Friday, February 19, 2021

Black History Month, February 19, 2021

My humanity is bound up in yours,
for we can only be human together.
~Desmond Tutu

February is Black History Month. Like most families in America, our extended family has a mixed history when it comes to race relations. In my lifetime our family's attitudes toward Blacks has been varied. As a child growing up in San Diego, I remember my Grandfather, who like many of his generation, regularly used the n-word. Many in our family, like me, winced whenever he spoke it. In addition, his comments and anecdotes regarding blacks were often demeaning. His language was reflective of his upbringing at the turn of the 20th century in a time of racial strife. 

Jesse and Mary Bradford, just one
among many slave holding families
among our ancestors.
In my lifetime our culture has evolved a great deal in regard to race relations. And yet, no matter how much the culture has changed, we have a history of slavery in our country and in our family that we cannot ignore. Owning another human being is inexcusable. Whether it happened 2,000 years ago or 200 years ago, it cannot be condoned. It was just plain wrong and should have been resisted.

Slave Holding Ancestors. In my family history research I have discovered that numerous members of our family were slave holders in the early 19th century. Even though slavery was an integral part of the culture at the time, it is still discouraging to read of ancestors who owned slaves. U.S. Census records in the early 19th century clearly document families who owned slaves and how many they owned. 

The following is a list of just some of the slave holding families in our history (according to US Census Records):

  • Andrew Pickens of Virginia (my 4X Great Grandfather) owned 2 slaves in 1810.
  • William Dearen of North Carolina (my 4X Great Grandfather) owned 11 slaves in 1810.
  • Sarah Rives of Virginia (my 4X Great Grandmother) owned 8 slaves in 1820.
  • David Shannon of Tennessee (my 4X Great Grandfather) owned 6 slaves in 1820.
  • William Gray of Tennessee (my 4X Great Grandfather) owned 13 slaves in 1830.
  • Thomas Shannon of Virginia (my 4X Granduncle) owned 16 slaves in 1840.
  • David McKnight Shannon of Mississippi (my 3X Great Grandfather) owned 5 slaves in 1840.
  • Katherine Bradford of Tennessee (4X Great Grandmother) owned 13 slaves in 1840.
  • Jesse and Mary Bradford of Alabama (3X Great Grandparents) owned 3 slaves in 1840.

One other slave owning family in our family tree was my 5th Granduncle William E. Gower and his wife Charlotte Garland Gower of Nashville, Tennessee. Born in 1776, the year of our nation's birth, William served as a Methodist minister for over 50 years. Uncle William and Aunt Charlotte built Gower's Chapel, next to Gower Cemetery which still exists today on Gower Road in Nashville, Tennessee. 

1860 Newspaper Notice
of Gower Slaves For Sale
When William died in the fall of 1861, his widow Charlotte put their slaves up for sale. In the May 8, 1860 edition of the Nashville Union and American newspaper, a notice appeared regarding the sale of their Gower owned slaves. It read: 

Sale of Negroes 

In pursuance of a decree of the County Court of Davidson County, rendered in the case of the heirs of William Gower, deceased, I will offer for sale at the Court House in Nashville, on Saturday the 2nd Day of June, next, the following negroes, to wit:

Rachel, about 57 years of age
Isaac about 40 years of age
Harriet about 27 years of age, and her two children
Laura about 5 years of age
Charles about 3 years of age.

Terms - - $100 in cash will be required, and for the balance notes endorsed, payable in back, at twelve months.

F.R. Cheatham, 
Clerk and Master

Could the woman in this photo
be Beverly Russell Wilk? 

It is hard to believe that ancestors of ours -- or anybody for that matter -- could traffic in human lives like this, offering men, women and children for sale on the open market. Thank God we have come a long way since then.  

Do You Recognize This Woman? I read an article earlier this month in the San Diego Union-Tribune, which recognized Black History Month. Included was a picture of a "sit-in" protest in downtown San Diego in 1963 at the San Diego Gas and Electric office building on 6th Ave. In the photo a woman is entering the building and making her way past the protesters. She looks to me remarkably like my late cousin Beverly Russell (1939-1974), who worked for many years at SDG&E, and would have been 24 years old when this picture was taken. Those of you who knew Beverly, what do you think? Could this be our cousin Bev?

