Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year's Eve, December 31, 2018

The best is yet to be.
~Robert Browning

As we find ourselves on the cusp of 2019 it is a time to be grateful for all the experiences of the past year, the joyful and the sobering, the uplifting and the humbling. I am most thankful for the joy of family and friends. I am grateful for the blessing of being able to celebrate my mother's 94th birthday with her in November. In June we said goodbye to Cindy's mother Paula Harris. As we celebrated her 95 years we gave great thanks for a life well lived.

Cindy and I also give great thanks for Nathan and our three grandchildren and for all the children in our larger family, who bless us with their energy, innocence, intelligence and hope for the future. I am deeply appreciative of all of you readers of the Shepard's Crook, friends and family, many of whom we don't get to see often enough. Even so, all of you are to be thanked for your support of our family and your place in this great enterprise of being a family circle.

William Shepard with daughter Thelma
about 1940
Remembering William Shepard (1888-1976). I cannot let this month of December pass without remembering my Grandfather William Shepard. Christmas Day this past week was the 130th anniversary of his birth in Alton, Illinois. He was born in that small town on the banks of the Mississippi River across from St. Louis, Missouri. It was there that he spent the first 16 years of his life, where his values were formed and his dreams for the future took shape. The child of William Elmer Shepard and Elvira Owens Shepard, he had one sister, Sadie Shepard Pruett. The four of them migrated to Beaver County, Oklahoma in 1905 which is where William encountered the James Brooks Davis family. In 1915 William married the oldest child of that family, the teenager Bura Davis, and with her had four children, the third of whom was my father. Their youngest child Thelma Shepard Boyd is the last remaining member of William and Bura's original family. The first picture I am including today shows my Grandfather Shepard with daughter Thelma. It was taken just about the time they moved to San Diego in 1940.

Granddad William has been gone for over 40 years but the impact of him and Grandmother Bura Shepard is still keenly felt by those of us whose lives they touched. I live in constant gratitude for my grandparents, the lives they lived and the values they gave us.

In the last two years I have learned more about the Shepard ancestors of Granddad than ever before. He has come to my mind a number of times recently as I have discovered much about his pre-Civil War relatives from Belmont County, Ohio. Many of them are people he probably never knew, people about whom I would have cherished the opportunity to share with him.

Darrell and Mary Shepard, 1984
with Grandmother Bura Davis Shepard
Happy Anniversary, Darrell and Mary! Today, New Years Eve, my brother Darrell Shepard and his wife Mary Medina Shepard are celebrating 36 years of marriage. They were married on the last day of 1982 while they were students at Abilene Christian University. They live today in Monroe, Washington, north of Seattle. Their home is not far from their 3 children and their 4 Grandchildren. Best Wishes to Mary and Darrell for a wonderful anniversary!

Remembering Ron Gibbs. I mentioned several weeks ago that I had reconnected with Ron Gibbs, an old family friend from years ago. The Gibbs and the Shepard families go way back nearly a century, from their time in San Diego, then Southeast Colorado and Beaver County, Oklahoma before that. Just this fall I had written about the long friendship of these two families. Ron's brother Steve, who lives in Valley Center, north of San Diego, notified me recently that Ron passed away of a heart attack in Searcy, Arkansas just a week before Christmas. Our condolences and best wishes are extended to Ron's entire family.

The very best to all of you for a happy and prosperous new year in 2019!
- - -
Steve Shepard

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A 50th Anniversary Celebration, December 27, 2018

The best and most beautiful things in the world
cannot be seen or even touched.
They must be felt with the heart.
~Helen Keller

Today Cindy and I are celebrating 50 years of marriage! We were married on a Friday evening, two days after Christmas in 1968 with a couple hundred people in attendance. We chose the La Mesa Church of Christ as the site for the event. It was a new church building and very accessible to all those who would be attending. At the time I was a student at Abilene Christian and had come home for the Christmas Holidays to get married. That fall Cindy had taken a break from her college education to stay home and prepare for the wedding. We were both 20 years old and ready to face the world together.

