Saturday, May 13, 2023

Celebrating Mothers

Mother's Day 2023

With Mothers' Day this weekend, I am reminded of the many women in our family tree who have had an immeasurable impact on our family history. My mother Maida Shepard is just one of many moms in our family whose lives deserve great honor. 

At 98 years old, my mother Maida has celebrated Mothers' Day 77 times! Her first born Gary came into this world in March of 1946. Two months later, as a young mother of just 21 years old, she held the two month old child of her and Eugene Shepard and celebrated the holiday in a very personal way for the very first time. Maida was also fortunate enough to celebrate the day with her own mother, our Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower. Grandma and Grandpa Gower lived on Arizona Street in San Diego at the time and surely made the most of that special day.

In my family research I am constantly amazed at the dedicated mothers who sacrificed so much for their families. In addition to my own wife and my own mother, I celebrate my Grandmothers Bura Davis and Nola Shannon, two wonderful women who have made a lasting impression on our family. 

Here are other women who have gone before us and whose lives reflect great love and dedication for their families: Lydia Warford Williams, Hannah Sheppard, Peggy Ann Gray, and Mary Sprague Shepard Ragsdale. These are just some of the women whose life stories are recounted at some length in the posts of The Shepard's Crook. Click on one of the links to jump to the story of that particular woman.

So wherever you are this Mother's Day, I wish you the very best in celebrating with your mother and the other women who are important to you. May all the mothers of our family have a wonderful Mother's Day!

- - -
Steve Shepard


Friday, April 28, 2023

Remembering My Father

Today is the anniversary of the birth of two of the more important people in my life. My father Eugene Shepard was born in 1921, 102 years ago today, on a farm in the panhandle of Oklahoma. He has been gone for 20 years now, but his legacy remains. The family of his father William Shepard had migrated from Madison County, Illinois to the OK panhandle in 1905. His mother Bura Davis and her family had migrated to Oklahoma in the spring of 1913 from Indiana. Soon after relocating, farming neighbors Bura Davis and Will Shepard met, fell in love, and then were married in 1915. My Dad was the 3rd birth of Will and Bura. 

Eugene Shepard
in 1995 in Anacortes, Wa.
From the Panhandle to Western Washington. My Dad's first 7 years were spent on the Shepard farm in the Oklahoma Panhandle. In 1928 he and his family then moved 170 miles northwest to Southeast Colorado where they sought a better life. But after 12 years in Colorado the Shepards decided that rural Colorado was not the place for them. So they moved again, this time from rural Two Buttes, Colorado to the bustling city of San Diego. It was obviously a huge change in life style for all of them, even though I never heard my Dad or his family complain about that transition. 

In San Diego, during World War II, he met Maida Gower and after an extended wartime romance, they were married. Life in San Diego was good for them for 38 years, until 1978 when they upped and relocated to Anacortes, Washington. It was in Western Washington that Dad lived happily for the last 25 years of his life. 

Nola Shannon Gower
about 1990
A Life Well Lived. On this, the anniversary of his birth, I celebrate the good life he lived, the long career he had at the Point Loma Fuel Supply Depot, the devoted family man he was, and the family legacy he left behind. He was a great father to all 6 of his children. He loved his grandchildren. His descendants today stretch from Western Washington to North Texas to San Diego, and number a total of 32.

Eugene was born on the 18th birthday of the woman who would be his mother-in-law, Nola Shannon Gower (1903-2004). So today I also celebrate my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower on the 120th anniversary of her birth in Mt View, Arkansas. She was the consummate grandmother who loved and respected her 12 grandchildren and their families. As a young mother she and husband Leroy relocated to Okemah, Ok in 1925 where they lived for 15 years before moving to San Diego. After almost 60 years in Southern California, she moved to Anacortes in her 90s, and lived her last years there with her daughter and family.

These two very important people in my life -- Eugene Shepard and Nola Shannon Gower -- I celebrate with great honor and respect today as I remember their birthdays. Thanks be to God for the wonderful lives they lived and the lasting impact of their many descendants.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Sunday, April 02, 2023

Women's History Month

With the recently concluded month of March being Women's History Month, I feel compelled to write about a couple of women in our family history. There are actually numerous women in our family tree whose life stories are fascinating: Elizabeth Maxwell, Lydia Warford, Lulu Lee McGee and many others. But there are two people I find exceptionally worthy of mention.

Jane Buskirk Davis (1823-1895) was a remarkable woman who deserves special consideration. Jane was the Great Grandmother of my Grandmother Bura Davis Shepard. The very old picture below is one of the few pictures that we have of Jane Buskirk. She is important to mention for two main reasons: First, Jane's ancestry shows a clear line to the first immigrants among our ancestors to America from Holland. 