Black History month is a time to recognize this dark and unsettling chapter in our family's history. It is difficult to believe, yet it is true, that numerous ancestors of ours were part of the slave culture in early America, buying, selling and enslaving other human beings, including children. This month therefore becomes a time to ponder the questions: What does this part of our history say about who we are today? And how will we be judged by our descendants 200 years from now?
- - -
Steve Shepard

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

A Tale of Two Soldiers

A Tale of Two Soldiers

Like each of you, I have 8 GG Grandfathers in our family tree. Six of them had the misfortune of being just the right age for service in the American Civil War. The other two were too young to serve in the military. Two of my GG Grandfathers served in the Confederate Army: David Reid Shannon and Augustus Dearien. Four of them served in the Union Army: William Shepard, Payton Owens, William Spear and John M. Turner. Most of these men were farmers who simply took a break from their domestic affairs to serve their time in the War. Four of those who served returned home from the War relatively unscathed. Two of my GG Grandfathers gave their last full measure of devotion and died in combat. One was a Union Soldier, the other a Confederate Soldier. 

William Shepard (1835-1862) and David Reid Shannon (1821-1864). William Shepard is a GG Grandfather on my father's side of the family. David Reid Shannon is a GG Grandfather on my mother's side of the family. The life journeys of these two soldiers were somewhat similar, although different in notable ways. 

My ancestor William Shepard, originally from Ohio, joined the Union Army in Wabash, Indiana in September 1861. Three years later and 1,000 miles to the South, ancestor David Reid Shannon, originally from Mississippi, joined the Confederate Army in Alexandria, Louisiana in April 1864. 

Each man had a wife and children. Once they left home to join the military and serve their country in the Civil War, neither man was ever seen by their families again. It was a tragedy duplicated countless times across our country during the years of the War. When William Shepard departed Wabash, Indiana, he left a 21 year old pregnant wife, Mary Shepard, with their one year old son named Frank. When David departed his family farm near Sugartown, Louisiana, he left his wife Peggy Shannon with 7 children between the ages of 2 and 14. 

They Were On Their Own. As the war dragged on, both wives eventually came to the awful realization that they were not going to see their husbands again. They were on their own to support themselves and their children. Both women did what they had to do to survive. Years later, after the war, they would each receive a widow's pension with some financial relief. But during the war it was a very difficult struggle for each woman and her children. 

Evansville, Indiana Grave of
Soldier William Shepard (1835-1862)
Mary Shepard, after finally realizing that husband William was never coming home, made her way back to her hometown in Ladoga, Indiana west of Indianapolis. Shortly after the war ended she remarried an older gentleman farmer named William Ragsdale who already had 9 children, adding her two young boys to the mix. She spent the rest of her life in that large blended family. We don't know how much she ever knew about what happened to her soldier-husband William Shepard. She did receive a small pension some 40 years after the war so she likely knew something about his death. 

An amazing amount of information about the Civil War is now accessible online, information that was not easily available before. Sitting at a home computer today one can learn much more about William's Civil War travels and battles than his wife Mary ever knew. Fortunately Mary was able to get on with her life by remarrying. It is unclear whether she ever visited William's grave in Oak Hill Cemetery, Evansville, Indiana.  

Two Resilient Women Who Survived. In Louisiana, Peggy Shannon was not so fortunate. She waited all through the war to receive word about her husband David Shannon but never heard anything. Communication was maddeningly slow and inconsistent during the Civil War in rural America. One can only imagine how difficult it must have been during the War for a single woman with 8 children on a farm in rural Louisiana, 200 miles west of New Orleans. After a year of hearing nothing, Peggy finally made her way to the enlistment center in Alexandria, Louisiana and demanded some word about what happened to her husband. Finally she received confirmation that her husband had died.

Word got back to Peggy's 62 year old father Richard Gray in Arkansas of her plight, and his heart was touched. He accepted the difficult task of traveling 400 dusty miles -- probably in a wagon -- from Mountain View, Arkansas to Sugartown, Louisiana to gather up Peggy and her children and move them to Arkansas. What else but a father's love for his only daughter could make a man do what he did? 

A Post War Journey. Moving Peggy Ann Shannon and her 7 children from Southern Louisiana to Northern Arkansas in the aftermath of the Civil War was no easy task. It was a slow, difficult journey that must have taken weeks. The South had been decimated in the war, people were desperate, poverty was rampant and travel had great risks. To undertake this journey required a heart full of love, a pocket full of greenbacks, and lots of help. The help Richard received from his sons -- Peggy's brothers -- James, Samuel and Lawson, who made the journey with him to rescue their family. The family was reunited and they lived out their lives on homesteaded property west of Mountain View, Arkansas. 

New Orleans Cemetery where Soldier David
Reid Shannon (1821-1864) is buried
By the way, the graves of both soldiers are in beautiful cemeteries that are easily accessible today. William Shepard rests in Oak Hill Cemetery, in Evansville, Indiana, a grave I have visited a couple of times. David Reid Shannon rests in Chalmette Cemetery in New Orleans. It is a grave I look forward to visiting some day. 

Mary Shepard and Peggy Shannon were women who survived tragic, desperate situations. Their resilience was remarkable. We, their descendants, owe them a great debt of gratitude. Both women, from different parts of the country, went on with their lives and had children and grandchildren whose life journeys took them westward. 

