Friday, June 19, 2020

100 Years of Fathers, June 19, 2020

A father carries pictures 
where his money used to be. 
~Steve Martin

Happy Father's Day! This weekend is an occasion to honor all fathers in our midst, and to celebrate our own fathers. We also remember men who have had a fatherly impact on our lives. I hope all of you can celebrate with your father this weekend in person. If not I hope you can remember your father with great fondness. Few relationships are more important to our well being than the relationship we have (had) with our father. Theirs is an influence that will impact us for our entire lives.

The following is a music video that celebrates 100 years of Fathers in our family. This collection ranges from some Davis ancestors in Indiana in 1908 through some Shepard and Gower kinfolk in the 1920s and on through the decades with images of Russell, Boyd, Harris, Ortiz and Clark fathers, including some images from recent months.



Memorable Fathers. My own father Eugene Shepard (1921-2003) was a man I remember with great respect and honor. All my siblings would echo the same thing. I also remember my two grandfathers, Leroy Gower and William Shepard. Both of them I had the great privilege of knowing and relating to for many of my early years. The first 23 years of my life were spent in San Diego when my father and both grandfathers lived there. I consider myself fortunate to have had such a wonderful father, and to have been close to both of my grandfathers. 

On this father's day weekend I am also remembering my father-in-law Joe Harris (1922-1999), a man of faith and integrity, who had a positive impact on my life for many years. As the father of my wife Cindy, Joe Harris was very much like my own father Gene Shepard. They were very different from each other in many ways, but it is uncanny how the span of their lives was remarkably similar. Both men were born in small towns in Oklahoma in the early 1920s, both were from families who migrated to California and settled in San Diego around the time of World War II. Both served in the United States Navy during the war. Both had wives who were raised in Oklahoma, while both had children who were raised in San Diego. And both were devoted church leaders as were their wives.  For many years both men were Elders of Church of Christ congregations in San Diego; my father at the Linda Vista Church of Christ, and Joe at the Allied Gardens Church of Christ. Both men died within just a few years of each other, Cindy's dad in 1999 and my dad in 2003. 

Paula Harris and daughter Cindy Shepard
Like all of you, Cindy and I are proud of our fathers and honor them both as we remember their lives, their influence and their legacy on this weekend of Father's Day 2020.

Remembering Paula Hicks Harris (1923-2018). This post celebrates fathers, but what would we fathers be without the spouses in our lives? So I must mention a particular woman who is being remembered this month. Cindy's mother Paula Hicks Harris (1923-2018) was the wife of Joe Harris, one of the fathers mentioned above. She died at 94 years old on June 2, just two years ago. She was a lovely lady who lived a full life and is remembered for her faith, her fortitude, and her love of family.

Poor People's Campaign. As a way of standing with all those who support racial justice, I invite you to consider the Poor People's Campaign by selecting this link. It is led by nationally known minister William Barber, who serves Greenleaf Christian Church in North Carolina, a congregation of the Campbell Stone tradition with which many of us are familiar.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)  

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

June 2, 2020

To remember the past is to see 
that we are here today by grace.
~Frederick Buechner

Gary and Cindy Shepard
Anacortes, Washington
Happy Anniversary Gary and Cindy!
Congratulations today to my brother Gary Shepard and his wife Cindy Dillon Shepard on 41 years of marriage. Gary and Cindy live in Oak Harbor, Washington and are an important part of the team caring for our mother Maida Shepard in nearby Anacortes, Washington. Best wishes to Gary and Cindy as they celebrate 41 years together!

Celebrating a Sesquicentennial. Today is the 150th Birthday (the Sesquicentennial) of my Great Grandfather James Brooks Davis (1870-1928), the father of my grandmother Bura Davis Shepard (1896-1986). He was a leading member of our Davis family in Owen County, Indiana in the late 19th Century. Jim Davis' Grandparents, Alexander Davis and Jane Buskirk Davis migrated to Indiana from Ohio around 1850. Jim Davis was the first Davis child to be born in Indiana. He was raised northwest of Spencer, Indiana in a community where numerous members of three closely related families lived: the Davis family, the Williams family, and the Spear family. 

On New Year's Day, 1896, Jim Davis married Callie Spear, a young woman whose family was closely connected to the Davises. The families had known each other in Southeastern Ohio in the early part of the 19th century and may have come together to Indiana when they migrated westward just before the Civil War. Jim and Callie Davis had 7 children, all born in Indiana, the first being my Grandmother Bura Davis.

Young James Brooks Davis
About 1890
Closely Interrelated Families.
The marriage of Jim Davis and Callie Spear was just one of the many ways these families were connected. Seven years after Jim and Callie were married, Jim's younger brother Zaley Davis (1882-1966) married Callie's sister Pearl Spear (1876-1945). This was another instance in our family of brothers marrying sisters. Select this link for other instances.

A few years earlier Jim Davis' father-in-law William Spear (1830-1883) had married into the Williams family not once, but twice. The first time was in 1861 when he married Caroline Williams, who died at just 23 years old, after two years of marriage and the birth of a baby girl. The widower William Spear then married his own sister-in-law Margaret (Maggie) Frances Williams. Select this link to read more about them.

The Davis, Williams and Spear families were not just neighbors within the same rural community of Morgan Township in Owen County, Indiana. They were all founding members of the New Union Church of Christ near where they lived. Select this link for more about the New Union Church.

