Sunday, November 18, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving! November 18, 2018

Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~G.K. Chesterton

Happy Thanksgiving! On this week of Thanksgiving I want to say how grateful I am to all of you who are readers of The Shepard's Crook. Researching our family history and sharing my findings in this blog has been a very enjoyable endeavor for the past 11 years. It has provided insights into our family history that I never thought possible. I have learned about ancestors, especially from pre-Civil War times, who were unknown to my parents and my grandparents. More than once I have wished I had known this or that about our heritage while my father or my grandparents were still alive. And amazing discoveries continue to be made. Some have reflected negatively upon our family. But more often they have been pleasant and have been cause for celebrating those who went before us.

So thanks to all of you who read this blog and who are willing to journey with me in the discovery of ancestors. Some have been lost to history for many years, but thanks to the advances in genealogical research their stories are now available. I appreciate all of you who have shown an interest in The Shepard's Crook and wish you all the very best for Thanksgiving 2018!

One Reader's Response. I received word just last week from one particular reader of The Shepard's Crook who provided me with some significant family information that I never knew about my own Grandfather. She did not give her name but said she was a daughter of my Grandfather Gower's half sister. I never knew Grandpa Gower had any half siblings. But after searching online and following up on the information she gave me, I discovered that Grandpa Gower did most certainly have other siblings. He had three half-siblings who were much younger than him.

George William Gower's rustic grave marker
Highland Cemetery, Okemah, Oklahoma
A Late In Life Marriage. Here's how it all happened: Grandpa Gower's father, George William Gower (1873-1944) had 7 children by my Great Grandmother Serena Elizabeth Turner Gower (1876-1931), my Grandpa Leroy Gower being #3. After his wife Serena died in 1931, Great Grandpa George Gower decided he was not satisfied being a widower so he married a second time late in life. As 59 years old, George was the father of 5 adult children and the grandfather of 5 young children (including my mother Maida Gower). Nonetheless, soon after his wife Serena died, he married a 22 year old young woman named Phoebe Edna Root, who was 37 years younger than him.

Now there is some question about the order of events here. The 1930 US Census (see image below) shows that Serena Elizabeth Gower and husband George Gower were still living on the family farm in Morse, Oklahoma, about 80 miles east of Oklahoma City. Morse was a small farming community a few miles north of Okemah in Okfuskee County. Death records show that Serena died the next year on May 15, 1931. But George and young Edna's first child was born in 1929, which is something of an embarrassing anomaly. It appears that Great Grandpa Gower got started on his second family a little early. I won't try to guess at how to explain that. There may be a number of different factors to consider. But it nevertheless is a bit disconcerting.
Snippet from the 1930 US Census for Morse Township, Oklahoma
With young Phoebe Edna, the elder George Gower had three children: George Wayne, Georgia Lou and Gary Dale, all three of whom were therefore half siblings of my grandfather Leroy Gower, who was 40 years older than the youngest of the three. So in the 1930s as Great Grandpa George entered his 60s he was once again a father of youngsters as he and young Edna raised this second set of children on the farm in rural Okfuskee County, Oklahoma. George lived until 1944 when he passed away at the age of 70. He left a young widow in her 30s with three children who were 14, 10 and 5 years old.

Grave of Serena Elizabeth Gower (1876-1931)
Highland Cemetery, Okemah, Oklahoma

A Visit to Highland Cemetery. When my mother and I visited Okemah, Oklahoma a few years ago, we went to the grave of her Grandfather George William Gower. We were surprised at the rustic headstone which marks the place where he lay in Highland Cemetery just northeast of Okemah. His marker is just a flat slab of rock with no words on it at all, just the letter "G" scratched on it, almost haphazardly. I could not imagine a more basic, unadorned, carelessly crafted headstone. Sadly it seems that whoever was responsible for his burial was unwilling to make arrangements for anything other than the simplest stone imaginable. One can only wonder why.

On the other hand, only a few feet away from his grave is the marker for his first wife Serena Elizabeth Gower, whose headstone is more elaborate by comparison. It is not ornate certainly, but at least a modicum of care was taken in purchasing a fitting marker for this beloved lady who died at just 54 years old.

This may not be the most uplifting family story, but it is one more reminder to be thankful for all the ancestors who went before us, the saints and the sinners. They were a mixed bag of individuals who faced a variety of difficulties and sought to make the best of what life brought them. 
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Steve Shepard

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Contrasting Lives, November 8, 2018

Families are the compass that guides us.
They are the inspiration to reach great heights,
and our comfort when we occasionally falter.
~Brad Henry

This post concerns two people in our family tree who lived about the same time, but whose lives could not have been more different.