First Into Oklahoma. For Mary it was a Grandson (my Grandfather) named William Shepard (named after his soldier-grandfather) whose family settled in 1905 in the panhandle of Oklahoma. For Peggy it was a Granddaughter (my Grandmother) named Nola Shannon Gower whose family settled east of Oklahoma City in 1925. Both these grandchildren, William Shepard and Nola Gower, with their respective families, eventually made their way to San Diego in the early 1940s. It was in San Diego that William's son Eugene Shepard, and Nola's daughter Maida Gower, met and married. 

And, as they say, "the rest is history."
- - -
Steve Shepard (he, him, his)

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Looking Ahead To A New Year, January 2021

Where there is a stepping stone,
there is a milestone.
~P. S. Jagadeesh

Milestones in the Year Ahead. Like all of you, I am grateful for this new year of 2021. The last year was very difficult for our country as we struggled with the Pandemic, social upheaval, political strife, and economic problems. There will be a number of notable milestones in this coming year in our family history. I plan to highlight several of them in The Shepard's Crook as we move through 2021.

Our Grandparents Nola and Leroy Gower.
September 29, 2021 will be the
100th Anniversary of their wedding.
  
These milestones will include the 100th anniversary of my father's birth, the 100th wedding anniversary of my Gower Grandparents, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Civil War soldier David Reid Shannon, and much more. They are all milestones in our family that are worth remembering and celebrating. But most of all they contain family stories that remind us of where we came from and who we are when at our best.

A 5 Year Mark. This month marks the 5 year mark since our mother was diagnosed with Dementia. It has been quite a journey for all of us in her family. We have walked with her and cared for her through this difficult period of time. On a positive note, she has done surprisingly well physically in the last few years. She visited her doctor recently who said that her vitals were fine and that she appears to be in good overall health for 96 years old.

Over these last 5 years Mom has received excellent care from her immediate family. She has been able to remain in her own home, which is a big plus of course. Daughter Barb and son Gary have been her primary care givers, but in recent years she has also received support from all her family, in particular her daughter-in-law Cindy, her son Russ and his family, as well as her Church family and friends. These helpers are all in addition to other trained care givers who have been brought in and have been an important part of the caregiving team. 

Maida Gower Shepard, with Barbara, Gary and me
at her home in Anacortes, Washington

A Challenging Time. The last 5 years have not been without some challenges. It has been very stressful at times as Mom's children and grandchildren have struggled with decisions about her care and well being. We are not unlike many other families. When the beloved matriarch of a particular family moves into the sunset years of her life, it is normally very upsetting and difficult to deal with. But in the midst of it all we continue to remind ourselves that the bottom line is Mom's health and her overall well being. 

All those who have been involved in her care -- family, friends and professionals -- are to be thanked for their great efforts. Mom's good physical health at this stage of her life is a witness to their good work. They have given of themselves in a way that honors our parents. Living at a distance I am especially appreciative of all those who have had a part in caring for Mom.

Five years is a significant milestone. There have been some bumps in the road, some heartaches and some emotional turmoil. Our family has been tried and tested like never before in the last 5 years. Even so we continue to do our best for our dear mother. I hope and pray we can do just as well for the next 5 years, God willing.
- - -
Steve Shepard (he, him, his)

Monday, December 28, 2020

Old Drawer Discoveries, Dec 28, 2020

Funny how the new things are the old things.
~Rudyard Kipling

13 years ago today I first began this family blog. It has been an interesting journey to say the least. I have enjoyed very much writing about our extended families. This blog has encompassed Shepards and Gowers, Harrises and Davises, and many other relatives. In recent years I have traced our Shepard and Harris ancestors to the earliest years of America, writing about John Shepard, Abel Gower, James Keith, John Marshall, and numerous other early American ancestors. The more research I do, the more discoveries I make about ancestors who have been hidden to history, and whose stories tell us much about our history and in some ways about ourselves. Thanks to all of you who are readers of The Shepard's Crook and who have expressed your gratitude. It has been a labor of love. I look forward to sharing more with you about kinfolk from whom we are descended.

Cindy and me, December 27, 1968
Happy Anniversary. Yesterday, Cindy and I celebrated 52 years of marriage. We were married Dec 27, 1968 in front of a large group of friends and family at the La Mesa Church of Christ, a few miles from where we live now in Allied Gardens. A lot has changed in our lives and in our larger family over those many years. Beloved family members have passed away. Wonderful new family members have been added by birth or marriage. Beautiful happy memories have been made, while our share of sorrow has been experienced. Through it all Cindy and I find ourselves grateful for all our family and for the memories that have been made over the years.