Our Wedding Party, December 27, 1968
The La Mesa Church of Christ
The Wedding Party. The wedding party included two of my siblings, my brother Gary and sister Linda, as well as Cindy's brother Joe Paul and two of her cousins, Gloria Weston and Malacha Whitmore. Also standing on the chancel with us were friends Pam Henderson, Connie Cleland, Dan Frost and Jim and Tim Deveny. Also in attendance were an assortment of Harris and Shepard friends and family, including many church friends who meant so much to us. Leading the service was Edwin Kilpatrick, the minister of the Linda Vista Church of Christ where my family attended for many years. Edwin was my second cousin and a very good friend and mentor. 

Cutting the Cake, Dec 27, 1968
Our First Home. After the wedding we enjoyed a simple punch and cake reception in the church basement. When the church festivities were concluded we made our getaway and drove to Laguna Beach in Orange County where we honeymooned for a few days. We took in such well known sites as the world famous Knotts Berry Farm (woo-hoo!). After the first of the year we made our way back to Abilene Christian to attend college. Our first home was in one of the "Witts Apartments" across the street from the school. We lived there for the next 18 months until I graduated from ACU and we moved back to California in 1970.

On the occasion of this anniversary it is a moment to remember the various places we have lived, the people who have been our friends, and the experiences that have made us who we are today. The journey has taken us from the hectic pace of life in the Greater LA area, to the San Francisco Peninsula, to the serenity of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and finally back to San Diego where it all began for us. The experiences have been many and varied and the lessons have taught us much.

Cindy and me in front of the Waiola Church, 
Lahaina, Hawaii, Dec. 27, 2018
The Love That Brought Us Together. Today we are thrilled to be retired and enjoying life as much as ever. It is a rich blessing to be living close to our son Nathan and his children Preslea, Logan and William, and to share life with them. We look forward to whatever is yet to be. We know that the love that brought us together in the first place will carry us through whatever the future holds. Thanks to all of you who have shared your lives with us in so many meaningful ways over the years.

This week we are celebrating our 50th anniversary with our family on the island of Maui, Hawaii. Among the activities of this week was a 50th Anniversary Renewal Service at the Waiola Church in Lahaina that occurred earlier today. Presiding was Rev. Anela Rosa, minister of the Church. It was a sacred event, the perfect complement to all the activities of this holiday week.

This third picture was taken by our son Nathan in front of the Church where we had the renewal service earlier this evening. Down in front of us are our three grandchildren: Logan on the left, William on the right, and, barely visible behind William, is Preslea in a red dress with yellow flowers in her hair.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Amazing Anniversaries, December 12, 2018

Marriage is a coming together
for better or for worse,
hopefully enduring,
and intimate to the degree of being sacred.
~William O. Douglas

Celebrating 50 Years. This month is the occasion of Cindy's and my 50th wedding anniversary. It is a pretty awesome milestone. We are both glad to still be around, and to have great family, and to still be in good health. On the other hand, any kind of 50th celebration is humbling. You cannot celebrate 50 years of anything without being forced to ponder one's mortality. Whether it is a 50th birthday, a 50th High School reunion, a 50 year friendship, a 50th year in a particular house, or a 50th wedding anniversary. Even so, we can't help but approach this 50th remembrance in a spirit of celebration. 

Another Anniversary. Our anniversary gets put in perspective when we consider another milestone wedding anniversary occurring this month. Today, December 12, is the 360th Anniversary of my 10X Great Grandparents, Laurens Van Buskirk (1630-1694) and his wife Janettje Jans Van Buskirk (1629-1694). Church records show that these two Dutch immigrants were married on this day in 1658 in the Dutch Reformed Church of New Amsterdam, which is now New York City. 

It is rare to find a clear line of ancestors who lived so long ago, which is part of what makes these ancestors so unique. They are among the founding families of New Jersey. "The Descendants of the Founders of New Jersey" is a group open to anyone who can document that they are descended from one of the founders. Their website lists Laurens and Janettje Van Buskirk among the list of founders. 

Laurens and Jannetje are related to us through my Grandmother Bura Davis Shepard, whose Great Grandmother was Jane Buskirk Davis. Jane was a 5X Great Granddaughter of Laurens and Jannetje Van Buskirk. Laurens was originally from Holstein, Denmark and migrated across the Atlantic in 1655 when he was 25. Jannetje was originally from Noord-Holland, Netherlands and had migrated a few years earlier. 