Family man James Brooks and Callie Davis
with their 7 children, in Indiana,1908 

A Recent Discovery.
One other interesting link between these families I recently discovered while researching my Shepard ancestors. I have known for some time that the Spears, Davises, and Shepards were all rooted in Eastern Ohio in the early 19th century, before any of them ever moved westward into Indiana. But what I discovered recently was that Callie Spear Davis' great uncle William Spear (1791-1873) lived in the same farming neighborhood as my Shepard ancestors in 1850 in Kirkwood Township of Belmont County, Ohio. As far as I knew, my Shepard and Spear ancestors never knew each other until my Great Grandparents William Elmer Shepard and Callie Spear Davis became neighbors in Oklahoma in 1913. But my recent discovery shows that some of our Spear ancestors and some of our Shepard ancestors were neighbors in Ohio in 1850 and probably knew each other. And so it is that the historical connections between these families grows.

A Man of Character. In many ways James Brooks Davis showed us his character through his life and his actions. He was a devoted family man, a beloved father, a welcoming individual, a faithful Christian, a hard worker, and he was ambitious. The best example of his ambition occurred in the early spring of 1913. In March of that year James Brooks Davis gathered his family of 7 children (ages 4-16) and migrated to Oklahoma. 

James Brooks Davis in 1923 with one of
his 31 Grandchildren, Eugene Shepard

The opportunities of that new state had already drawn several members of his Indiana family, including his parents Charles and Malinda Davis. So following in the footsteps of others, Jim and Callie heeded the call of the wild west. As a young couple in their 40s, they made their way by wagon, 850 miles from their home outside Spencer, Indiana to the panhandle of Oklahoma. 

They took along with them Callie's special needs adult brother Clayton Spear (1870-1944) who lived with them for many years in Indiana and then Oklahoma. Eventually he had to be institutionalized in Oklahoma where he lived the last years of his life. Even that act of receiving his brother-in-law into his family shows the kind of people Jim and Callie Davis were. They lived the last years of their lives in Oklahoma and are buried in the Sophia Cemetery in Beaver County. Select here to visit their grave online.

James Brooks Davis is a very important individual in our family tree. I celebrate his life and honor his memory today on the 150th Anniversary of his birth.
- - -
Steve Shepard
he/him/his

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Love In a Time of War: May 24, 2020

Love doesn’t make the world go round.
Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.
~Franklin Jones

On this day, 75 years ago my parents Eugene Shepard and Maida Gower were married in San Diego. Dad passed away in the summer of 2003 in Anacortes, Washington, not long after they celebrated their 58th anniversary. But Mom is still living in the home they bought when they moved from San Diego to Anacortes in the spring of 1978. Though Dad is gone, and Mom is a frail 95 years old, this anniversary is still significant and worth remembering and celebrating. The last 75 years are a witness to the love of these two who have had an amazing impact on innumerable lives. 
 
A Critical and Uncertain Time. The day they married, May 24, 1945, was during a critical and uncertain time in the history of our country. Our nation had been engaged in World War II for 3 1/2 years, ever since that fateful day in December, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. The very existence of the United States was on the line. Countless young men had been sent to a conflict far away, many of them never to return. Families were under great stress as they awaited word about their loved ones. The war eventually took the lives of over 400,000 Americans. World wide over 70 million people died, making it the deadliest conflict in human history.

A young Eugene Shepard about 1942
in San Diego with his '41 Ford Sedan
 
By the spring of 1945, World War II was winding down. On April 30, 1945 Hitler committed suicide, realizing all was lost for the Third Reich in Germany. On May 7, Germany officially surrendered, which began the process of liberating the horrendous Concentration Camps. The War did not actually end until August, 1945 when atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. But things were definitely looking good for America in May of 1945. Spirits were high even though there was work to be done to bring a complete end to the war. So in late May when Mom and Dad were married the War was not over, but it was nearing its end. It was still a time for concern, but optimism and hope ran high.

A Commuter's Romance. In the spring of 1945 my father, 24 year old Navy man Gene Shepard was stationed in Los Alamitos, California, 100 miles north of San Diego. He drove to San Diego every chance he got in his 1941 Ford Sedan. He wanted to visit his family who lived in the Hillcrest neighborhood. But even more he wanted to be with Maida, his betrothed, who lived with her parents, Leroy and Nola Gower, on Arizona Street, not far from where the Shepards lived on Albatross Street. On his visits to San Diego he and Maida dated and their romance blossomed.

Maida Gower and Eugene Shepard 
about 1944
Mom and Dad met in 1944 at a social gathering at the El Cajon Blvd Church of Christ, just a short walk from where Maida lived with her parents and her young sister. Maida had graduated from San Diego High School the previous year. It was a High School friend named Janelle Davis who had introduced the two of them. 

A Simple Ceremony in the Minister's Home. In September of 1940, just a year out of High School, 19 year old Eugene had moved with his family from Colorado to San Diego. They had promptly joined the El Cajon Blvd Church which then became the family's church for many decades. So it was only natural that Gene and Maida would choose that church in which to marry. Because of Gene's limited amount of leave from the Navy, their options were limited. They contacted the minister of the church who was available to marry them on a Thursday afternoon. It was not a big church wedding, but a simple ceremony in the minister's home behind the Church. I do not remember Mom or Dad ever saying why they did not plan a Church wedding with family and friends and a reception. With Dad commuting back and forth a formal event may have been impractical. In any case the deed was done that Thursday afternoon and their life together as husband and wife began. 

Eugene and Maida, 1992
Lake Wallowa, Oregon
Their wedding took place at the beginning of the Memorial Day holiday weekend. So their honeymoon may not have been much more than the few days of that long weekend. It included a visit to a new Amusement Park that had recently opened in Orange County by the name of Knotts Berry Farm. After their marriage Gene continued to commute to San Diego from Los Alamitos until December of 1945 when he was finally released from the Navy. He and Maida then settled into life together in their own place in San Diego. 