Remembering Pauline Shepard Russell (1916-2000). My aunt Pauline Shepard Russell was born on this date 104 years ago in 1916. She was the first child of my Grandparents William Shepard and Bura Davis Shepard. Not long after marrying Bill Russell in Colorado, Aunt Pauline and Uncle Bill were among the first family members to migrate to California. In September, 1940, the Shepard family of 7 packed up and made their way across 1,150 miles of the American Southwest from Two Buttes, Colorado to San Diego. 

Pauline Shepard Russell (right) with her
mother Bura Davis Shepard, about 1945
Bill and Pauline both lived here in San Diego for the rest of their lives. Bill died in 1997 and Pauline died 3 years later. They were both wonderful people who contributed in a very positive way to the life of our larger family. Their grandson Eric Russell lives in the Reno, Nevada area, while their granddaughter Shannon Wilk and her daughter Emma live in Atchison, Kansas. 

Old Drawer Discoveries. We have recently remodeled our garage. It was a total reboot of a space that has been collecting family stuff of all kinds for over 60 years. In one dusty box we found dozens of old Harris and Hicks family pictures, most of which, unfortunately, have no writing on the back to identify the people. The most remarkable find, however, was an old family Bible, titled "The Good Leader Bible," copyright 1946. It was given to Cindy by her parents Joe and Paula Harris. The first page says, "Presented to Cynthia Harris (Cindy), by Mother and Dad, January 7, 1948." 

"The Good Leader Bible" is definitely showing its age (aren't we all!). Its cover is cracked and split, and its binding literally creaks when it is opened, like a treasure chest that had been sealed for decades. Its insides and margin notes indicate that it was well used by a serious Bible student for a period of time. But that time is long past. It has been hidden from view in a dusty garage for God knows how long. Despite its age and its sentimental value, it is probably time to give it a final resting place. Cindy's mom and dad, Joe and Paula Harris, are both gone now, but this Bible gift of theirs remains. It was a heartwarming discovery of a 73 year old treasure, reflecting the joy of a newborn child and a young father and mother's hopes and dreams for the future. 

Best wishes to all of you for a very Happy New Year!
- - -
Steve Shepard (he, him, his)

Friday, December 18, 2020

A Christmas Baby: December, 2020

Yes, I share a birthday with Jesus 
and no, that doesn’t make me the messiah; 
I’m just a very naughty boy.
~Nathan Campbell

A Christmas Baby. My Grandfather William Shepard was a Christmas baby. He was born 132 years ago, on Christmas Day 1888. I don't remember that being a big deal in our Shepard family when I was growing up. I learned about his Christmas birth date in a passing conversation as I recall, probably from my Grandmother, his wife Bura. Granddad William was born and lived the first 16 years of his life in the town of Alton, Illinois which lay along the east side of the Mississippi River and was part of the Saint Louis Metropolitan area. 

Sadie and William Shepard
Madison County, Illinois - 1892
Granddad was an unassuming person, a man of faith and an active churchman. But he was not someone I would call pious or overly devout, as opposed to his beloved partner of 61 years, Bura Davis Shepard, the standard bearer of all things religious in our family. I remember Granddad as a regular guy who never thought too highly of himself. I could easily imagine the last line of the quote above coming out of Granddad's mouth.

In other posts I have traced our Shepard family line from Maryland on the East Coast to San Diego and Anacortes on the West Coast. That was a 300 year family journey of some 4,000 miles, encompassing 12 generations. Our Shepard ancestors stopped and settled for periods of time at several locations along the way, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Oklahoma, Colorado, San Diego, and Washington. In Madison County, Illinois, the Shepards settled for a rather short period of time, just a little over 20 years. Granddad's father, William Elmer Shepard, came to Madison County, Illinois in the early 1880s from Indiana. In Illinois he met Elvira Owens, a local woman from a well established family. He courted her and then married her on September 2, 1886. 

Two years later their first child William (no middle name) Shepard was born on Christmas Day 1888. It was in the midst of one of the coldest winters on record in Madison County. Three years later his younger sister Sadie Shepard was born, also in Madison County. William and Sadie are the only two members of our entire Shepard family born in Illinois. 

Sadie Shepard Pruett (center) with husband
Levi Pruett on the right. On the left is Sadie's
brother William Shepard with wife
Bura Davis Shepard - San Diego, 1946 
The picture above on the right of young Sadie (at just a few months old) and William (at 3 years old) is the only Shepard family picture we have which was taken in Illinois. All the Shepards in our family tree before them were born in Indiana, Ohio or Maryland. All the Shepards in our family tree who came after Grandad were born once the family moved westward to Oklahoma, Colorado and then California.

Grandad William's early years in Illinois were spent in the suburbs of Saint Louis. Instead of being a farmer, William worked in a factory and went to a private school for a period of time. In 1905 at just 16 years old, Grandad William, along with his sister Sadie, at just 13, moved to Oklahoma with their parents, William Elmer Shepard and Elvira Owens Shepard.  

