Monday, September 29, 2014

Catching a Glimpse of the Ancestors, September 29, 2014

I grew up with six brothers.
That's how I learned to dance -
waiting for the bathroom.
~Bob Hope

Greetings to all of you from Peru where Cindy and I are enjoying ourselves with a couple friends. Today we are on our way to the scenic and lofty Colca Canyon (where we are staying at over 11,200' elevation) in the southern part of this beautiful, historic country. 

The first picture was taken a few days ago in front of the Basilica San Francisco in Lima, Peru and shows our traveling companion Linda with Cindy and me. We had just come up out of the sprawling catacombs beneath the church behind us, where we walked through a maze of dark, dank caves. All around us were thousands of ancestral bones. At one point we heard music and looked up to see a ventilation grate in the ceiling of the catacombs. Through the grate we caught a glimpse and heard the sounds of a worship service in progress in the Church over our heads. It was somewhat eeire, a little bit comforting, but all a part of this strange but memorable subterranean experience. Since then I have considered how that is what the Shepard's Crook is: a way of catching a glimpse of the lives and stories of our ancestors whom we seek to remember. Thanks to Barbara, our other travelling companion, for taking this picture.

George and Serena Gower. In this post I am offering a glimpse of my Great Grandparents George Gower and Serena Turner. On September 15, 1893, 121 years ago, they were married in Timbo, Arkansas, a little country town west of Mountain View. Interestingly, their son Leroy and his wife Nola were also married in that same little town, also in the month of September, but 28 years later. Timbo was, and still is, the only town of any size in the area known as Sylamore (in Stone County) where our Gower and Shannon ancestors were farmers.

Like many young adults in the 19th century, George and Serena were young when they married. He was 20 and she was just 17. George's grandfather Jackson William Gower had been among the first Gowers to settle in Stone County, Arkansas in the 1850s when it was very sparsely populated and a welcome place for homesteaders. 

Serena Turner's family was from Tennessee and came to Arkansas not long before she was born in 1876, and settled east of Mountain View on the White River. She never attended school or learned to read or write.

There were not too many options for young couples of farming families in late 19th century Arkansas, so George and Serena also became farmers. The 1900 Census, when he was just 27 and she was 23, shows that they owned their own Sylamore home and farm outright. 

On their farm they raised 6 children, the second one being my grandfather Leroy Gower. Their first child Lloyd W. Gower was killed in WWI in France, and is buried today in Stone County Arkansas. There is a marker in Mountain View's town square honoring him.

Farming in the hills of the Ozarks was not the most lucrative profession, so George and Serena, like others of their kin, moved westward into Oklahoma in the 1920s and settled in Okemah where they farmed and lived the rest of their lives. Serena died in 1931, George in 1944. 

The first picture (above) shows their graves in Highland Cemetery, just north of Okemah. He has one of the most rustic looking headstones, with nothing but a rough "G" carved onto it, while hers is significantly more attractive (see the circular insets). Sometime after their deaths, their family erected a large headstone alongside their graves with simply "Gower" written on it.  

Happy Birthday to Alexandria Cotten. Today is the birthday of Alexandria Cotten, of San Antonio, Texas, one of the direct descendants of the aforementioned George and Serena Gower. Lexi is the younger daughter of Heather and Sean Cotten, and another one of the GG Grandchildren of Leroy and Nola Shannon Gower.

The second picture, taken in August in Oak Harbor, Washington, shows Lexi with her Great Grandmother Vicki Gower Johnston. This picture was taken in the home of Vicki and her husband Duke.

Another Texas birthday. Today is also the birthday of Cathrina Helms Clark 
of Lubbock, Texas, the wife of Jerry Clark. The third picture, a selfie taken in Yosemite this past summer, shows Jerry and Cathrina enjoying the beautiful scenery of California alongside a stream in the Sierra Nevada.

Cathrina: Thank you for the birthday wishes! We have had a great year! My, how quickly the years pass! We took a road trip up Hwy 1 (north of LA) this past summer. What a beautiful drive. We also really enjoyed Yosemite! I truly understand why Yosemite is one of your and Cindy's favorite places. Death Valley was very interesting. I really enjoy working at the school and being on the same work schedule as Jerry. Our grandchildren are growing and all doing well!  All of our children are doing well. We have so much to be thankful for. So exited to hear about Maida's 90th Birthday party Nov 1 in Anacortes that Jerry will be attending.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Monday, September 22, 2014

Celebrations That Run the Gamut, Sept 23, 2014

The family - that dear octopus
from whose tentacles 
we never quite escape, 
nor, in our inmost hearts, 
quite wish to.
~Dodie Smith

Happy Birthday Tori. Today, September 23, is the 7th birthday of Victoria Cotten, the daughter of Heather and Sean Cotten, and one of the GG Grandchildren of Leroy and Nola Shannon Gower. Tori lives with her family in San Antonio, Texas, a long way from the home of her Grandmother Paula Harrell Tuzzolino and Great Grandmother Vicki Gower Johnston, of Oak Harbor, Washington.