A Genuine Love, Grounded in Grace. The first 33 years of their married life they lived in San Diego. Their final home in California was the house they owned on Armstrong Street in Kearny Mesa, where they finished raising their 6 children. In 1978 they moved to Anacortes where they lived the rest of Gene's life and where Maida lives today. Over the 58 years that they had together they influenced many lives in countless ways. They had a happy marriage, provided a stable family life for their 6 children, and were always devoted to their local Church wherever they lived. Theirs was a genuine love, grounded in the grace of God and generously shared with family and friends. The 40 members of their family today are a living legacy to the quality of their lives. On this occasion of remembering their wedding 75 years ago, I give thanks to God for their lives and their witness.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Happy Birthdays, May 14, 2020

A good many family trees are shady.
~Robert Gonzales

Happy Birthday tomorrow to our grandson Logan Alexander Shepard of San Diego. Born in San Francisco in 2011, Logan is now finishing up third grade in public school. Like all kids in San Diego schools these days, he is engaged in distance learning. He interacts with his teacher and classmates by video conference, and does much of his learning on his personal computer. The Corona Virus is making this a very different school year for everyone, a year that none of us will forget.

Despite the shut-down that is affecting us all, we are planning a happy celebration for Logan's birthday tomorrow. The following is a music video celebrating his 9th birthday. These images of Logan were taken over the course of the last year.




Happy Birthday Aunt Thelma! Today is the birthday of my aunt Thelma Shepard Boyd. Born in the spring of 1936, Thelma is the youngest of the last three members of her generation in our family. The other two are my mother Maida Shepard of Anacortes, Washington, and Maida's sister, my aunt Vicki Gower Johnston of Chandler, Arizona. Those three women are the senior members of our family and are to be honored for their place in our larger family.

I connected with my aunt Thelma earlier today. Unfortunately she is in Grossmont Hospital here in San Diego having had some surgery. She is planning to go home soon. I assured her that being in the hospital is not the best way to spend her birthday. She agreed. Best wishes to Thelma for a speedy recovery!

The picture on the right shows Thelma (second from the left) with her three siblings and her parents in San Diego in 1973. This was one of the last pictures of these 6 all together. Granddad passed away in 1976, just 3 years after this picture was taken. Also in the 70's Eugene and his family moved from San Diego to Washington, while Elmer and his family relocated from San Diego to Texas. Sitting in front are Thelma's parents William Shepard and Bura Davis Shepard. Standing in the back are their children, Eugene Shepard, Thelma Shepard Boyd, Pauline Shepard Russell, and Elmer Shepard.

Birthday boy Logan, who is pictured above, is one of the 25 Great Great Grandchildren of William and Bura Shepard. Those 25 are dispersed throughout San Diego, the Seattle area, North Texas, and Northeast Kansas. They range in age from 30 years old to 1 year old. Unfortunately Will and Bura Shepard were two people Logan never had the opportunity of meeting. 

My aunt Thelma is our last remaining family link to Two Buttes, Colorado, a small town in the Southeast corner of that state, where our Shepard family lived from 1928 until 1940. Thelma was born in Two Buttes but moved to San Diego with her family in the fall of 1940 when she was just 4 years old. In 1958 she married Terry Boyd (1937-2013) in Southern California and with him had two children, Kim and Darren, who were raised in San Diego. Thelma lives today in a comfortable apartment complex in El Cajon, very near some of her 6 grandchildren who assist her as needs arise. Best wishes to Thelma on this, the occasion of her 84th birthday!

Related Celebrations. Today also happens to be the 30th birthday of Thelma's Granddaughter Courtney Boyd Slaughter who was born in 1990, on her grandmother's 54th birthday. And to make it a trifecta, today is the 36th birthday of my nephew Christopher Shepard of Seattle, the son of my brother Darrell and his wife Mary. Best wishes to all of them!
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

An Ancestor Named Kitty, May 6, 2020

My gift of John Marshall 
to the people of the United States 
was the proudest act of my life.
~President John Adams (1735-1826)

In a recent post I wrote about Cindy's Civil War era ancestors Julius Caesar Vessels and his wife Narcissus from northern Alabama. The Grandmother of Narcissus Vessels was a woman named Katharine "Kitty" Keith, Cindy's 4X Great Grandmother. She is the link to our impressive Keith ancestors of early America. Below is a 12 generation lineage that includes Kitty Keith, and traces this family line back to 17th Century Scotland. I included this in a recent post but I am sharing it again to highlight two of the oldest individuals in this lineage.
  • Preslea Maida Shepard, b. 2010, the daughter of...
  • Nathan Shepard, b. 1977 (wife Chenda Sou) the son of...
  • Cindy Harris Shepard, b. 1948 (husband Steve Shepard), child of
  • Sammie Joe Harris, 1922-1999 (wife Paula Hicks), son of...
  • Mary Lee McGowan, 1899-1985 (husband Fred Harris) child of
  • Edna Pearl Vessels, 1882-1967 (husband S. A. McGowan) child of
  • Fannie Narcissus Bradford, 1845-1891 (husband Julius Caesar Vessels) child of
  • Jesse David Bradford, 1813-1885 (wife Mary Chandler) son of...
  • Katherine Keith, 1779-1831 (husband James Bradford) child of...
  • Alexander Keith, 1748-1822 (wife Margaret Harned) son of...
  • James F. E. Keith, 1696-1752 (wife Mary Isham Randolph), son of...
  • William Keith, 1663-1712 of Peterhead, Scotland
Katherine "Kitty" Keith was born in 1779 just 3 years after the establishment of our country, and was born into one of the founding families of the United States. The Keith Family was from Fauquier County, Virginia, 60 miles southwest of Washington, DC. 