In 1913 in Beaver County, Oklahoma, Grandad William met a young woman from a neighboring farming family by the name of Bura Davis. After a period of courtship they were married on June 2, 1915 by Steve Shoemate. He was the minister of the South Flat Church of Christ, the church to which Bura and her family belonged, and the church to which William and his parents were connected. It was in Oklahoma that Pauline, the first of their 4 children, was born. She arrived just three days after Granddad's 28th birthday in 1916. Gram and Grandad considered Pauline a very special Christmas gift that year. At the time the young struggling couple William and Bura were in just the second year of their marriage, and were thrilled to see their family get started as they welcomed Pauline into the world. 

On Christmas Day, 2020 we will have a lot to celebrate, despite the challenges of this past year. Among those celebrations we include our Shepard ancestors, in particular Granddad William Shepard who was born on Christmas Day so long ago.

Reminder note to my anonymous troll: Thank you for being a regular reader of The Shepard's Crook. Please understand that comments left online on my blog are always read. If appropriate, I will gladly post them for all to read. I welcome comments about family. But hateful, unkind rants, which you have left, are unacceptable and will not be posted.

As this strange and crazy year of 2020 draws to its close, I wish all of you and your loved ones the immeasurable joy and lasting peace of Christmas!
- - -
Steve Shepard (he, him, his) 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Giving Thanks in a Thankless Time

Let us be grateful 
for the people who make us happy. 
They are the charming gardeners 
who make our souls blossom.
~Marcel Proust

Even in the year 2020, Thanksgiving is a holiday to be celebrated. The last 12 months have been a year we would like to forget. The Pandemic, the economic crisis, social unrest, political chaos, social distancing, sheltering in place; all of that has made 2020 a year we will never forget, as much as we might like to. To put things in historical perspective, consider this: Thanksgiving was originally established during a crisis that was even worse than what we have been living though this year. President Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation was issued in 1863, during the Civil War. That conflict brought a shocking amount of death and heartbreak and economic devastation to Americans everywhere.

Thanksgiving 2020 is a time to remember and be grateful for many things. I am especially thankful for family ancestors who went before us and paved the way for us. They were men and women who endured great adversity, who taught their children and grandchildren how to open their hearts to a benevolent God and be people of genuine gratitude. I am particularly thankful for ancestors and family members whose lives seemed to emanate gratitude even though life was difficult for them. 

No pictures exist of William Elmer Shepard,
but this image shows his son William Shepard
with his wife Bura Davis, in the 1960s in San Diego

William Elmer Shepard (1860-1915). In particular I am especially grateful for my Great Grandfather William Elmer Shepard, a man I never met, but whose life is worth considering. He is a person of history to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude for several reasons. He is responsible for the spelling of our family name "Shepard." William Elmer's father died in the Civil War leaving behind a wife and two young boys. The youngest boy, William Elmer, he never even met because of the father-soldier's untimely death. As a teenager William Elmer had such a hard time in his step-father's home that he ran away and was never reunited with his Indiana family again. His father-soldier's last name was spelled several different ways in various historical records: Sheppard, Shepherd, Shepheard, Shephard and Shepard. Interestingly, William Elmer's brother, Frank, chose the spelling "Shepherd" and used it for the rest of his life which was spent as a postman in northern Indiana. Great Grandfather William Elmer (the runaway) chose the spelling "Shepard" and used it consistently for the rest of his life, in Illinois where he found a wife and lived 25 years, and then in Oklahoma, where he lived for the last 10 years of his life.

We also owe a debt of thanks to the runaway/vagabond William Elmer Shepard for being the only link to our Shepard ancestors before the Civil War. Were it not for William Elmer, we would know nothing about our Indiana Shepard kinfolk, or our impressive ancestors, the Sheppards of Kirkwood, Ohio, or the three generations of John Shepards of the 18th century which show our Shepard roots in Barbados and in England before that. 

My cousin Hershell Gower 
in 2003
We are also indebted to William Elmer Shepard (and his Illinois wife Elvira Owens!) for bringing into the world Granddad William Shepard (1888-1976), pictured above, who would become the husband of Bura Davis, and then the Grandfather of me and 11 other grandchildren. This Thanksgiving I am filled with gratitude as I remember the life of William Elmer Shepard.

Hershell Gower (1943-2020). On this Thanksgiving I am also grateful for my cousin Hershell Gower who passed away this past summer at the age of 77. I am thankful for his life, for his service to his country, for his family, and for all the memories of good family times in years past.