This past summer Tori and her family traveled to Oak Harbor to visit their family. This first picture shows Tori and her dad Sean, taken when they were in Washington just weeks ago.

Remembering a 93rd Anniversary. Later this month, September 29, is the wedding anniversary of Leroy and Nola Shannon Gower, the GG Grandparents of Tori Cotten. In the last few posts I have referred to Nola while discussing her mother, grandmother and other family mambers and the dramatic story of their lives. So it only seems fitting to flow right into at least a brief telling of the life story of Nola and Leroy.

It might surprise some to learn how many members of our family today are too young to have known Nola and Leroy. My Grandmother Nola died just 10 years ago this summer, after living 101 years. So a large percentage of our family remembers her. But Grandpa Leroy has been gone now for 40 years, and most of their 44 direct descendants never had the opportunity to meet him.

Leroy Gower and Nola Shannon were good, decent, hardworking people who were both from poor farming families in Stone County, Arkansas. They were married in 1921 in Mountain View, Arkansas while living in the small country town of New Nata and were married for 53 years until Leroy's death in 1974. Their first child, Hendrix, was born in 1922, and their second, Maida, in 1924. The very next year, when baby Maida was old enough to travel, they moved to Okemah, Oklahoma where some other family members had already relocated. They settled there for 17 years, during which time their third child Vicki was born. In 1942, during World War II, like countless other American in search of jobs, they moved to San Diego, where they lived for almost all the rest of their lives.

I did not come along until 1948 so I have little first hand experience of their adjustment to life in the big city in Southern California. As best I can tell they adjusted surprisingly well, living happily for most of their California years in a small 2 bedroom, 1 bath house on Lynne Street in East San Diego.

The second composite picture from the 1970s, shows Nola and Leroy. She is enjoying a quiet, happy moment at home, while Leroy is proudly displaying a fish he had just caught on a deep sea fishing adventure off the coast of San Diego.

It was in the Gower home on Lynne Street that all 12 of us grandkids spent considerable family time and enjoyed the welcoming spirit of grandma and grandpa. We always knew there was a place for us in their home. It was where our grandparents taught us responsibility, honesty, hospitality, gardening, Christian charity and good citizenship. And discipline. The kind that came from a switch off a fruit tree in the backyard. As I think about it now, my rear never felt the impact of their switch, but the threat of it was enough to get my attention and alter my behavior. As I remember, other cousins were not so fortunate and had to bear the discomfort of the disciplinary switch.

It is interesting that I write this on the heels of the ongoing news story about Adrian Peterson of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. This high profile professional athlete has run into serious and very expensive problems because of his use of a switch off a tree to discipline his young son. Times have certainly changed. I am sure none of us cousins ever dreamed that what we accepted as "standard operating procedure" in the family would one day make the national news as unacceptable behavior, and possibly the ruin of a multimillion dollar career. I celebrate the fact that our society is much more aware of the dangers of child abuse and child endangerment. 

None of the foregoing takes away from the good memories I have of my grandparents Leroy and Nola Shannon Gower, who were married 93 years ago this month. I celebrate their lives and the values they instilled in us, even as those values are adjusted in this 21st century. 

Babies Are Ready To Arrive. Today, September 23, is the day two different women in our family are expecting to give birth. Rachel in Washington and Lyndsey in Texas. I just saw the news on Facebook (late Monday evening) via Lyndsey's aunt Kelly Sauvage that "Karver Ryan is finally here!" Best wishes to Lyndsey and father Colton. Grandma Kerri Aquiningoc says that he is 8lbs 2 oz. and that baby and moma are doing good.
- - - 
Steve Shepard

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Good News From a Tragic Tale, Sept 16, 2014

You are no longer strangers and aliens,
but members of the household of God.
~Paul (Eph. 2.19)

In this post I want to follow up on my last two posts and share the good news from the sordid, tragic tale of an unwanted stepchild and her thoughtless parents. The only child of my GG Grandmother Roena Norton (1840-?) was Finetta Dearien Shannon (1861-1960). As unfairly as Roena and Finetta were treated by their own family, there was redemption in this unfortunate story.