Jane Buskirk Davis
Jane and her siblings were born in the rural community of Adams, in Monroe County, Ohio. It was there in Southeastern Ohio that Jane met and married Alexander Davis. He and Jane and their first four children were the first of our Davis ancestors to immigrate from Ohio to Spencer, Indiana. In Spencer they settled for several generations. Among the family members born in Spencer was my Grandmother Bura Davis (1896-1990).

Jane Buskirk Davis is also notable because of the breadth of her life history. Born and raised in the community of Adams, Ohio, in 1852 she and husband Alexander relocated 365 miles along the National Highway to Spencer, Indiana. 

When Alex and Jane Davis settled in Indiana in the 1850s they were among the first members of a new church start in Owen County called the New Union Church of Christ, which was part of the Restoration Movement, also called the Stone-Campbell movement. That movement had its beginning in the area just east of Monroe County, Ohio. It appears Alex and Jane brought their Stone-Campbell affiliation with them when they settled in Indiana. 

In the 1880s, Jane was among our Davis kinfolk who left Indiana and migrated even further west to Oklahoma. At 70 years old, Jane with their youngest son William Alexander Davis, "ran for land" in the Cherokee Strip in 1893. They staked a claim and settled on it, in what eventually became the town of Helena in Alfalfa County, Oklahoma.

Maida Gower Shepard and daughter Barbara
Jane died just two years later in 1895. Land had been donated for a cemetery but it had not yet been plotted. Even so, they allowed Jane's burial, and she became the first person buried in Good Hope Cemetery just south of Helena. Today she lays to rest there beside her son William Alexander Davis and his wife Mary. 

Jane Buskirk Davis's life, from her beginning in Ohio, to Indiana, and eventually to Oklahoma, covered over a thousand miles.

This family post about Women's History would be incomplete without mentioning my mother Maida Gower ShepardMom has lived in Anacortes, Washington for 45 years, ever since 1978 when she and husband Eugene left San Diego for the Great Northwest. She is still in her home on Wildwood Lane with her daughter and full time caregiver Barbara.

At 98 years old, Maida's life has encompassed an amazing amount of history. Born in Arkansas in the roaring 20's, she lived through the Great Depression, married Eugene Shepard in San Diego during World War II, with him raised 6 children, and had to suffer through the tragic death of her older daughter Linda at just 20. She has experienced an amazing amount of history. Her life story from Arkansas to Oklahoma to San Diego to Western Washington has covered over 3,000 miles.

We are proud of all the women in our Family Tree who are worthy of honor as we remember Women's History Month.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Thursday, March 02, 2023

A Presidential Love Story

Ann Mayes Rutledge (1813-1835) was a distant cousin of mine related to me through my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower (1903-2004). Born in Kentucky in 1813, Ann's family migrated to Illinois and were among the founders of the little town of New Salem, Illinois, 20 miles northwest of Springfield. Shortly after the town's founding Ann's father built a tavern and an Inn with lodging for travelers. 

An Artist's Rendering of
Abe Lincoln and Ann Rutledge
A new resident to the town came and stayed for a while at the Rutledge Inn, a young man by the name of Abraham Lincoln. He and Ann took a liking to one another. Unfortunately, Ann was already engaged to a fellow from New York named John MacNamar. In 1832 John made a trip home to New York and promised to marry Ann when he returned. Time passed and John did not return. After a full year John never returned, nor was he heard from. As time passed Abraham began to develop a close friendship with Ann, a friendship that blossomed into romance. Abraham told her that he wanted to marry her, after he obtained his law degree, for which he was studying.

Called to Her Bedside. In 1835 Ann became very ill with Typhoid Fever. As her condition worsened and death drew near, Ann called for Lincoln who came to her bedside to console his dying friend. On Aug 25, 1835 Ann died at the age of just 22. It was a devastating experience for Abraham to have to deal with the death of his first love. He became depressed. Historians say this was the first of several severe bouts of depression. Some friends said he might have been suicidal.

Ann's sister Nancy Rutledge was heard to have said, "I can never forget how sad and broken-hearted Lincoln looked when he came out of the room from that last interview with Annie. No one knows what was said at that meeting, for they were alone together." 

“I ran off the track,” said Lincoln years later. “It was my first. I loved the woman dearly and sacredly. She was a handsome girl. She would have made a good loving wife. I did honestly and truly love the girl and think often, often of her now.”