Laurens and Jannetje did not know each other before coming to America. The story of how they met is an interesting one. It is found in the online cemetery record for the now defunct Van Buskirk Cemetery in New Amsterdam (New York) where they were both buried in 1694.

A Match Making Orphan Master. In July of 1658, the director of an orphanage in New Amsterdam asked Laurens to visit a widow in South River, Delaware to see if he could help her out in some way. The woman's husband, a Dutch immigrant carpenter named Christian Barentsen Van Horn, had died in a recent epidemic that had decimated their community, and left her with four children. In 1658, a single woman with four mouths to feed faced extreme hardship. It often meant the children had to be placed in an orphanage. Laurens found a way to provide assistance to Jannetje far beyond the expectations of the Orphan Master. Four months after meeting Jannetje, the two of them, with her four children, made their way back to New Amsterdam and were married in a Dutch Reformed Church, with the children becoming part of the newly formed family. 

Original Van Buskirk homestead in New Jersey
The family man Laurens went on to become a successful businessman in this budding community of just a few thousand people in what would eventually become New York City. He became a land owner and a dry goods merchant in New Amsterdam, and went on to live a very productive life, even becoming a judge and a Justice of the Peace. He also was instrumental in the establishment of a Lutheran Church. This second picture shows the original Van Buskirk homestead, which was located on Constable Hook near Bayonne, New Jersey.

The Westward Family Journey Begins. He and Jannetje added four more children to their family in the years after their marriage. In 1688 they relocated to Hackensack, New Jersey where they both lived until their deaths in 1694. Their move to Hackensack was just the beginning of the westward movement of these Van Buskirks. Throughout the 18th century our Van Buskirk ancestors made their way to Bucks County, north of Philadelphia, then on to western Pennsylvania and then to Monroe County in South Eastern Ohio. That is where our ancestor Jane Buskirk was born and where she married Alexander Davis in 1841. By the time Jane was born the family had dropped the "Van" part of their name and they became simply Buskirk. 
Bura Davis Shepard 
with husband William Shepard, about 1950

Alexander Davis and his wife Jane Buskirk Davis were the first of our kinfolk to leave Eastern Ohio and settle in the area around Spencer, Indiana in the middle of the 19th century. Some of their descendants, including my Grandmother Bura Davis Shepard, settled in Beaver County, Oklahoma in the early 20th century. By 1940 others of this family had made their way westward as far as San Diego, California where some their descendants, including my family, still live today.

A Long Journey From East to West. It has been a long journey from New Amsterdam in 1658 to San Diego in 2018; from a young couple marrying in a Dutch Reformed Church on the East Coast to a 50 year anniversary here on the West Coast. The journey encompassed 15 generations of Buskirks, Davises and Shepards. But it is one more part of this grand tale that is our family history.

Here are the specifics of this 15 generation lineage over the last 360 years.
  • Laurens Van Buskirk (1630-1694) - wife Janettje Jans (1629-1694)
  • Thomas Van Buskirk (1668-1748) - wife Margrete Brickers (1668-1719)
  • Johannes Van Buskirk (1694-1747) - wife Marytie Hooglandt (1696-1738)
  • George Van Buskirk (1721-1800) - wife Sarah Ashton (1720-1779)
  • John Van Buskirk (1743-1829) - wife Mary Blackmore (1742-1823) 
  • Samuel Blackmore Buskirk (1765-1847) - wife Charity Ann Foggin (1762-1841)
  • John Foggin Buskirk (1795-1873) - wife Mary Terry (1807-1886)
  • Jane Buskirk Davis (1823-1895) - husband Alexander Davis (1819-1866)
  • Charles Edward Davis (1849-1926) - wife Malinda Wright (1846-1920)
  • James Brooks Davis (1870-1928) - wife Caroline Spear (1865-1951)
  • Bura Davis Shepard (1896-1986) - husband William Shepard (1888-1976)
  • Eugene Shepard (1921-2003) - wife Maida Gower (b. 1924)
  • Steven Shepard (b. 1948) - wife Cindy Harris (b. 1948)
  • Nathan Shepard (b. 1977) - Chenda Sou (b. 1980)
  • William Q. Shepard (b. 2012)
- - -
Steve Shepard

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Three Celebrations, November 29, 2018

We must believe in ourselves
or no one else will believe in us.
~Rosalyn Yalow

Today, November 29, is the birthday of three people in our family, spread out over 6 generations: my cousin Kim Boyd Clark, her grandson Damian Ortiz, and our Great Grandmother Caroline Spear Davis.