I cannot write about Thanksgiving without mentioning these others for whom I am very grateful this holiday: 

  • my grandmother Bura Davis Shepard (1896-1986), who was born in the month of November 124 years ago; a small woman who made a big impact on her family. 
  • my two aunts Thelma Shepard Boyd (of Athena, Kansas) and Vicki Gower Johnston (of Chandler, Arizona) who are family gems as senior members of our Shepard and Gower families. 
  • I am also very grateful for the senior most member of our extended family, my mother Maida Gower Shepard who is now 96 and going strong in Anacortes, Washington; 
  • and I am thankful for the wonderful, sacrificial work of Mom's dedicated caregivers, Barbara, Gary and Cindy Shepard.

In the words of Marcel Proust, these are all "charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." They are special people who I celebrate this week in a spirit of gratitude for the place of each of them in our family. May you have a safe and happy time with your family this Thanksgiving!
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Celebrating 96 Years

October 31, 2020
Happy Halloween!

Tomorrow, November 1, our mother Maida Gower Shepard will celebrate 96 years of life. Sunday is fittingly celebrated by many as Dia De Los Muertos or All Saints Sunday. But for her family it will be a day to celebrate that one saint, our mother, whose life has spanned nearly a century. 

The years have taken their toll on mom's mental and physical health. But her spirit is still strong and vibrant. And her spiritual health is undimmed. She has a hard time getting around in this 10th decade of her life. She stays in her living room chair most days and needs someone with her at all times. But she continues to live with grace and dignity the days that the Good Lord has given her to live.

She is the oldest surviving member of both her Gower family and her Shepard family. Her "younger" sister Vicki Gower Johnston turned 87 just two weeks ago. The two of them are gems of our family, reminding us of our Gower history that is worth celebrating and remembering.

Mom and I celebrating Halloween today
at her home in Anacortes, Washington


Mom's birthday is uniquely situated just before Election Day. In 1924, three days after she was born in Mountain View, Arkansas, Calvin Coolidge was elected President. In 1944, just months before she and dad married in San Diego, and a few days after Mom's 20th birthday, Franklin Roosevelt was elected to his 4th term as President, an unprecedented occurrence that prompted a law change. Days after her 32nd birthday in 1956, mom and dad both helped Dwight Eisenhower defeat Adlai Stevenson and win a second term as President. As a child I remember the day dad came home from work wearing an "I Like Ike" button, making it clear where his sentiments lay.

Mom has lived through 16 different Presidents. In addition to the three mentioned above, she lived through Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Those Presidents and the years they served represent an amazing amount of American history that Mom has experienced.

For these and so many other reasons we will celebrate and honor our mother Maida Gower Shepard tomorrow on the occasion of her 96th birthday. During this Pandemic our celebration for her will be small, with only her immediate family in attendance physically. Others will be present on Zoom. If you would like to join us Sunday afternoon to wish her well, send me an email and I'd be glad to send you a Zoom invitation.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Monday, October 05, 2020

A Famous Peace Maker

I referred in my last post to a well known person in Tennessee history by the name of Gen. James Randolph Robertson (1742-1814). He was an important leader in the early years of the State of Tennessee and is arguably the most renown person in our entire family history. His mother was Mary Gower, and his grandparents were Abel Gower and Mary Robertson Gower, my 6X Great Grandparents. James' father John Randolph Robertson was born in 1712 in Scotland, where he married Mary Gower in 1739, the daughter of adventurous Scottish Sea Captain Abel Gower.

Born in 1742 in Brunswick County, Virginia young James Robertson accompanied Daniel Boone on his third expedition into the American Wilderness in 1759, an expedition that gave him an appreciation for the possibilities of life in the untamed frontier of America.

Gen. James Robertson (1742-1814)
"Here I Shall Stay." Gen. James Robertson was man of remarkable insight and wisdom, who had a vision for harmonious life in frontier America. During his lifetime white settlers and Native Americans were constantly in conflict. In 1780 James Robertson's Uncle and Grandfather
-- both Gowers -- were killed by Indians in the Clover Bottom tragedy near Nashville which I wrote about in a previous post. As a result of the many conflicts between the white settlers and the Native Americans, many settlers wanted to abandon the frontier and return to their homes in Virginia and North Carolina. And who could blame them? But Robertson stood steadfast and refused to leave. "Each one should do what seems to him his duty. As for myself my station is here, and here I shall stay if every man of you deserts me." 

Red Lives Matter. James had a dream of whites and Native Americans living together in peace, where all were accepted and everyone had their place. Robertson's vision was not shared by all leaders of early America. Some, including his Tennessee colleague Andrew Jackson (elected President in 1827) had nothing but contempt for Native Americans. Jackson supported the the cruel and inhumane policy of forced relocation, which led to the deadly "Trail of Tears" in 1830. It was an evil almost as egregious as the enslavement of blacks. Our ancestor Gen. James Robertson believed there was a better way. He negotiated with Native Americans and became known as a peacemaker forging treaties, creating alliances and supporting Native American self determination. 

