Tuesday, July 10, 2018

All American Owens Heritage, July 10, 2018

To forget one’s ancestors
is to be a brook without a source,
a tree without a root.
~Chinese Proverb

Elvira Owens Shepard and her Owens Heritage. The first of July was the 155th anniversary of the birth of my Great Grandmother Elvira Owens Shepard (1863-1931). She was the wife of William Elmer Shepard (1862-1915).  Elvira has always held special interest for me because she is the connection to our Owens family heritage. My Great Grandfather William Elmer Shepard had run away from his Indiana home as a teen in the 1880s and started a new life in Southwest Illinois. That's where he met Elvira. After marrying her in 1886 and having two children with her (Sadie and William), this young family moved westward and settled in Beaver County, Oklahoma in 1905. Some of their descendants eventually made it all the way to California and settled in San Diego, where a few of their descendants live to this day.

Elvira Owens Shepard 
with grandchildren Elmer and Pauline Shepard
about 1919 in Oklahoma 
Because of Elvira we have Owens roots that can be traced back to the very beginning of our nation. Her Great Grandfather Edmond Owens Sr. (1762-1821), was from rural Sussex County, Virginia and was a young teen when the USA came into being in 1776.

Elvira's Grandfather Edmond Owens Jr. (1795-1864) was actually born in South Carolina after his family had moved there from Virginia. But the Owenses were not in South Carolina very long. With his wife Sara Rives, Edmond Jr. migrated farther west to Davidson County, Tennessee where their son Payton Owens (1826-1872) was born. Payton moved on westward to Illinois as a young man. When just 19 he married another teenager Mary Wheeless in Washington County, Illinois, not far from Saint Louis. In 1865, near the end of the Civil War, Payton and Mary, living in Madison County, Illinois, gave birth to my Great Grandmother Elvira, the 7th of their 8 children.

So our Owens roots trace from Sussex County, Virginia to South Carolina to Davidson County, Tennessee to Madison County, Illinois. That's where Elvira Owen married my Great Grandfather William Elmer Shepard.

Edmond Owens Jr. about 1850
Edmond Owens Jr. One of the most colorful characters in this Owens history was GGG Grandfather Edmond Owens Jr. As a child, he had moved with his parents from North Carolina to Davidson County, Tennessee, where his parents became farmers. Edmond was still a teen when war broke out again with Great Britain. Edmond was one of the first to enlist for the American cause, just like his Grandfather Benjamin Owens, who served under Frances Marion, “The Swamp Fox”, during the Revolutionary War.

Edmond was part of the Western Tennessee Militia in this second War with Great Britain, also known as the War of 1812. He fought with Andrew Jackson in the famous Battle of New Orleans in January, 1815. He was part of a very diverse group of American soldiers who served together: Tennessee farmers, former Haitian slaves, frontiersmen, outlaws and pirates.

When Edmond and his ragtag group of soldiers first arrived in New Orleans to fight with Andrew Jackson, they did not make a good impression. They were not trained soldiers. They were pioneers and farmers. They wore woolen hunting shirts and dyed pantaloons, raccoon skin caps, and belts of untanned deerskin with hunting knives and tomahawks. They had long unkempt hair and were unshaven. They might be right at home in New Orleans today, but 200 years ago they would have appeared undisciplined and unfit to take on the invaders from across the Atlantic. The second picture of this post shows Edmond Owens later in life, probably about 1850, looking much neater and cleaner than in those earlier days of battle when fighting the British. 

Edmond Owens Land Grant, 1851
(click on picture for larger view)
Regardless of their appearance Edmond and his comrades routed the British in 1815. One eye witness officer said, "the redcoats fell like blades of grass beneath the scythe." Their victory was a huge boost to the morale of the still young United States. Edmond and the other Tennessee Volunteers became legendary for their service to their county. After the war, Edmond Owens Jr. and his family yielded to call of the American frontier. They left Tennessee in 1838 and settled 300 miles northwest, in Madison County, Illinois, where he received a land grant in 1851 for his service with the West Tennessee Militia (see image).

We are indebted to Great Grandmother Elvira Owens Shepard for this Owens heritage that we can be proud of. They are one more part of the great American tapestry that is the history of our family.

Remembering Paula Harris. I mentioned in my last post that my mother in law Paula Harris passed away in early June. Select this link to view a video that honors her life and family. This was part of the Memorial Service we had for her on June 23. We are grateful to God for the wonderful life of Paula Harris (1923-2018).
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Steve Shepard