Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Remembering Two Special People, April 28, 2020

What children need most are the essentials 
that grandparents provide in abundance.
~Rudolph Giuliani

Remembering Eugene William Shepard (1921-2003). On this day 99 years ago my father Eugene Shepard was born in Beaver County, Oklahoma, the third child of William Shepard, who was from Madison County, Illinois, and Bura Davis Shepard, originally from Spencer, Indiana. Dad is remembered today by his children and those who knew and appreciated him. His impact on me and all his children cannot be overemphasized. Dad was a kind and thoughtful man, who never considered himself too highly. He was a devoted churchman of great integrity and simple faith, and loved his family untiringly. 

1994 family picture, San Diego
Gene and Maida Shepard (far right), with Nola Gower,
Gary, Cindy and Jason Shepard, and Lyndsey Aquiningoc
Just before World War II, 19 year old Eugene migrated with his parents and 3 siblings to Southern California from Southeast Colorado. In 1943, while in the Navy and stationed in Los Alamitos, he traveled when on leave to visit his family in the Hillcrest section of San Diego. On one such trip home he met Maida Gower who lived nearby. They struck up a romance and two years later he married her at the El Cajon Blvd Church of Christ where they had met during a Church social event. They gave birth to, and raised their six children during the 38 years they lived in San Diego. Gene and Maida were members of the Linda Vista Church of Christ in San Diego for many years. In 1976 he retired from his Civil Service job at the Naval Supply Depot in Point Loma. 

In the spring of 1978 Gene and Maida accepted an invitation to move to Anacortes, Washington to help a young struggling congregation. They were obviously good for the congregation, and vice versa. Some of our Shepard family have been members there ever since. Gene died in 2003 at 82 years old. Mom still lives in Anacortes in the home they purchased when they moved there 42 years ago. I am grateful everyday for my father and the values he instilled in us. 

Oldest extant picture of Leroy and Nola Gower
possibly taken on their wedding day
Stone County, Arkansas, Sept 29, 1921
Nola Shannon Gower (1903-2004). Today is also a day for remembering my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower, who was born on this day in Mountain View, Arkansas in 1903. At just 18 years old she married neighbor boy Leroy Gower in Stone County on September 29, 1921. She and Leroy were both native Arkansans but lived for 18 years in Okemah, Oklahoma. Yet they spent the largest part of their lives in what at that time was called East San Diego, at their family home on Lynne Street where they lived starting about 1950. During their time in San Diego, they enjoyed their family, in particular their 12 grandchildren who were born between 1943 and 1962. Leroy and Nola were a strong influence on all their family. Most of their grandchildren, at one time or another over the years, lived in the welcoming Gower home on Lynne Street.

Nola was a wonderful, generous and humble human being who is fondly remembered by all who knew her. I am especially grateful for the respect and acceptance she offered me, and all her grandchildren, regardless of the life path we each chose to travel. Leroy died in 1974 while Nola went on the outlive him by 30 years. She lived the last 5 years of her life in Anacortes with her daughter Maida and family. Nola passed away in 2004 at 101 years old, and became one of the few centenarians ever in our family tree.

Family is important to all of us. On this day however, I am remembering and celebrating the lives of these two whose memories are especially important to me. I am very thankful for both their lives on this anniversary of their birthdays.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Southern Family Story, April 22, 2020

Despite the sarcastic remarks of Northerners,
the South can be so impellingly beautiful 
that sophisticated creature comforts
diminish in importance.
~Maya Angelou

In my last post I wrote about Cindy's GG Grandparents Julius Caesar Vessels and Fannie Narcissus Vessels, a couple from Northern Alabama during Civil War days. After becoming acquainted with this couple, I decided to search Narcissus' history, with some surprising results. Her family history contains some of the best finds in our family tree and some not so admirable.