Roena and Finetta, Part III. Roena's daughter Finetta was born March 14, 1861. In her infancy she suffered the loss of her young mother, probably at the hands of Finetta's father Augustus Dearien. Finetta was raised in the home of her father and her grandmother Elizabeth, in Sylmore Township, 10 miles west of Mountain View, Arkansas. This family appears in both the 1870 and 1880 US Census for Sylamore. The Census records also show the two biological children of Augustus and Elizabeth: David Dearien, born 1849, and Mary E. Dearien, born 1854.

In both Census records there are strong indications that the Deariens did not want to acknowledge their offspring Finetta as part of their family. Truth be told, Augustus and Elizabeth must have been in a quandry as to what to say about young Finetta, who was the daughter of Augustus' stepchild Roena Norton. In the 1870 Census 8 year old Finetta is listed as a Dearien, but her actual first name Finetta is not listed. Instead she is reported to have the first name Mitchell, which, interestingly, was Finetta's grandmother's maiden name. It is hard to decipher what was going on here. Were the Census takers simply mistaken, getting vague or misleading information from the family? One can certainly imagine the Deariens not being very forthcoming about this child of an abusive, incestuous stepfather.

10 years later, in 1880, the Deariens have to deal with those pesky Census takers again. This time the Deariens do report Finetta's actual first name, but they say that her last name is Mitchell. (This illustrates the problem with lying and deceiving -- it is hard to keep the story straight.) And, as I mentioned in my previous post, the Deariens don't claim the now 19 year old Finetta as their own, but report that she is just a "boarder" in their house, suggesting that she is not a member of their family.

Finetta received a bum deal in many ways in her early life. Fathered by her mother's stepfather, her mother was cruelly taken from her and disappeared when Finetta was just a baby. Then her parents refuse to claim her, giving her a various assortment of names and descriptions in a pathetic attempt to distance themselves from her. Today there are some legal protections for children treated so poorly, but in the hill country of mid-19th century Arkansas, children were often at the mercy of parents like the Deariens.

The Dramatic Change of 1881. After being treated so badly by her father and grandmother, who dealt with their own guilt and shame by refusing to claim her as their own, things changed dramatically for Finetta in 1881. At 19 years old Finetta and a 21 year old neighbor named Samuel Pickens Shannon claim each other. On January 14 they were united in marriage in Timbo, Arkansas. Finally she is free from a family that doesn't want her, and has a family where she belongs, a family of her own making, a family that she and Sam lovingly create.

Between 1882 and 1903 Sam and Finetta brought 9 children into the world, establishing a large household that reflected their honest, caring approach to life. My grandmother Nola Agnes Shannon (1903-2004) was the last of those 9 children. (See second picture, from around 1930, of young Nola Shannon Gower on the left next to mother Finetta and 2 other daughters).

I knew Nola for the last 56 years of her life. The way she spoke of her family of origin suggests that they were decent, loving people. They had their tough times, of course. Nola was always clear about that. But if my grandmother's comments were any indication, Sam and Finetta produced a family of love and respect. It was a far cry from the dysfunction of the home of Augustus and Elizabeth Dearien.

How did Finetta respond to the gross mistreatment of her and her mother Roena by their own family? In the best way she knew how. By creating a warm, loving, respectful family of her own, a family based on trust and honesty, not abuse and deception. For Finetta, there could be no greater act of redemption.

Elizabeth Mitchell Dearien, Finetta's grandmother who raised her, died October 3, 1881, 9 months after Sam and Finetta were married. See first picture (above) of the grave of A. M. (Augustus Marvin) Dearien and L.L. (Liza Lucinda) Dearien in Blue Mountain Cemetery, Timbo, Arkansas.