Chickasaw Chief Piomingo
(1750-1799)

The Father of Tennessee. We are honored to have such an important person like James Robertson in our family tree. We celebrate and remember his gifts of peacemaking and leadership in early America. His spirit of cooperation, his acceptance of diverse cultures and his willingness to do the hard work of making peace is noteworthy. Known as "The Father of Tennessee" he is an outstanding member of our family history.

Robertson and the Chickasaws. In a very interesting and personal historical connection, James Robertson crossed paths with the Native American Chickasaw tribe, from which my wife Cindy is descended. On several occasions Robertson had conversations with the Chickasaws. Even though more than one family member of his had died "by the tomahawk," he was persistent about developing positive relationships with them. As a result he was selected to serve as an Indian agent in Tennessee until his death in 1814.

In January, 1781 James Robertson was at Fort Nashborough (which became Nashville, Tennessee) when it was attacked by Chickasaws. As told in William Hale's A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans, the furious battle lasted for several hours resulting in numerous deaths. The telling of the story ends by saying it was the last battle between the Chickasaws and the Cumberland Settlement. It prompted peace talks between James Robertson and the Chickasaws, talks that included the famous Chickasaw Warrior Chief Piomingo (1750-1799) with whom Robertson became acquainted. 

U.S. Representative
Andrew Pickens (1739-1817)

The Treaty Of Hopewell. A few years later, on January 10, 1786, Chief Piomingo signed the famous Treaty of Hopewell which officially established peace between the U.S. and the Chickasaws. I can't help but think that Robertson's peace talks with Piomingo was at least partly responsible for Piomingo's willingness to be a signer of the Treaty. Coincidentally, among the other signers of that peace treaty was Andrew Pickens (1739-1817) a U.S. Representative from South Carolina who also happens to be an ancestor of ours (the grandson of my 6X Great Grandparents William and Margaret Pickens). Select this link for more about Andrew Pickens and his place in our family tree.

Chief Piomingo Day. The Chickasaw Warrior Chief Piomingo continues to be honored today by the Chickasaw Nation. Select this link for a short video about Chief Piomingo. Some will celebrate next Monday, October 12, as Columbus Day, or possibly as Indigenous People's Day. The Chickasaw Nation proudly celebrates October 12 as Chief Piomingo Day, to honor the famous Chickasaw Chief, peacemaker and acquaintance of our ancestor General James Robertson.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Gowers in Middle Tennessee

In my last post I shared the story of our ancestors Abel Gower Sr. and Jr. who both tragically died in a conflict with Native Americans in the fall of 1780. It was a story of devastating loss for the Gower frontier family, a story found in numerous historical sources from the early history of Tennessee. These deaths were a difficult beginning to life in Tennessee for our Gower relatives. The following stories show that eventually things got better and the Gowers made an indelible mark on their new community.

Charlotte Reeves Robertson 1751-1843
wife of ancestor Gen. James Robertson


The Heroics of a Gower Teen. That deadly encounter in 1780 was not the first time the Gowers had experienced a life threatening conflict with Native Americans. In "Indian Wars and Warriors" (Tennessee Historical Magazine, Vol. IV) Albert Goodpasture writes about Nancy Gower (1761-1831) the daughter of Abel Gower Jr. and his wife Mary. During the Gowers' dangerous river journey from Virginia to the frontier of Tennessee, on one occasion the Gowers were attacked by Indians on the Tennessee River. While the men were fully engaged in warding off the raiders, 18 year old Nancy took the helm of their boat and carefully steered it down river. When she finally guided their craft past the Indian attack and were safe from danger, Nancy's mother Mary noticed blood stains on her daughter's dress. Only then did they realize that Nancy had been shot in the thigh. They bandaged her wound and in time she recovered fully and lived to tell the harrowing tale of this dangerous episode.

The Father of Middle Tennessee. The above mentioned Abel and Mary Gower had a grandson, Gen. James Robertson (1742-1814), who was very instrumental in leading their frontier community. He was such a significant leader that he has become known as "The Father of Middle Tennessee" and is honored as such even today. In 1791 President George Washington got word of Robertson's outstanding leadership and appointed him brigadier general of the U.S. Army for the entire region south of the Ohio River.

Marker at the Nashville burial site
for Gen. James Robertson and
his wife Charlotte Reeves Robertson

A Doctor and a Mayor.
Gower ancestors James Robertson and his wife Charlotte Reeves Robertson (1751-1843) had 9 children, the 4th of whom was Felix Robertson (1781-1865). Born Jan 11, 1781, he was the first white male child born in the historic Cumberland Settlement. Felix was trained as a Physician at the University of Pennsylvania, and went on to practice medicine in early Nashville for 40 years. In 1818 and 1819 he was selected the Mayor of Nashville for two different terms. He was also the president of the Medical Society of Tennessee.