James F. E. Keith (1696-1752)
A Missionary to the Colonies. Kitty was the granddaughter of an immigrant from Scotland named James Francis Edward Keith. Born in the town of Peterhead on the east coast of Scotland, James Keith was ordained an Anglican minister in January, 1729. Just two months later he received a grant from the King enabling him to secure passage to America. He was in essence a Christian missionary from Europe to the American colonies. He arrived in 1728 and settled in Virginia. His first assignment was at St John's Church, located on the plantation of the esteemed Randolph family, where he spent 4 years. At 35 years old James married the teenage daughter of the Randolphs, a 17 year old named Mary Isham Randolph, but not without questions raised about its appropriateness.

The Elk Run Church. James then served as the first minister of the historic Elk Run Anglican Church in Catlett, Virginia. He served the Elk Run Church faithfully for nearly 20 years, during which time he and his young wife Mary brought 8 children into the world. Rev. Keith died sometime in the winter of 1752 leaving his wife Mary with eight children between the ages of 18 and 4 years. Of their five sons, James Keith Jr. spent his life as a lawyer, while the other four fought in the American Revolution. James and his wife Mary are buried under the chancel of the old Elk Run Anglican Church.


Katherine "Kitty" Keith
(1779-1831) 
Their youngest son Alexander Keith was a child of 4 when his father died. In the early years of America, Alexander Keith, like several others in his family, migrated westward down the Shenandoah Valley along the Cumberland Trail and settled in Kentucky and Tennessee. It was a popular westward route made famous by Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. In Kentucky Alexander Keith married Margaret Harned, with whom he had 14 children, the second of whom was the aforementioned Katherine "Kitty" Keith.

One of 83 Cousins. James and Mary Keith had 8 children, each of whom married and had large families resulting in at least 83 grandchildren. Kitty Keith was therefore one of 83 cousins, spread out from Virginia to Tennessee. With communication being slow in the early 19th century, and with all those Keith descendants spread out all over the frontier, those cousins may not have even know each other.

We do know, however, that many of those 83 Keith grandchildren were notable citizens on the young American frontier. Kitty's brother was Judge Charles Fleming Keith who studied law in Virginia before spending his life as a Circuit Judge in McMinn County, Tennessee. Other Keith grandchildren included Elder Benjamin Franklin Keith and Elder Enos Keith, who were well known Baptist ministers in Hardin County, Kentucky.
Supreme Court Chief Justice 
John Marshall (1755-1835)

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The most famous individual in this part of our family tree was John Marshall, a Grandson of James and Mary Keith, and a cousin of Kitty Keith. He entered the Continental Army in 1775 at age 20 and was appointed lieutenant. He fought with George Washington during the harsh 1777-1778 winter of Valley Forge. After the Revolutionary War, at the age of 24 John studied law at the College of William and Mary. In August 1780 he was admitted to the Bar in Fauquier County, Virginia. In March 1801 President John Adams appointed John Marshall as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, a position he kept until 1835. Prior to serving on the Supreme Court, he was Secretary of State during the Presidency of John Adams. Later Adams said, "My gift of John Marshall to the people of the United States was the proudest act of my life." 

An Ancestral Journey Across America. Kitty Keith's father Captain Alexander Keith served honorably in the Revolutionary war in the Virginia 10th Regiment. After the war he made his way with his family to Hardin County, Kentucky. It was there that their oldest daughter Kitty met James Bradford and together they made a life for themselves and their 7 children. Kitty and husband James moved the family on westward into Tennessee and finally into Alabama. After the Civil War their descendants moved to North Texas and Oklahoma where Cindy's parents were born. World War II brought the family into California, first to the San Joaquin Valley, and finally to San Diego. The image below shows the route of the 300 year, 3,300 mile, migration of this part of Cindy's Keith ancestors from Catlett, Virginia on the East Coast to San Diego on the West Coast.


The route of a 300 Year Migration 3,300 miles across America
from Northern Virginia to Southern California
This is just one of the many family stories that can be told of our ancestors as they made their way across this great land of ours. It is one more story of kinfolk whose lives teach us, inspire us and give us hope.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Remembering Two Special People, April 28, 2020

What children need most are the essentials 
that grandparents provide in abundance.
~Rudolph Giuliani

Remembering Eugene William Shepard (1921-2003). On this day 99 years ago my father Eugene Shepard was born in Beaver County, Oklahoma, the third child of William Shepard, who was from Madison County, Illinois, and Bura Davis Shepard, originally from Spencer, Indiana. Dad is remembered today by his children and those who knew and appreciated him. His impact on me and all his children cannot be overemphasized. Dad was a kind and thoughtful man, who never considered himself too highly. He was a devoted churchman of great integrity and simple faith, and loved his family untiringly. 

1994 family picture, San Diego
Gene and Maida Shepard (far right), with Nola Gower,
Gary, Cindy and Jason Shepard, and Lyndsey Aquiningoc
Just before World War II, 19 year old Eugene migrated with his parents and 3 siblings to Southern California from Southeast Colorado. In 1943, while in the Navy and stationed in Los Alamitos, he traveled when on leave to visit his family in the Hillcrest section of San Diego. On one such trip home he met Maida Gower who lived nearby. They struck up a romance and two years later he married her at the El Cajon Blvd Church of Christ where they had met during a Church social event. They gave birth to, and raised their six children during the 38 years they lived in San Diego. Gene and Maida were members of the Linda Vista Church of Christ in San Diego for many years. In 1976 he retired from his Civil Service job at the Naval Supply Depot in Point Loma. 

In the spring of 1978 Gene and Maida accepted an invitation to move to Anacortes, Washington to help a young struggling congregation. They were obviously good for the congregation, and vice versa. Some of our Shepard family have been members there ever since. Gene died in 2003 at 82 years old. Mom still lives in Anacortes in the home they purchased when they moved there 42 years ago. I am grateful everyday for my father and the values he instilled in us. 