Caroline "Callie" Spear Davis (1865-1951) was the mother of my Grandmother Bura Davis Shepard. Callie was born 153 years ago today, in the late fall of 1865 near the town of Spencer in Owen County, Indiana. Callie Spear's kinfolk, like the kinfolk of her husband James Davis, had migrated from Monroe County in Southeastern Ohio to Indiana just before the Civil War. Both the Davises and the Spears were from the same area in Monroe County, Ohio before moving westward.

Caroline Spear Davis at 6 different stages of her life
The Spears and the Davises may have known each other in Ohio before settling in Indiana. What we know for sure is that they were founding members of a little Church of Christ a few miles northwest of Spencer Indiana when that church began in the 1860s. It seems likely the Spears and the Davises brought their Church affiliation with them when they traveled the dusty Cumberland Trail from Ohio to Indiana. In the mid 19th century when they left Ohio, the Spears and the Davises were probably part of the newly formed and rapidly growing Restoration Movement, also known as the Campbell-Stone tradition. It was a religious affiliation that many of us still proudly adhere to, some 150 years later.

No Stranger to Heartbreak. Callie was the 2nd of 9 children and was raised on a farm in rural Owen County, Indiana. Throughout her early years Callie was no stranger to heartbreak. Consider this:
  • One of her sisters, Margaret, died at just a year old when Callie was 9. 
  • Another sister, Nona, also died at just a year old when Callie was 14. 
  • Her youngest sister Effie died of tuberculosis at just 18 years old. 
  • Callie's oldest sibling Isolena was a half-sister who was the child of Callie's namesake aunt Caroline who had died in her early 20s (read more about that sad story here). 
  • To top it all off, Callie's brother Clayton Spear, 5 years younger than her, was a mentally disabled individual for whom Callie took responsibility for many years. 
She had more than her fair share of family sorrow and hardship. And all this happened in the wake of the Civil War, which brought its own pain and heartache to innumerable families. Yet from all indications those experiences deepened Callie's life and did not weaken it. Indeed it made her appreciate her own life and family that much more.

Callie and James. In that rural community outside Spencer, Indiana Callie Spear and close neighbor James Davis struck up a close friendship. It was a relationship that blossomed within the context of the New Union Church of Christ, the little country church to which both their families belonged. On a wintry New Year's Day in 1896 they were married in Owen County, Indiana. Callie was 30 years old at the time, 5 years older than James. Nevertheless in the following 11 years they brought 7 children into the world and created a strong, happy Hoosier family. Those of us who are descendants of Callie and James can consider ourselves fortunate to be their heirs and recipients of the Midwest values that their original family espoused.

Their Migration to Oklahoma. In March, 1913, Callie and James Davis packed up the entire family of 7 kids, left Indiana, and moved westward over 800 miles to Beaver County, in the panhandle of Oklahoma. Several of James' brothers and their families had already relocated to Oklahoma from Indiana. There Callie and James lived out the rest of their lives. James died in 1928, while Callie lived until the summer of 1951. She lived long enough to see all her children grow and have families of their own, and to enjoy her many grandchildren. Callie and James are buried in the Sophia Cemetery close to the family's church, the South Flat Church of Christ, in the small farming community of Sophia, Oklahoma. On this day of remembering her birth, we celebrate this wonderful woman whose life was well lived and whose legacy we gladly claim.

The collage above I put together a few years ago. It shows Callie Spear at 6 different stages of her life. Across the top are three images from the time when she lived in Indiana: in about 1880 as a young woman, in 1896 as a 30 year old bride, and then in 1908 as a mother of 7 children. Across the bottom are three images from when she lived in Oklahoma: in 1922 as a Grandmother with one of her grandchildren Bernard Kilpatrick; in 1936 as a Great Grandmother with one of her great grandchildren Rex Russell; and in 1947 just a few years before the end of her life.