Here is a 12 generation lineage that includes Julius Caesar and Narcissus, and traces one family line back to 17th Century Scotland:
  • Preslea Maida Shepard, b. 2010, the daughter of...
  • Nathan Shepard, b. 1977 (wife Chenda Sou) the son of...
  • Cindy Harris Shepard, b. 1948 (husband Steve Shepard), the daughter of...
  • Sammie Joe Harris, 1922-1999 (wife Paula Hicks), the son of...
  • Mary Lee McGowan, 1899-1985 (husband Fred Harris) the daughter of...
  • Edna Pearl Vessels, 1882-1967 (husband S. A. McGowan) the daughter of...
  • Fannie Narcissus Bradford, 1845-1891 (husband Julius Caesar Vessels) the daughter of...
  • Jesse David Bradford, 1813-1885 (wife Mary Chandler) the son of...
  • Katherine Keith, 1779-1831 (husband James Bradford) the daughter of...
  • Alexander Keith, 1748-1822 (wife Margaret Harned) the son of...
  • James F. E. Keith, 1695-1752 (wife Mary Isham Randolph), son of...
  • William Keith, (1663-1712) of Peterhead, Scotland
GGG Grandfather Jesse David Bradford. As indicated in the lineage above, Fannie Narcissus' father was Jesse David Bradford (1813-1885), who was originally from Wayne County, Tennessee, just across the border from northern Alabama. As a young man he made his way from Southern Tennessee into Northern Alabama where he met a girl from Virginia by the name of Mary Chandler. In Athens, Alabama Jesse married Mary, and soon thereafter found a job in the mining industry in Lawrence, Alabama just 30 miles west of Athens, south across the Tennessee River.

GGG Grandfather
Jesse David Bradford
The 1840 U.S. Census shows Mary and Jesse Bradford, in their 20s, living in Lawrence, Alabama. Their family at that time included one young white son, and three young black children, presumably slave children who lived with them and helped around the house. Within a few years Jesse left his work in the mines and moved his young family to Florence, Alabama, some 30 miles further west on the northern banks of the Tennessee River

Life On the Hood Plantation. In Florence, Jesse accepted a job as the Overseer of the Mary Hood Plantation, a prosperous farming operation. Jesse Bradford's job was to supervise the slaves who lived and worked on the plantation. Overseers were often ruthless, cruel, despised individuals. They were hired by the plantation owner to maintain order, to keep the plantation and its slaves secure, and to keep the business going by any means. This enabled the owners to avoid the hard work in the fields, and to leave the discipline and sometimes harsh punishments to the Overseer. It was not an honorable profession. But in the pre-Civil War days, it was an essential and accepted part of the process of maintaining the cruel slave culture.

The Mary Hood Plantation
Florence, Alabama
Overseers were generally paid well. GGG Grandfather Jesse Bradford lived with his family in their own home on the plantation and did well financially while he worked there. The 1850 U.S. Census shows him living on the plantation owning real estate worth $700. Ten years later the U.S. Census shows he had an estate worth $4,500, a considerable sum in the antebellum South. While Jesse and Mary Bradford lived on the Mary Hood Plantation they added several children to their family. The third among their 6 children was Cindy's GG Grandmother Narcissus Bradford (1845-1891) who spent the first years of her life on the Hood Plantation. She came to understand well the slave culture, the clear social strata of the South, and the ugliness of life on a southern plantation.

Southerners had a penchant for classic names of the ancient Greco-Roman world. In Greek Mythology, Narcissus was the name of a handsome young hunter who was known for his beauty. He loved everything beautiful, including his own image when he saw it reflected in a pool of water. Narcissus in the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself and one's physical appearance. In modern times it is also the name of a flower, which is more likely the reason her parents gave her the name.