Oldest extant picture of Leroy and Nola Gower
possibly taken on their wedding day
Stone County, Arkansas, Sept 29, 1921
Nola Shannon Gower (1903-2004). Today is also a day for remembering my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower, who was born on this day in Mountain View, Arkansas in 1903. At just 18 years old she married neighbor boy Leroy Gower in Stone County on September 29, 1921. She and Leroy were both native Arkansans but lived for 18 years in Okemah, Oklahoma. Yet they spent the largest part of their lives in what at that time was called East San Diego, at their family home on Lynne Street where they lived starting about 1950. During their time in San Diego, they enjoyed their family, in particular their 12 grandchildren who were born between 1943 and 1962. Leroy and Nola were a strong influence on all their family. Most of their grandchildren, at one time or another over the years, lived in the welcoming Gower home on Lynne Street.

Nola was a wonderful, generous and humble human being who is fondly remembered by all who knew her. I am especially grateful for the respect and acceptance she offered me, and all her grandchildren, regardless of the life path we each chose to travel. Leroy died in 1974 while Nola went on the outlive him by 30 years. She lived the last 5 years of her life in Anacortes with her daughter Maida and family. Nola passed away in 2004 at 101 years old, and became one of the few centenarians ever in our family tree.

Family is important to all of us. On this day however, I am remembering and celebrating the lives of these two whose memories are especially important to me. I am very thankful for both their lives on this anniversary of their birthdays.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Southern Family Story, April 22, 2020

Despite the sarcastic remarks of Northerners,
the South can be so impellingly beautiful 
that sophisticated creature comforts
diminish in importance.
~Maya Angelou

In my last post I wrote about Cindy's GG Grandparents Julius Caesar Vessels and Fannie Narcissus Vessels, a couple from Northern Alabama during Civil War days. After becoming acquainted with this couple, I decided to search Narcissus' history, with some surprising results. Her family history contains some of the best finds in our family tree and some not so admirable.

Here is a 12 generation lineage that includes Julius Caesar and Narcissus, and traces one family line back to 17th Century Scotland:
  • Preslea Maida Shepard, b. 2010, the daughter of...
  • Nathan Shepard, b. 1977 (wife Chenda Sou) the son of...
  • Cindy Harris Shepard, b. 1948 (husband Steve Shepard), the daughter of...
  • Sammie Joe Harris, 1922-1999 (wife Paula Hicks), the son of...
  • Mary Lee McGowan, 1899-1985 (husband Fred Harris) the daughter of...
  • Edna Pearl Vessels, 1882-1967 (husband S. A. McGowan) the daughter of...
  • Fannie Narcissus Bradford, 1845-1891 (husband Julius Caesar Vessels) the daughter of...
  • Jesse David Bradford, 1813-1885 (wife Mary Chandler) the son of...
  • Katherine Keith, 1779-1831 (husband James Bradford) the daughter of...
  • Alexander Keith, 1748-1822 (wife Margaret Harned) the son of...
  • James F. E. Keith, 1695-1752 (wife Mary Isham Randolph), son of...
  • William Keith, (1663-1712) of Peterhead, Scotland
GGG Grandfather Jesse David Bradford. As indicated in the lineage above, Fannie Narcissus' father was Jesse David Bradford (1813-1885), who was originally from Wayne County, Tennessee, just across the border from northern Alabama. As a young man he made his way from Southern Tennessee into Northern Alabama where he met a girl from Virginia by the name of Mary Chandler. In Athens, Alabama Jesse married Mary, and soon thereafter found a job in the mining industry in Lawrence, Alabama just 30 miles west of Athens, south across the Tennessee River.

GGG Grandfather
Jesse David Bradford
The 1840 U.S. Census shows Mary and Jesse Bradford, in their 20s, living in Lawrence, Alabama. Their family at that time included one young white son, and three young black children, presumably slave children who lived with them and helped around the house. Within a few years Jesse left his work in the mines and moved his young family to Florence, Alabama, some 30 miles further west on the northern banks of the Tennessee River

Life On the Hood Plantation. In Florence, Jesse accepted a job as the Overseer of the Mary Hood Plantation, a prosperous farming operation. Jesse Bradford's job was to supervise the slaves who lived and worked on the plantation. Overseers were often ruthless, cruel, despised individuals. They were hired by the plantation owner to maintain order, to keep the plantation and its slaves secure, and to keep the business going by any means. This enabled the owners to avoid the hard work in the fields, and to leave the discipline and sometimes harsh punishments to the Overseer. It was not an honorable profession. But in the pre-Civil War days, it was an essential and accepted part of the process of maintaining the cruel slave culture.

The Mary Hood Plantation
Florence, Alabama
Overseers were generally paid well. GGG Grandfather Jesse Bradford lived with his family in their own home on the plantation and did well financially while he worked there. The 1850 U.S. Census shows him living on the plantation owning real estate worth $700. Ten years later the U.S. Census shows he had an estate worth $4,500, a considerable sum in the antebellum South. While Jesse and Mary Bradford lived on the Mary Hood Plantation they added several children to their family. The third among their 6 children was Cindy's GG Grandmother Narcissus Bradford (1845-1891) who spent the first years of her life on the Hood Plantation. She came to understand well the slave culture, the clear social strata of the South, and the ugliness of life on a southern plantation.

Southerners had a penchant for classic names of the ancient Greco-Roman world. In Greek Mythology, Narcissus was the name of a handsome young hunter who was known for his beauty. He loved everything beautiful, including his own image when he saw it reflected in a pool of water. Narcissus in the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself and one's physical appearance. In modern times it is also the name of a flower, which is more likely the reason her parents gave her the name.