Grandmother Kim Clark with Damian
and Ashlyn, Dominic and Isaac
Happy Birthday Kim Clark! Today is also the birthday of my cousin Kim Boyd Clark, who is one of the 93 great grandchildren (give or take a few) of James and Callie Spear Davis. Kim and husband Jeff Clark, along with Kim's mother Thelma Shepard Boyd, spend a lot of their time these days traveling around the US in their motor home visiting family and enjoying famous sites. Kim was born in San Diego and split her growing up years between San Diego and Gallup, New Mexico.

Happy 12th Birthday Damian Ortiz! And thirdly, today is also the birthday of Kim's grandson Damian Ortiz of El Cajon, California. He is one of the 5 children of Kim's oldest child Jeremy and his wife Desiree.

The second picture was taken this past summer when Kim and husband Jeff and their family were visiting Yellowstone National Park. It shows grandmother Kim in the middle with grandson Damian on the left. Also pictured are three other grandchildren: Ashlyn, Dominic and Isaac Ortiz.
- - -
Steve Shepard

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. 
- - -
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. 

- - -
Steve Shepard

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween 2018, October 31, 2018

Ancestors are important...
Without them we are nothing.
~Hank Ketchum

Greetings to all of you on this spooky week of Halloween! This week when we celebrate the dark, scary side of life, it would seem to be the perfect time for me to continue my series looking at infamous characters of our family tree. But no. Something else will take priority.

Maida Gower Shepard and Eugene Shepard
about 1945
All Saints Day. This is also the week of my mother's birthday. Thursday, November 1 she will turn 94 years old, which makes her the senior member of our family. It has always been the great misfortune of my mother Maida Gower Shepard to have been born the day after Halloween. At least she has expressed that sentiment to me on numerous occasions in years passed. On the other hand, she was born on All Saints' Day. Since my mom has always been a saint in my book, November 1 is the perfect day for her to have been born.

She was born in Stone County, Arkansas, near the town of Mountain View. Her parents Leroy Gower and Nola Shannon Gower were both originally from Sylamore, a community a few miles west of Mountain View. They married in 1921 when Leroy was 22 and Nola had just turned 18. Their firstborn was a son, Hendrix Gower. Then in the fall of 1924 Maida came along. Work was hard to come by for Leroy, so when their daughter Maida was a year old, barely old enough to travel, they moved to Okemah, Oklahoma where Leroy found work and where they lived for 17 years. During that time they added another daughter, Vicki, to their family.

Maida and oldest son Gary Shepard, 2011
In 1942 the Gowers moved to San Diego, which is where Maida met Gene Shepard. In 1945 they married and began a joyful 58 year marriage. San Diego is also where they raised their 6 children, and where they lived for 36 years. When Gene retired they moved to Anacortes in Skagit County, Washington. Mom has lived in the family home on Wildwood Lane for the last 40 years.

These days she stays home most of the time with several family members helping to care for her in these sunset years of her life, including her oldest son Gary (pictured above with mom). Her memory is failing, but she still loves to visit with people and to attend church when she is up to it. Best wishes to Mom as she celebrates 94 years!

Creepy Family Fun. Mom is one of the many family members who find themselves in the following music video that I put together to celebrate Halloween. Some of the pictures in this video you have seen before while some of them are new to this Halloween video. Some images are from many years ago, while some were taken in recent days. This video includes creepy family members from California, Washington, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and even Pennsylvania. Happy Halloween to everyone!

- - -
Steve Shepard

Friday, October 26, 2018

Bad Boy Jesse James, October 26, 2018

It is a sad truth, but we have lost the faculty
of giving lively names to things.
Names are everything.
I never quarrel with actions.
My one quarrel is with words.
~Oscar Wilde

Celebrating my aunt Vicki Johnston! Last week my aunt Vicki Gower Johnson celebrated her 85th birthday. Aunt Vicki lives in Chandler, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, near her daughter Paula Harrell Tuzzolino. The sister of my mother Maida Gower Shepard, we honor Vicki as one of the senior members of our family. Born in Oklahoma, but raised in San Diego, Vicki lived for 40 years in Oak Harbor, Washington before moving to Arizona a few years ago. Congratulations to Vicki on turning 85! The first picture from 2008 shows Vicki on the right with her sister Maida.

