Friday, March 03, 2017

The Runaway, March 2, 2017

Peace is not absence of conflict,
it is the ability to handle conflict
by peaceful means.
~Ronald Reagan

Happy Birthday Kerri! Today is the birthday of Kerri Shepard Aquiningoc of Weatherford, Texas. Kerri is the oldest child of my brother Gary Shepard and Jackie Enderle Perry. Kerri was the first grandchild of my parents Eugene and Maida Shepard. I still remember what a joy it was for my parents when Kerri was born. She actually came into the world in Walled Lake, Michigan where her parents were living at the time. But within months they moved back to San Diego where Kerri was raised. Kerri has two daughters, Lyndsey and Mandi, and two grandchildren, Kambree and Karver. Best wishes to Kerri as she enters the last year of her 40s! 

Lyndsey and Kerri Aquiningoc
The first picture shows Kerri Aquiningoc with her older daughter Lyndsey.

We've been having an unsettling family squabble in the Northwestern part of the family these days. As a result I have been thinking about other times when there was conflict in our family. In my lifetime we have been, for the most part, free from the kind of conflict that is troubling us today. And for that we can be grateful. But looking at the larger historical picture of our family there have been some doozies over the years when it come to squabbles in our midst. 

The Runaway William Elmer. We have clear evidence of a serious family conflict that took place over a century ago, during the years following the Civil War. It was more painful and destructive of our Shepard family back then than what we are dealing with now. 

My Great Great Grandfather William Shepard died in the Civil War in 1862, leaving a grief stricken wife Mary Shepard, and two young sons, Frank and William Elmer, both in diapers. Just three years later the widow Mary married a widower living in Montgomery County, Indiana. Her second husband was William Ragsdale, who was 23 older than her, and already had 9 children. Into that family Mary brought her two young sons who were just 3 and 4 years old. In the ensuing years she gave birth to three more children by Mr. Ragsdale. Frank and William Elmer Shepard were raised in the household of this blended family, but when they became teens conflict arose. Before even reaching adulthood William Elmer ran away from home never to return. 

We don't know the details of the problems that lead to William Elmer breaking the family apart. We do know that it was a difficult time socially and economically in the rebuilding years following the Civil War. We also know that it was challenging family to begin with: 14 total children from two different marriages, spread out over 35 years. Frank and William Elmer were the only two of those 14 who were not fathered by Mr. Ragsdale and therefore did not have his name. The grieving widow Mary Shepard was alone with her two baby sons after her husband died. When she married Mr. Ragsdale she was suddenly the mother of 9 other children, and in the following years she was pregnant three more times. Imagine the stress of that blended family situation! It must have been incredibly intense and difficult for her.

Bura and William Shepard, William Elmer's son

The family story my father told me was that William Elmer could not get along with his step father and felt the need to leave and stay away for the rest of his life. It is interesting to note that the teen William Elmer also had his differences with his own brother Frank, who chose the spelling "Shepherd" for his last name, while William Elmer chose the spelling "Shepard", which we all have unquestioningly used ever since the young man William Elmer separated from his Indiana family.

Mary Shepard Ragsdale outlived her runaway son William Elmer Shepard, who died in Beaver County, Oklahoma in 1915 at just 53 years old. She died in 1919 at 79 years old, in Indianapolis, Indiana where she lived the last 20 years of her life. Tragically there is no evidence they ever reunited after their separation in about 1880.

Family squabbles can lead to great heartbreak that lasts for many years. The fact of the matter is that families have long memories. Serious conflict is remembered for generations because of how much pain it brings. Here I am, almost 140 years later, recalling a conflicted family incident from the 19th century! Memories of this painful incident have been passed down all these years. 

Will we ever learn?

- - -
Steve Shepard

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