Narcissus flower
Julius Caesar and Narcissus: A Wartime Romance. In the spring of 1861, when Narcissus was 15 years old, the Civil War began and life was upended for people in Alabama and all over America. At the time Narcissus and her family were still living in Florence, Alabama. During the War, young Narcissus met a soldier named Julius Caesar Vessels, from the southern part of the state. In 1863 Narcissus and Julius married in Florence, possibly while he was on furlough from the War. They settled for a while in Gravelly Springs, a sparsely populated community west of town.

In the 24 years between 1864 and 1888 Narcissus bore 11 children with her husband Julius Caesar. Tragically their last child, Johnnie David Vessels, died at just 15 months old in the spring of 1890. In 1889 their 22 year old son William Terry Vessels died. Then in the summer of 1891 Narcissus died at just 45 years old. We don't know what caused these three deaths in one family in just 2 1/2 years. In Narcissus' case, 11 pregnancies in 24 years would certainly have taken its toll. She and her two sons might have died from the Russian Flu pandemic that raged from 1889 to 1894. In any case these deaths in the Vessels family created a tragic hardship for husband Julius who was suddenly a single parent with 9 children, 7 of whom were between 19 and 4 years old.

At Rest in Athens. After the War, Julius and Narcissus relocated with their family to Athens, Alabama where her parents Jesse and Mary Bradford lived. It took Julius and Narcissus and their family almost two weeks to make the 60 mile trip. They traveled by wagon as they drove their livestock from their home west of Florence to Athens. In 1868 Julius purchased 80 acres of land north of Athens for $160. There Julius and Narcissus farmed and lived the rest of their lives.

Narcissus, who died in 1891, and husband Julius Caesar Vessels, who died in 1928, are both buried in the Reunion Cemetery which sits behind the Reunion Church of Christ, 8 miles northeast of Athens. Also buried there in unmarked graves are Narcissus' parents Jesse and Mary Bradford and several other family members. Julius and Narcissus, then are one more couple who takes their place in the great pantheon of our family history, people whose lives instruct, inform and inspire us. And for them we can be eternally grateful.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Friday, April 03, 2020

Sweet Home Alabama, April 3, 2020

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I'm coming home to you
~Lynyrd Skynyrd

Strange and Difficult Times. I trust that you are all enduring these strange and difficult times of staying home, worrying about family, and doing your best to remain healthy. Wherever your home happens to be located -- Washington, California, Oklahoma, Texas or elsewhere -- I am sure your situation is difficult as we all battle the Coronavirus pandemic. A century ago, in 1918, our ancestors dealt with a virus that wreaked as much havoc then as we are experiencing today. I wish I knew more about how they dealt with that adversity. They survived, and apparently quite well. And we will too. In the midst of whatever hardships you have to deal with, I wish you the very best.

Nate with Logan, William and Preslea
Happy Birthday to Nate. Despite the Virus, life goes on. Today our family here in San Diego is celebrating the birthday of our son Nathan Shepard who was born right here in San Diego in 1977. We and he and his three children are doing quite well as we celebrate this special day with him. We won't go out to a restaurant this year. We won't invite others in to celebrate with us. We will celebrate in "hunker down" mode. But we will gladly celebrate nonetheless. It will be a time for cake and ice cream, birthday candles, special gifts and singing "Happy Birthday." Best wishes to Nate for a great birthday!

A Classic Family Story. Back in 2018 I wrote a series in The Shepard's Crook about people in our family history with interesting names. I called it "The Pantheon of the Famously Named." Two of the people I wrote about were Cindy's GG grandparents Julius Caesar Vessels and his wife Fanny Narcissus Bradford. In this post I want to look further into the lives of these two remarkably named people.

Julius Caesar Vessels
The Julius Caesar in our family tree was born in 1842 in the Southeastern Alabama community of Eufala, along the Chattahoochee River that separates Alabama and Georgia. When just a young man he met a teenaged Southern Belle from Lauderdale, Alabama with a name almost as colorful as his: Fanny Narcissus Bradford. In the summer of 1863, during the Civil War, they married in Lauderdale in the Northwest part of the state and settled in nearby Athens, Alabama. What could be more appropriate? Narcissus (a famous character from Greek mythology) and Julius Caesar (leader of the Roman Empire) settling in the town of Athens!

Service in the Confederate Army. Julius Caesar, born in the early 1940s, was exactly the right age for service in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. On April 15, 1861, the very day he turned 19 years old, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for an Army of 75,000 men. Being from the south that edict did not apply to Julius Caesar, but it was a sure indication of the conflict that was to come, and foreshadowed the Southern call for men to join the Confederate Army. I have written several times in this blog about some Shepard ancestors who served in the Union Army, especially my GG Grandfather William Shepard. The only time I have written about service in the Confederate Army was in reference to the Southern soldier David Reid Shannon (1821-1864), the Grandfather of my Grandmother Nola Gower Shannon. Like many American families, we have numerous people in our ancestry who served in the Southern Army. So it is only fair to give consideration to them.

Documentation of the 1862 Civil War letter
A Family Affair. Julius Caesar Vessels, his older brother John, and their father John Franklin Vessels all served during the war in the Confederate Army. For a period of time in 1862, all three were in active service at the same time. Dad served in Company F of the 18th Alabama Infantry, while Julius served in the 53rd Regiment, the Alabama Partisan Rangers. In November, 1842, 52 year old John Franklin Vessels, petitioned the Governor of Alabama for a discharge because he had two sons already fighting in the war. We don't know what the Governor decided, but John certainly had a strong case. This family of 10 children had their father and the two oldest sons taken away to fight in the war, leaving a mother with 8 children to fend for themselves in very dangerous times. One can only hope the governor granted the father's request to be released from duty. What we know for sure is that all three soldiers survived the War and eventually returned to life on their farm outside Athens.