Narcissus flower
Julius Caesar and Narcissus: A Wartime Romance. In the spring of 1861, when Narcissus was 15 years old, the Civil War began and life was upended for people in Alabama and all over America. At the time Narcissus and her family were still living in Florence, Alabama. During the War, young Narcissus met a soldier named Julius Caesar Vessels, from the southern part of the state. In 1863 Narcissus and Julius married in Florence, possibly while he was on furlough from the War. They settled for a while in Gravelly Springs, a sparsely populated community west of town.

In the 24 years between 1864 and 1888 Narcissus bore 11 children with her husband Julius Caesar. Tragically their last child, Johnnie David Vessels, died at just 15 months old in the spring of 1890. In 1889 their 22 year old son William Terry Vessels died. Then in the summer of 1891 Narcissus died at just 45 years old. We don't know what caused these three deaths in one family in just 2 1/2 years. In Narcissus' case, 11 pregnancies in 24 years would certainly have taken its toll. She and her two sons might have died from the Russian Flu pandemic that raged from 1889 to 1894. In any case these deaths in the Vessels family created a tragic hardship for husband Julius who was suddenly a single parent with 9 children, 7 of whom were between 19 and 4 years old.

At Rest in Athens. After the War, Julius and Narcissus relocated with their family to Athens, Alabama where her parents Jesse and Mary Bradford lived. It took Julius and Narcissus and their family almost two weeks to make the 60 mile trip. They traveled by wagon as they drove their livestock from their home west of Florence to Athens. In 1868 Julius purchased 80 acres of land north of Athens for $160. There Julius and Narcissus farmed and lived the rest of their lives.

Narcissus, who died in 1891, and husband Julius Caesar Vessels, who died in 1928, are both buried in the Reunion Cemetery which sits behind the Reunion Church of Christ, 8 miles northeast of Athens. Also buried there in unmarked graves are Narcissus' parents Jesse and Mary Bradford and several other family members. Julius and Narcissus, then are one more couple who takes their place in the great pantheon of our family history, people whose lives instruct, inform and inspire us. And for them we can be eternally grateful.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Friday, April 03, 2020

Sweet Home Alabama, April 3, 2020

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I'm coming home to you
~Lynyrd Skynyrd

Strange and Difficult Times. I trust that you are all enduring these strange and difficult times of staying home, worrying about family, and doing your best to remain healthy. Wherever your home happens to be located -- Washington, California, Oklahoma, Texas or elsewhere -- I am sure your situation is difficult as we all battle the Coronavirus pandemic. A century ago, in 1918, our ancestors dealt with a virus that wreaked as much havoc then as we are experiencing today. I wish I knew more about how they dealt with that adversity. They survived, and apparently quite well. And we will too. In the midst of whatever hardships you have to deal with, I wish you the very best.

Nate with Logan, William and Preslea
Happy Birthday to Nate. Despite the Virus, life goes on. Today our family here in San Diego is celebrating the birthday of our son Nathan Shepard who was born right here in San Diego in 1977. We and he and his three children are doing quite well as we celebrate this special day with him. We won't go out to a restaurant this year. We won't invite others in to celebrate with us. We will celebrate in "hunker down" mode. But we will gladly celebrate nonetheless. It will be a time for cake and ice cream, birthday candles, special gifts and singing "Happy Birthday." Best wishes to Nate for a great birthday!

A Classic Family Story. Back in 2018 I wrote a series in The Shepard's Crook about people in our family history with interesting names. I called it "The Pantheon of the Famously Named." Two of the people I wrote about were Cindy's GG grandparents Julius Caesar Vessels and his wife Fanny Narcissus Bradford. In this post I want to look further into the lives of these two remarkably named people.

Julius Caesar Vessels
The Julius Caesar in our family tree was born in 1842 in the Southeastern Alabama community of Eufala, along the Chattahoochee River that separates Alabama and Georgia. When just a young man he met a teenaged Southern Belle from Lauderdale, Alabama with a name almost as colorful as his: Fanny Narcissus Bradford. In the summer of 1863, during the Civil War, they married in Lauderdale in the Northwest part of the state and settled in nearby Athens, Alabama. What could be more appropriate? Narcissus (a famous character from Greek mythology) and Julius Caesar (leader of the Roman Empire) settling in the town of Athens!