Shifting Gears. In recent weeks I have posted about famously named people in our family tree. Now I will take a break from the famously named and look at a few people who were not so famously named. They are the infamous characters in our family history, the bad girls and bad boys among our ancestors. People like Jessie James Emery.

A Youthful Indiscretion. My GGG Grandparents Jackson and Mary Gower had one daughter among their four children, Hannah Elizabeth Gower (1870-1943). These Gowers lived in the small rural community of Sylamore in Stone County, Arkansas, birthplace of my maternal Grandparents, Leroy Gower (b. 1899) and Nola Shannon (b. 1903). In the fall of 1893, 23 year old Hannah Gower struck up a relationship with an 18 year old fellow with the colorful name of Jessie James Emery. He had recently come from Pettis County, Missouri, some 250 miles to the north, very possibly to help with the harvest or to seek some other kind of work. The devastating economic depression of 1893 had people like Jesse James Emery all across the country on the move looking for employment.

We don't know much about the quality of the relationship Jesse James and Hannah had. Compared to today, you could get away with a lot in the sparsely populated hills of Northern Arkansas. All we know for sure is that their relationship brought about Hannah's unplanned pregnancy. No "shotgun wedding" took place, even though it must have been an embarrassment for the Gower family in this small peaceful farming community where they lived.

Getting On With Their Lives. In June, 1894 Hannah gave birth to her baby and gave him the name Marvin Almus Emery Gower. Young Marvin stayed with his mother Hannah and her family and took their name, Gower, as his last name for the rest of his 86 years. In 1900, when Marvin was just 6 years old, Hannah found a responsible father for her son when she married a local man named James Henry Pierce. Together they began a family of their own, which included young Marvin.

In 1895, just a year after the birth of Marvin, his biological father Jessie James Emery married a local woman with the unique name of Olive O. Oyler, and together they started a family of their own, which did not include young Marvin Gower. The US Census records for the year 1900 show that Hannah Gower's family, and Jessie James Emery's family were neighboring farmers in close proximity in Sylamore. But not for long. Soon after the turn of the century, the negligent father Jesse James Emery left Arkansas with his new family and made their way some 1,500 miles to Montana where they settled and where he died in the summer of 1929 near Billings, Montana.

Named After the Famous Outlaw? Bad boy Jessie James Emery was born in Southwest Missouri just 90 miles from the home of the outlaw Jesse James (see picture from about 1882). Our Jessie James was born in 1875 when the infamous James Gang was at the height of its criminal activity, robbing banks, trains and stagecoaches, and staying on the run from the law. Western Missouri was known as "Little Dixie" in those post Civil War days, because of the many southern sympathizers who lived there, including the James Gang, who targeted Union Soldiers and Civilian Abolitionists.

It may have been no accident that Jessie James Emery was named after one of the most infamous yet popular outlaws ever to come out of Southwest Missouri. In those days Missourians were fond of glamorizing outlaws like Jesse James as a way of rooting for the underdog and snubbing their noses at the authorities. Many thought of the James gang as being like Robin Hoods who curried favor with the common folk. It was against this backdrop that bad boy Jessie James Emery was born and given his name. Jesse James Emery therefore is the first of several disreputable characters in our past that I will highlight in coming weeks.

It is quite a shift to write about infamous characters in our family tree. It reminds us that our family, like all families, is a mixed bag. There are those whose lives and stories we gladly celebrate, but then there are those whose lives are cautionary tales. Yet even they have their place in our family history. Their stories also need telling even if simply to give us perspective when we think "too highly of ourselves."
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Steve Shepard

Friday, October 19, 2018

Cousins With the Same Name, October 19, 2018

In real life, unlike in Shakespeare,
the sweetness of the rose
depends upon the name it bears.
Things are not only what they are.
They are, in very important respects,
what they seem to be.
~Hubert Humphrey

Last month I included in my list of famously named ancestors, William Henry Harrison Sheppard, who was named after President Henry Harrison. I have since discovered that there are actually two Sheppard individuals in our family tree with that exact same name. We already have another person -- William Henry Harrison Loyd -- who was named after President Harrison. But now we have two Sheppard ancestors named after that 19th century President.