A Hearty Alabaman. Julius Vessels and his wife Fannie, whose married life began during the War, were married for 28 years. She died in 1891 at just 45 years old, leaving her husband and 10 children, the youngest of whom was just 2 years old. Fannie Bradford's family history is quite remarkable in its own right. In a future post I plan to share her interesting and surprising story.

Sally Bates Vessels (1852-1901)
2nd Wife of Julius Caesar Vessels
Shortly after his wife Fannie died in Alabama in the summer of 1891, Julius moved with a broken heart westward some 700 miles with his motherless children to Wise County, northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. He was a hearty Alabaman who lived to be 86, very old by 19th century standards. He outlived three of his children, and his first wife Fannie by almost 30 years. He married a second time to a Texas girl named Sally Bates and lived in North Texas with her. Though 10 years older than her, he outlived her by 27 years!

With his second wife Sally he had one more child, a daughter they named Dollie May Vessels. She was just 7 years old when her mother died of consumption in 1901. This left Julius Caesar Vessels a widower (for the second time!) with several children at home to raise. One of those children was his youngest daughter Dollie May, but the household also included the two youngest children from his first marriage.

Sweet Home Alabama. Sometime before 1920, after he finished raising his children in Texas, the widower Julius Caesar felt the call of his sweet Alabama home which he had left 25 years earlier. At 75 years old, he made the decision to return to his old life in Athens, Limestone County, Alabama. Athens was where his life with Fannie had begun, where Julius had left for the war with his brother and father and then returned safely. Athens was where their children had been born, and where Fannie had died nearly 40 years earlier. It was where a lifetime of other memories were to be found. So it was only fitting that Athens would be the place to which he would return for his final years.

Julius Caesar Vessels may be the only person in our family history who, after migrating westward, went back East to his original home to finish his life. I cannot think of anyone else in our family history who did that. Can you? In Athens Julius lived out the last 12 years of his life. He and his first love Fannie Narcissus Bradford are buried in the Reunion Cemetery in Thach, Alabama, north of Athens, along with other members of their family. It is a fitting final resting place for these two, whose lives were well lived.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Double Whammy For Lydia Warford, March 15, 2020

A woman is like a tea bag -
you never know how strong she is
until she gets in hot water.
~Eleanor Roosevelt

In my last post I told the story of two star-crossed lovers, William and Mary Shepard (my GG Grandparents), who were married just two years when he tragically died in the Civil War in 1862. Civil War widow Mary was left with 2 young sons to raise. Against great odds, she was able to make a good life for herself and her sons even though the path was filled with adversity and hardship. Civil War soldier William Shepard and his wife Mary were not alone in our family history. Others had to endure a similar fate when a young person died unexpectedly and left a surviving spouse. I can think of several instances in my own lifetime:
  • In 1970 my wife Cindy's 23 year old cousin Gloria Eeds Westin died in an accident leaving her young husband Terry.
  • In 1971 my sister Linda Shepard Clark at just 20 years old, died in a car accident leaving her young husband Jerry Clark.
  • In 1992 Manuel Aquiningoc tragically died leaving a baby daughter and a 24 year old pregnant wife, my niece Kerri Shepard Aquiningoc.
Lydia Warford Williams. Before the 20th century there were several instances of young people among our kinfolk who experienced the death of a spouse and had to deal with the hardships of single parenthood. One of the most remarkable is my 4X Great Grandmother Lydia Warford Williams (1782-1829) who was born shortly after the revolutionary war.

Here is my lineage to Lydia Warford Williams:
  • my father Eugene Shepard (1921-2003)
  • his mother Bura Davis Shepard (1896-1986)
  • her mother Callie Spear Davis (1865-1951)
  • her mother Maggie Williams Spear (1845-1904)
  • her father John Pouty Williams (1806-1898)
  • his mother Lydia Warford Williams (1782-1829)
Lydia Warford Williams' granddaughter
Maggie Williams Spear (left) and
her daughter Callie Spear Davis abt. 1880
When Lydia, the youngest of 8 siblings, was just 2 years old, her father Henry Warford (1741-1784) died in Southern Pennsylvania in the town of Warfordsburg, which was named after Lydia's family. With her father Henry's death, her mother Elizabeth Van Hook Warford became a single parent with the primary responsibility for 8 children between the ages of 2 and 18. The struggle was difficult for their family especially for young Lydia, who only knew her father for two short years of her
life. For the rest of her childhood, Lydia, her siblings and her mother struggled to make do without their father.

At the turn of the 19th century when Lydia was about 18, her family migrated some 500 miles westward from Southern Pennsylvania to the frontier of Shelby County, Kentucky, 30 miles east of Louisville. In 1803 in Kentucky, 21 year old Lydia married neighbor John Williams and with him had a family of her own, including 4 children. In 1813 her husband John Williams died, possibly in the War of 1812, and left her with 4 children under 10 years old.

A Double Whammy. Lydia's father had died in 1784 when she was just 2 years old, and then her husband died in 1813 when she was a 31 year old mother of 4. Not just once, but twice in her life she found herself part of a family where the father-breadwinner died and the sole responsibility for raising the children fell to mom. It was a double whammy for poor Lydia. She was left wondering if she could ever count on the important men in her life. From all that we know she survived her difficult childhood fairly well. And she made the most of her life as a single mother for 13 years after husband John died in 1813.

Pleasant Grove Cemetery near Spencer, Indiana
where several Williams Family members reside
including Lydia Williams' son John Pouty Williams
Not long after her husband John died, Lydia packed up her four kids and left Shelby County, Kentucky. They first traveled 75 or so miles northwest, through Louisville, Kentucky, across the state line, and into Washington County, Indiana, where she and the kids resided in 1820, according to U.S. Census records. Some time later they moved on to Spencer, Indiana, where she and the kids made their home. In 1826, at 44 years old Lydia married an older gentleman named William S. Jones from Putnam County, Indiana just 25 miles north of Spencer. He was an old family friend she had previous known in Kentucky. With him she lived the last few years of her life.