Elizabeth (Liza) did not live long enough to see the birth of Mary Ann Shannon, the firstborn child of Sam and Finetta in February, 1882. Augustus did however. He lived until 1900, and saw all but one of the 9 children of Sam and Finetta come into the world (see third picture from 1946 of Finetta Dearien Shannon, right, with oldest daughter Mary Ann Shannon Everidge, and grandson Earnest Everidge). The creation of a large, wholesome family was the best response that could be made to the cruel treatment of the Deariens. Surely the blood of Roena cries from the earth uttering sounds of satisfaction.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Without a Trace, Sept 9, 2014

No one escapes some degree of chaos... 
We can accept our state of chaos, 
lighten up on ourselves, have fun,
and work on improving… 
we are a work in progress. 
~David Earle 

Today is my birthday. As I reach 66, I am more grateful than ever before for the family I have. For my parents and my siblings, for my wife Cindy and our son Nathan, and for his wife and children who have been a blessing beyond compare. The first picture
shows me with our 3 grandchildren, Preslea, William and Logan Shepard. This picture was taken by Cindy just a couple of days ago.

This Friday, Sept 12, is the birthday of Kelly Shepard Sauvage, one of my 8 Texas nieces. My brother Gary has two daughters, two granddaughters, and one great granddaughter living in Weatherford, Texas or thereabouts. And my brother-by-another-mother Jerry Clark -- a Lubbock Texan himself -- has 3 daughters living in the Lone Star State. You can say it's a reach, but I say they are all my nieces. It's MY birthday and I'll reach if I want to.

So Happy Birthday to niece Kelly! She and husband James Sauvage, who have lived in Weatherford, Texas now for 14 years, are the proud parents of Nate and Kyle.
The second picture, taken this summer in San Antonio, shows Kelly with her boys Kyle and Nate.

The Story of Roena, Part 2. In my last post I mentioned some new information that I recently discovered about Kelly's GGG grandmother Roena Norton, a young woman whose stepfather was the father of Roena's only child Finetta Dearien Shannon. In this post I want to follow up with some more thoughts about Roena's life story.

Without a Trace. Roena disappeared without a trace after her daughter Finetta was born, while her stepfather Augustus Dearien has left quite an impressive genealogical footprint. He shows up in all the available Census records between 1850 and his death in 1900. There are military records to show he served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. There are records of his marriage to my GGG grandmother Elizabeth Mitchell, then later in his life to another woman named Marilla McDonald. There are also federal documents to indicate he owned 120 acres that he homesteaded in Stone County, Arkansas. And you can visit online or in person Stone County's Blue Mountain Cemetery where he is buried. (See picture.) We know much about Augustus Dearien and the 86 years he lived.

In contrast, the historical record for Roena Norton, in Stone County, Arkansas or anywhere else, is stone silent. Family tradition has it that her stepfather Augustus Dearien was responsible for her disappearance without a trace after baby Finetta was born. But how did one get rid of an unwanted 21 year old stepdaughter in 1861 in the backwoods of the Ozark Mountains? Murder her? Send her off and make her change her name? Sell her like a slave to some out-of-town buyer? 

Augustus Dearien was born and raised in Amelia County, Virginia in a slave owning family. He knew well what it was like to treat people like merchandise. He may have even had some experience in getting rid of an unwanted family member.

A Hateful and Violent Time. Here's an interesting historical note: Almost 20 years after Roena's disappearance, the 1880 US Census lists Augustus Dearien and his wife Elizabeth (Roena's mother), along with Roena's daughter Finetta. It is to their credit that Finetta is even a part of their household. After all, about the only thing worse than being an unwanted stepchild, is being the illegitimate daughter of that unwanted stepchild. And that is what Finetta was. In the 1880 Census, she is not listed as a daughter or granddaughter. Instead they report that Finetta's last name is Mitchell, and that she is a "boarder" in their home. Even though she is Augustus' daughter (albeit illegitimately), and Elizabeth's biological granddaughter, they could not bring themselves to acknowledge her to the Census takers as their own kin. What kind of people were these? The way they viewed Roena's daughter Finetta gives us some insight into why they treated Roena as they did.

Another interesting historical note: The following information from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, gives us an indication of what it was like in Northern Arkansas at this time. Many men from Sylamore Township (where the Deariens lived), went to serve in the Confederate Army. But many others did not want to get involved. In 1862 a "Peace Society" was organized in Sylamore, made up of about 75 men who refused to serve on either side. The Confederate authorities arrived on the scene, took them all away in chains to Little Rock, and gave them the option of either serving for the Confederacy in the war or being shot. All but 2 chose to serve.

Roena and her family lived in a hateful and violent time when families and communities were torn apart. As unfair as it may have been, it seems likely that GG grandmother Roena, the unwanted stepchild, met a tragic end at just 21 years old. Used and abused by her stepfather, she disappeared without a trace and probably died not long after her daughter Finetta was born in 1861.