The first William Henry Harrison Sheppard was born July 5, 1840 and died in the Civil War in 1862. The second William Henry Harrison Sheppard, the son of a cousin of the first one, was born May 16, 1841, just 10 months after the first one. He also served in the Civil War, but survived, and lived into his 90s. He died in 1932, not far from where he was born in Belmont County, Ohio.

President Henry Harrison, 1773-1841
What an unusual occurrence. Two Sheppards with the very same unique name, born less than a year apart, who were cousins of each other. Both these fellows named William Henry Harrison Sheppard were born in Belmont County, Ohio -- probably within about 10 miles of each other. They were descendants of my 5x Great Grandparents John and Mary Hudson Sheppard, who were among the first of our Sheppard ancestors to migrate to the Ohio frontier in 1812.

Why Henry Harrison? What was so special about Henry Harrison that two of our 19th century families would name their sons after him? Henry Harrison was originally from Virginia but spent a good part of his life in Ohio. Our Sheppard ancestors came from Maryland to Belmont County in Eastern Ohio in the first decade of the 1800s when it was still being settled, and when Harrison's career was taking off. 

Here is a short list of Harrison's major accomplishments:

  • He was a decorated major General in the US Army.
  • He became a state senator in Ohio in 1819. 
  • He was elected a US Senator from Ohio in 1825. 
  • In 1836 he ran for President as the Whig Party candidate but lost to Martin Van Buren. 
  • In 1840 he ran once again against Van Buren but this time was victorious, and became our 9th U.S. President. 
It was obviously a time of great excitement for all Ohioans when Harrison took office March 4, 1841. (In those days the Presidential Inauguration took place in March, not in January.) But in a tragic turn of events Harrison became ill and died of pneumonia on April 4, 1841 after just 31 days in office. He was the first US President to die in office, and remains to this day the President with the shortest tenure.

The FIRST William Henry Harrison Sheppard, the 7th child of John and Elizabeth Sheppard, was born in Belmont County on July 5, 1840, the day after America's 64th birthday. He was named by his family while Harrison was in the throes of the Presidential election campaign. Ohioans were riding this wave of excitement about one of their own possibly being elected to the highest office in the land. What better way to make tangible their hopes and dreams for America's future than to give their son Harrison's name?

Grave of the SECOND William Henry Harrison Sheppard
Hope Cemetery, Hendrysburg, Ohio
The SECOND William Henry Harrison Sheppard, the 9th child of Hudson and Rebecca Sheppard, was also born in Belmont County, but on May 16, 1841 just one month after President Harrison died. He was given President Harrison's name while Ohioans, and the entire nation for that matter, were grieving this terrible loss. What better way to honor their fallen President than to give their son his name? 

These two William Henry Harrison Sheppards had another cousin with the name William Sheppard (with no middle name), who was also born in Belmont County, Ohio. He was born in 1835, just a few years before his other two cousins. This William Sheppard (1835-1862) was the Grandfather of my Grandfather William Shepard (1888-1976). In 1840, when just a child, his parents left Ohio and were among the first Sheppards to settle in Indiana. It was there, when just 21 years old, that he entered the military and fought for the North, as did his cousins, in the Civil War. More about this story here.

I realize that it is hard to keep these three William Sheppard cousins straight. One had no middle name at all, while two were given middle names of a President. All were born within a 6 year period in Belmont County, Ohio, and all of them served in the War, fighting for the Union:
  • William (no middle name) Sheppard (1835-1862)
  • William Henry Harrison Sheppard (1840-1862)
  • William Henry Harrison Sheppard (1841-1932)
The Sheppard Clan of Belmont County. All three of these fellows were part of the influential clan of James Cross Sheppard Sr. (1775-1843) and Hannah Gatchell Sheppard (1781-1839) who helped settle Kirkwood in Belmont County, Ohio. I have written before about how James and Hannah were affluent pillars of their community and were therefore very invested in the political life of Southeastern Ohio, especially in the pre-Civil War years. It is no surprise then that this clan was very supportive of the Ohio politician Henry Harrison who eventually ascended to the Presidency. It makes perfect sense then that two of the families of this Sheppard Clan would name their sons after the revered President Harrison.

So instead of just one William Henry Harrison Sheppard included in the "Pantheon of the Famously Named," there are two. One born in 1840, the other in 1841. But both are deserving and take their rightful place among the others of our family tree who were famously named.
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Steve Shepard