Lydia only lived 47 years. She spent the greater part of her life struggling to overcome the loss of her father first, and then her husband second. She is one more fascinating person in our family tree who overcame great odds. On this "Women's History Month," it is appropriate for us to remember and celebrate the life of a remarkable woman in our family history, Lydia Warford Williams.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

When Hope and Heartbreak Collided, March 11, 2020

From day one
I've already won
You're my Kin
~KT Tunstall

Over the 12 years that I have written this blog, I have often celebrated longevity by honoring individuals whose long lives or lengthy marriages were inspirational. But in this post I want to celebrate a marriage that did not last even two years.

160 Years Ago Today. My Great, Great Grandparents William Shepard and Mary Sprague Shepard were married 160 years ago. On March 11, 1860, William and Mary tied the knot in the small town of Crawfordsville, the county seat of Montgomery County, Indiana. She had just turned 20 years old, while he was an ambitious 24 year old. She was from a farming community 20 miles southeast of Crawfordsville, while he was from Wayne, Indiana, 25 miles north of Crawfordsville near what is today Purdue University.

Winter was drawing to a close and spring time was just around the corner when they went to the county courthouse and became husband and wife. Sometime in the early weeks of their marriage Mary got pregnant, which put pressure on William to provide adequate income for his new family. In June he found a good job, but on a farm 100 miles away near Wabash, Indiana. Later that summer he arranged for Mary to join him and they began their new life together on the farm south of Wabash. In December their first child was born, who they named Frank Shepard.

The Specter of War. All through their first year of marriage, the specter of Civil War loomed large. In the early months of 1861, the Southern States seceded from the Union. As William and Mary's first anniversary rolled around in March, Abraham Lincoln became President, and the Confederacy began to take shape. On April 12, 1861 Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter, South Carolina and the Civil War was underway.

William Shepard's Grave in Evansville, Indiana (left), and 
Mary Sprague Shepard Ragsdale's Grave in Indianapolis
On April 15, President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for an army of 75,000 men. Like all young men of a certain age, William was concerned about his future and that of his young wife and son. They knew it was probably impossible to avoid military service. But with hope and optimism they looked to the future, hoping the impending conflict would not disrupt their lives too severely and not for very long.

In May, Mary became pregnant again. They did their best to enjoy that summer of 1861, caring for Mary in her pregnancy and relishing the life they shared as a young family of 3, with another on the way. At the end of the summer, Col. John Bridgeland came to Wabash as he organized the Second Indiana Cavalry Regiment, the first complete Regiment from Indiana to fight in the Civil War. In September, William volunteered and began his training for service in the Union Army.

Monday, December 9, 1861, William said his tearful goodbyes to his 21 year old wife Mary and their 1 year old son Frank. He left Wabash for Indianapolis to become part of the Union Army of the Ohio. Little did William and Mary know that they would never see each other again. Their life together ended that sad Monday in early December when he went away to war. They had only been married a year and 9 months. That beautiful wedding day in March of 1860 was becoming a distant memory.

To Finish William's Story. Just a week after arriving in Indianapolis, William and his regiment departed the capital city on a 250 mile, 6 week military march southward to Louisville, and then further on into Kentucky.

On February 1, 1862 William and his Regiment had their first military action at Bowling Green. Historians do not call it a battle. It was a skirmish with some confederate forces, during which a canon mishap occurred. As an old family story tells it, "William had his arm blown off." He was transported 100 miles to a Military Hospital in Evansville, Indiana. As with most injured Civil War soldiers, it was not the initial injury that took his life. It was a secondary cause during hospitalization -- in William's case dysentery -- that finally brought about his death July 22, 1862.

That first weekend in February of 1862 hope and heartbreak collided. Saturday, February 1, horrible pain and anguish resulted from William's arm injury at Bowling Green, which led to his death 5 months later. The next day, Sunday, February 2, was a day of great hope for a bright future as William's wife Mary gave birth to their second son, William Elmer Shepard. On the same weekend, one of the great tragedies of our family history was paired with one of the greatest joys.

Two of William and Mary Shepard's grandchildren:
William Shepard (left) with wife Bura,
Sadie Shepard Pruett (right) with husband Levi
in San Diego in 1946
To Finish Mary's Story. Neither Mary nor William knew what was happening to the other that weekend in early February. Communication was painfully slow during the war. As far as we know, the soldier William never got to see his wife or family again. Eventually the heart breaking news made its way back to Mary in Wabash that her husband had died and had been buried in Evansville, Indiana. With a heavy heart she took her two young boys and made her way back to Montgomery County, where her life with the soldier William had begun. In 1865 she married an older widowed farmer named William Ragsdale and became step-mother to his 9 children, adding her own two youngsters to the mix. With Mr. Ragsdale she had three more children. Having lived a precious few years as Mrs. William Shepard, Mary spent the last 54 years of her life as Mrs. William Ragsdale. But she never forgot her first love, that special day they married, and the all too shortened life they shared together.

A Proud Legacy Remains. We celebrate the marriage of William and Mary Shepard that occurred 160 years ago today in Indiana. It was 80 years ago that their only grandson -- also named William Shepard -- migrated to San Diego, California from Southeast Colorado, with his wife Bura and their four children Pauline, Elmer, Eugene and Thelma. Some of Will and Bura's descendants still live here in San Diego today. Others live in Washington, Oklahoma, Texas and other places. But wherever we are, we remain indebted to William and Mary, those two who struggled through those difficult times. Their memory stays with us, and their legacy we proudly claim on this 160th anniversary of their wedding.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)