Service in the Confederate Army. Julius Caesar, born in the early 1940s, was exactly the right age for service in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. On April 15, 1861, the very day he turned 19 years old, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for an Army of 75,000 men. Being from the south that edict did not apply to Julius Caesar, but it was a sure indication of the conflict that was to come, and foreshadowed the Southern call for men to join the Confederate Army. I have written several times in this blog about some Shepard ancestors who served in the Union Army, especially my GG Grandfather William Shepard. The only time I have written about service in the Confederate Army was in reference to the Southern soldier David Reid Shannon (1821-1864), the Grandfather of my Grandmother Nola Gower Shannon. Like many American families, we have numerous people in our ancestry who served in the Southern Army. So it is only fair to give consideration to them.

Documentation of the 1862 Civil War letter
A Family Affair. Julius Caesar Vessels, his older brother John, and their father John Franklin Vessels all served during the war in the Confederate Army. For a period of time in 1862, all three were in active service at the same time. Dad served in Company F of the 18th Alabama Infantry, while Julius served in the 53rd Regiment, the Alabama Partisan Rangers. In November, 1842, 52 year old John Franklin Vessels, petitioned the Governor of Alabama for a discharge because he had two sons already fighting in the war. We don't know what the Governor decided, but John certainly had a strong case. This family of 10 children had their father and the two oldest sons taken away to fight in the war, leaving a mother with 8 children to fend for themselves in very dangerous times. One can only hope the governor granted the father's request to be released from duty. What we know for sure is that all three soldiers survived the War and eventually returned to life on their farm outside Athens.

A Hearty Alabaman. Julius Vessels and his wife Fannie, whose married life began during the War, were married for 28 years. She died in 1891 at just 45 years old, leaving her husband and 10 children, the youngest of whom was just 2 years old. Fannie Bradford's family history is quite remarkable in its own right. In a future post I plan to share her interesting and surprising story.

Sally Bates Vessels (1852-1901)
2nd Wife of Julius Caesar Vessels
Shortly after his wife Fannie died in Alabama in the summer of 1891, Julius moved with a broken heart westward some 700 miles with his motherless children to Wise County, northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. He was a hearty Alabaman who lived to be 86, very old by 19th century standards. He outlived three of his children, and his first wife Fannie by almost 30 years. He married a second time to a Texas girl named Sally Bates and lived in North Texas with her. Though 10 years older than her, he outlived her by 27 years!

With his second wife Sally he had one more child, a daughter they named Dollie May Vessels. She was just 7 years old when her mother died of consumption in 1901. This left Julius Caesar Vessels a widower (for the second time!) with several children at home to raise. One of those children was his youngest daughter Dollie May, but the household also included the two youngest children from his first marriage.

Sweet Home Alabama. Sometime before 1920, after he finished raising his children in Texas, the widower Julius Caesar felt the call of his sweet Alabama home which he had left 25 years earlier. At 75 years old, he made the decision to return to his old life in Athens, Limestone County, Alabama. Athens was where his life with Fannie had begun, where Julius had left for the war with his brother and father and then returned safely. Athens was where their children had been born, and where Fannie had died nearly 40 years earlier. It was where a lifetime of other memories were to be found. So it was only fitting that Athens would be the place to which he would return for his final years.

Julius Caesar Vessels may be the only person in our family history who, after migrating westward, went back East to his original home to finish his life. I cannot think of anyone else in our family history who did that. Can you? In Athens Julius lived out the last 12 years of his life. He and his first love Fannie Narcissus Bradford are buried in the Reunion Cemetery in Thach, Alabama, north of Athens, along with other members of their family. It is a fitting final resting place for these two, whose lives were well lived.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)