The early years of the Gowers in Tennessee were difficult and fraught with conflict and even death. But after a difficult beginning our Gower ancestors made an indelible mark on the Cumberland Settlement which became the city of Nashville. They will forever be remembered in the history books of that famous city. 

Leroy Gower and Ellen Taylor Gower,
the first Gowers to leave Tennessee
and settle in Stone County, Arkansas

From Tennessee To Arkansas.
Our Gower ancestors first began to settle in Nashville in 1780 and continued to be members of that community for several generations. Abel and Mary Gower's Great Grandson Jackson William Gower (1831-1902) and his wife Mary Anderson Gower (1833-1912) were the first Tennessee Gowers to continue the inevitable move westward. After marrying in 1849, Jackson and Mary moved out west to the Mountain View area of Stone County, Arkansas where they settled and raised their family. 

Their first child, Leroy Gower -- born in 1854 -- was the first Gower child to be born in Arkansas. This Leroy Gower (1854-1909) and his wife Ellen Taylor Gower were the Grandparents of Leroy Ertin Gower (1899-1974), who was "Grandpa Gower" to many of us. The source from whom I received the picture above on the right claims that "this is the oldest known picture of any Gowers in Arkansas." I could find no date for this remarkable photo, but both these folks died in their early 50s in 1906 and 1909, respectively. It may have been taken around the turn of the 20th century.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he/him/his)

Monday, September 07, 2020

The Gowers in Tennessee: The Clover Bottom Tragedy

I have written before about our earliest Gower ancestors who settled in Virginia in the early 1600s. One of them was Abel Gower (1640-1710) who had migrated from England. In the subsequent three centuries our Gower ancestors made their way all across our country. Leroy and Nola Gower, my Grandparents, were the first of our Gower ancestors to make it to the West Coast when they arrived in Southern California in 1942. Here in San Diego some of their descendants still live today. 

Purportedly Abel Gower Jr.
(1725-1780)
The Westward Migration to Tennessee. As our Gower ancestors made their way across country, one of the places they settled for a number of years was Nashville, Tennessee. My 7X Great Grandparents, Capt. Abel Gower Sr. and his wife Eleanor Salmon Gower, were part of the early migration from Virginia that joined the Cumberland Settlement of Middle Tennessee. They were accompanied by their son Abel Gower Jr. and his wife Mary Robertson Gower. ("Abel" was the first name of choice for many of our Gowers in the early years.)

This historic immigration into Tennessee, begun in December, 1779 was led by frontiersmen John Robertson and Col. John Donelson. They and those they led, endured an arduous journey of nearly 1000 miles of wild frontier, including confrontations with Native Americans. Much of their travel was overland, while a good portion was on the Cumberland River as a part of "the Donelson flotilla," a collection of nearly 30 vessels of various kinds with immigrants in each one. After journeying for several months they arrived April 24, 1780 and joined the Cumberland Settlement which eventually became the city of Nashville, Tennessee.

An artist's rendering of
The Donelson flotilla, 1780
During their first summer in Tennessee, Col. Donelson and his group planted some crops in prime growing land a few miles away from the Settlement in an area known as Clover Bottom, near the confluence of the Cumberland and the Stones Rivers. On November 1, 1780, a group of about a dozen settlers went to harvest the crop of Corn and Cotton. The harvesters were led by our ancestor Capt. Abel Gower and included his son Abel Gower Jr. 

A Surprise Attack at Clover Bottom. When they finished the harvest, they loaded their boats with the corn and the cotton and headed back home. They had gone only a short way when they were suddenly attacked by a large band of Chickamauga Indians, natives who had lived in the area for generations. The settlers were outmanned and suffered great losses in the attack. Abel Gower Sr. and his son were shot and killed during the raid. In all the chaos their bodies floated down the river and were never recovered. Also killed in the attack was James Robertson, the son of one of their leaders Col. John Robertson. Only three of the harvesting settlers lived to tell the tale. Those three survived the attack by hiding in the nearby forest and laying low until they could make their way back to the safety of the settlement.

An historical marker today in
Davidson County, Tennessee

November 1, 1780 was a fateful day in the life of our Gower ancestors when they lost two important family members. The effects of that tragedy on the lives of their surviving family is hard to fathom. This illustrates how difficult it was to settle this untamed wilderness that was our nation in earlier times. It also brings to our attention what a great debt of gratitude we owe our forebears. Their courage, determination and resilience is an inspiration to us. 

In my next post I will write about the Gower response to the tragedy at Clover Bottom and the remarkable impact our ancestors made on the Cumberland Settlement of Middle Tennessee. That in itself is a memorable story.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)