Bura Davis Shepard and daughter Thelma, about 1941
Bura Davis Shepard (1896-1986). Today is the 122nd anniversary of the birth of my Grandmother Bura Davis Shepard. She was born November 8, 1896 outside Spencer, Indiana. She was raised in Owen County, Indiana but as a teenager was a part of the migration of several Davis family members from Indiana to Oklahoma in the early years of the 20th century. At just 18 years old she married William Shepard in Beaver County, Oklahoma in 1915. In 1928 they moved with three of their four children to Southeast Colorado where they struggled for 12 years to survive the dust bowl era. Life became so difficult in the small town of Two Buttes, Colorado that they moved on to San Diego in September, 1940. They lived in Southern California for most of the rest of their lives, benefitting from the economic boon of the post war years, and enjoying their extended family, including all 12 of their grandchildren.

This first picture shows Bura with their youngest daughter Thelma in the early 1940s, not long after they moved to San Diego.

Bura was a devout Christian and a faithful member of the Church of Christ all her life. Her father's Davis roots and her mother's Spear roots both went back to Southeastern Ohio and the very beginning of the "Restoration Movement" in the early 19th century. At the same time she proudly shared her commitment to the Church with her descendants, many of whom have continued with that same Church affiliation to this day. Bura was a small woman with a big heart and a great love for God. She will be forever loved and respected by those who knew her. She and husband William are buried in San Diego's Greenwood Cemetery alongside a dozen or so other family members.

Edgar Lee Vessels (1910-1972). In contrast to the beautiful life of Bura Davis Shepard, one of the more infamous people in our family tree is a fellow from the early 20th century named Edgar Lee Vessels. His life story is as tragic as it is horrifying. Ironically he was a grandchild of perhaps the most famously named member of our larger family, Julius Caesar Vessels (1842-1928), who is Cindy's GG Grandfather.

Edgar Lee Vessels was born in Parker, Texas May 28, 1910, into the farming family of Claude and Minnie Vessels. At 18 years old he married Vivian Brashears who was from the small town of Terral in the southern part of Oklahoma along the Red River. That is where Edgar and Vivian lived and raised their 3 children and where Edgar was a truck driver. As a married father of 3 teenagers, in 1951 at just 41 years old, his life was forever changed. He was convicted of murder in Henrietta, Texas and sent to Huntsville Prison in South Texas to serve a sentence ranging from 2 years to life.


I am not aware of the details of his crime. His prison record shows that he was convicted in October, 1951, then served 17 years in prison before being paroled in 1968. In 1970 he was given a full pardon. Two other bits of important personal information are found in his prison record. First, he had an unrepaired cleft palate, which he had to live with his entire life. And second, he was unable to read or write, having spent just 2 years in school as a child. The poor guy had a serious physical problem, a cleft palate, that brought with it a speech impediment which probably created psychological issues that must have contributed to his other difficulties in life. Besides that he was illiterate, which would have made his life even more difficult. 

Ida Lee Jacobson Vessels, about 1967

Curiously, w
hile he was serving his prison sentence he married for a second time. Presumably his first wife Vivian, the mother of his three children, had divorced him while he was incarcerated. So in the summer of 1967, after 16 years in prison and just a year before being paroled, Edgar married Ida Lee Jacobson, a woman from the area not far from the prison (see second picture). Could his marriage to a local woman have been a contributing factor in his being paroled and released into the community? 


After being released from prison, Edgar and his wife Ida Lee lived in Brazoria County on the Texas Gulf Coast, not far from Ida Lee's home. On the morning of Feb 22, 1971 just a year after being given a full pardon, Edgar and his wife Ida Lee were found dead on the side of Hwy 288 just south of Angleton, Texas. Edgar's death certificate says he died of "two self inflicted .22 caliber gunshot wounds in the head." Ida Lee's death certificate says that she also died of "two .22 caliber gunshot wounds in the head," and that she also had a gunshot wound in her shoulder. Her death certificate further says "gunshot wound inflicted by husband." 


A few questions come to mind. How could Edgar have shot himself twice in the head? It is not possible. If there were no witnesses, how can one say he killed his wife? Even after nearly 50 years, this seems to be a cold case that needs reinvestigating. Regardless, Edgar's life and death were filled with sadness and tragedy. I call him an infamous character in our family tree, but that only begins to tell the story of this ill fated ancestor. 

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Steve Shepard