return to Nebraska to be near her parents and siblings.

Horses, great PlainsDuring the perilous journey home, Sarah must face her fears as a woman traveling without the protective company of a man, confront her son’s sometimes reckless attempts to be the man of the house, and cope with real dangers which threaten their lives. Still grieving from the loss of her husband, she ventures into unknown territory desperate to find help for her sick infant daughter and then learns of the death of her beloved father.

When Sarah returns to Nebraska, she receives staggering news which complicates her efforts to support her children. She is shocked, angry and emotionally devastated. Since she is attempting to establish herself in the community as a teacher, she believes she must keep her husband’s betrayal a secret even from her own family.

Title Choices for You!

Again, here are the titles I’m considering for the book. Let me know what you think in the Comments below. Which of the following seems to fit the story line best? Do you have any other thoughts, ideas or critiques of the title choices that could help me? Or do you have an completely different title you might want to suggest?

I’m all ears!

A. Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness: A Western Tale

B. A Family Secret: Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness

C. “I Won’t Answer!” A Secret from the American West

D. Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness: She Kept the Secret

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