What exactly transpired we may never know. We can only hope that other historical data will turn up one day with clues as to what happened to this ill fated young woman Roena Norton. 
In my next post: some good news from this sordid, tragic tale. 
- - -
Steve Shepard

Friday, September 05, 2014

New Light On An Old Story, September 5, 2014

A family can be
the bane of one's existence.
A family can also be
most of the meaning
of one's existence.
~Keri Hulme

One of the more intriguing people in our family tree is Roena Norton, the grandmother of my grandmother Nola Shannon Gower. Here is a lineage from Roena's parents Andy and Elizabeth Norton to my grandson William Shepard, one of Roena's youngest descendants:
  • Andy Norton (1820-?) married to Elizabeth Mitchell Norton (1820-?)
  • Roena Norton (1840-?) who had Finetta by A. M. Dearien (1814-1900)
  • Finetta Dearien Shannon (1861-1960) married to Samuel Shannon (1858-1930)
  • Nola Shannon Gower (1903-2004) married to Leroy Gower (1899-1974)
  • Maida Gower Shepard (b. 1924) married to Eugene Shepard (1921-2003)
  • Steve Shepard (b. 1948) married to Cindy Harris Shepard (b. 1948)
  • Nathan Shepard (b. 1977) married to Chenda Sou Shepard (b. 1980)
  • William Q. Shepard (b. 2012)
The last 6 of the 8 consecutive generations listed above are pictured below. Unfortunately no pictures exist of either Roena or her parents. Starting in the upper left are William Shepard, Nathan Shepard, me, Maida Gower Shepard, Nola Shannon Gower and Finetta Dearien Shannon.

New Light On An Old Story. Roena's life story, and especially that of her daughter Finetta Dearien, I have mentioned numerous times in this blog. Their story is as tragic as it is complicated. The father of Roena's only child, Finetta, was her stepfather Augustus Dearien (1814-1900). For all the years I have been doing family research, my only source of information about Roena has been family tradition. Recently, however, it has come to light that she appears in the 1860 U.S Census, the first tangible historical evidence for her.

Part of the reason that this record has not been available before, is the fact that her name is listed as Roena Derrin. Her birth parents were Andy Norton and his wife Elizabeth Mitchell Norton. "Derrin" was not Roena's birth name, but a misspelling of the last name of her stepfather Augustus Dearien, who was her mother's second husband, and in whose household Roena spent much of her youth. 

There are numerous Arkansas records in which Augustus Dearien's name appears: Census records, Land Grant documents, military records, and his grave in Blue Mountain Cemetery in Timbo, Arkansas. In these records his last name is spelled various ways, including Dearen, Darien, Dearien, as well as Derrin. 

Because he fathered a child by his step daughter Roena, A.M. Dearien has become a despised person to many of his descendants. Ironically there are numerous records showing him in Stone County and elsewhere throughout his long life, while his step-daughter Roena Norton seems to have disappeared without a trace after she gave birth to Finetta in 1861. 

The Value of the 1860 Census. All this makes Roena's appearance in the 1860 U.S. Census records so valuable. They provide us with some important information about her. I had been under the impression that Roena was a school girl in her middle teens in March, 1861 when she gave birth to her daughter Finetta by her stepfather. In previous blog posts I have even written as much. But the 1860 Census lists her as 20 years old in September, 1860, meaning that she was 20 or 21 when her daughter Finetta was born.

The Census also shows that the Dearien's home was in the township of Richwoods, in the hills a few miles south of what would become Mountain View, Arkansas. In 1860 unincorporated Mountain View was little more than a busy crossroads populated by a few hundred hearty souls. The Richwoods township, a few miles from Mountain View, must have been very remote. 

The Census takers recorded that Augustus and Elizabeth Derrin (Dearien) had 3 children: 6 year old Mary Derrin, 11 year old David Derrin, and 20 year old Roena Derrin. Since we know that Finetta was born in March, 1861, Roena was 3 months pregnant at the time of the Census, September, 1860. It is possible that when the Census takers visited the home, the parents felt the need to "add a few years" to Roena's actual age because of her pregnancy. But this is speculation on my part, based on the fact that these were the remote backwoods of sparsely populated pre-Civil War Arkansas. Until such time as other reliable information turns up regarding the specifics of Roena, we should trust the accuracy of these Census records.

I will share more in my next post regarding Augustus Dearien, his step daughter Roena, and her disappearance without a trace.
- - -
Steve Shepard