Present Day Grave of Ann Rutledge
in Oakland Cemetery, Petersburg, Illinois
Buried and Re-Buried. Ann was buried in the Concord Graveyard, a few miles northwest of New Salem, Illinois. Lincoln was said to have visited her grave many times. More than 50 years later, after Lincoln's Presidency, after the Civil War, even after his death, the townspeople of nearby Petersburg sought to take advantage of Lincoln's popularity. By this time he had become a legend and his fame had grown immensely. The Petersburg folks dug up Ann's coffin and re-buried "Lincoln's Sweetheart" in Oakland Cemetery in the town of Petersburg. They made her grave an attraction that drew people to their young town, in hopes of "putting it on the map." Her grave remains there to this day. Were you to visit the grave of our ancestor Ann Mayes Rutledge today, you would read on her headstone the following words:

I am Ann Rutledge
who sleeps beneath these weeds,
Beloved of Abraham Lincoln,
Wedded to him, not through union,
But through separation.
Bloom forever, O Republic,
From the dust of my bosom!

- - -
Steve Shepard

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

A Record Setter

Many ancestors in our family tree were parents of numerous children. For example, I was one of six children. Other parents in our larger family brought even more children into this world. My Grandmother Bura Davis was one of 7 children. My Grandfather Leroy Gower was one of 13 children. It was common for our ancestors in the 19th century to have large families. They were pioneer people, moving ever westward, driven to populate this young country of ours.

Ancestor Sarah Bates
A Charismatic Missionary. Recently I discovered an ancestor who sets the record -- at least in our family tree -- for having the most children. This particular story begins with Sarah Marinda Bates (1817-1888), who was a distant cousin of my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower. Sarah was born and raised in Henderson, New York. As a young adult she met and married a charismatic missionary named Orson Pratt (1811-1881) who introduced Sarah to Mormonism which she practiced wholeheartedly for many years. Rev. Pratt, an accomplished and capable religious leader, was also an historian, a civic leader, a world traveler, a scientist, a mathematician and an author. He was chosen to be one of the original 12 Apostles of the Latter Days Saints movement. As such Orson Pratt embraced polygamy. For many it was a repulsive, anti-Family and un-American practice, but it had its day in the history of Mormonism. Since Sarah's husband embraced the practice, it meant that Sarah was just the first of Mr. Pratt's numerous wives. 

With Sarah, Mr. Pratt had 14 children. He went on to gather around him 9 other women whom he married and with whom he fathered children. In the early years of Mormonism polygamy was not uncommon. It was encouraged, as a way of increasing the numbers of this new sect. To her credit, our ancestor Sarah Bates refused to be married to anyone besides her one husband. Other men sought to make her one of their "spiritual wives," but she refused.  Among her suitors was the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith himself, according to a reputable article regarding Mormon history on Wikipedia. 

Rev. Orson Pratt (1811-1881)
The Man Who Fathered 38 Children. Sarah Bates' husband Orson Pratt fathered 38 children by his 10 wives between 1834 and 1877. How does a father bring 38 children into the world and give them the attention they deserve? He doesn't. Because he can't. Mr. Pratt obviously was not motivated by any sense of family love but simply from a base desire to procreate, regardless of the consequences. Because of its detriment to healthy families, the Mormons finally repudiated polygamy publicly in 1890. The practice became a felony in 1935.

Yet the historical record remains clear about Mr. Pratt's 38 offspring. What is also clear is Sarah Bates' refusal to accept Polygamy, despite her husband's full embrace of it. She even became an outspoken critic of the Mormon practice. As you might expect it created a serious rift between her and her husband leading to the end of their marriage. 

Sarah later became a founder of the Anti-Polygamy Society in Salt Lake City. In 1874 she was excommunicated from the Mormon Church. The following year she described herself by saying, "I am the wife of Orson Pratt. I was formerly a member of the Mormon church. I have not been a believer in the Mormon doctrines for thirty years, and am now considered an apostate." 

The full story of our family's history includes the feel-good episodes as well as the head-scratching stories of people whose actions we rightly call into question. Like most families, our history is a checkered one, including people we can be proud of, as well as others whose stories we might not want to repeat. But even from them we can nonetheless learn valuable lessons. Wisdom comes from discernment.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Black History Month

February is Black history month. In our family tree we have a number of Black ancestors including Lulu B. Lee (1871-1941), a 2nd cousin (4X removed) who was originally from Virginia. She was one of the more fascinating people in our family history. She was black but not a slave, having been born just a few years after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. 

Dr. Harry Warren Mickey

Lulu was a Great Granddaughter of our notable ancestor Matthew Gower (1762-1853). Lulu was a domestic worker for most of her life. During one particular job in New Jersey, she ran into legal problems and had to appear before a judge. She was accused of "visiting a disorderly house."  We don't know what her crime actually was, but whatever it was earned her 30 days of hard labor in prison. If nothing else, it appears that Lulu was caught up a judicial system that treated people of color unfairly. Sound familiar?

Lulu's sister Amanda Lee (1875-1950) had a son named Harry Warren Mickey (1904-1973) who was the first black Medical Doctor in the city of Washington, D.C. In the June 7, 1930 edition of the Washington D.C. newspaper The Evening Star, the graduates of the Medical College of Howard University were listed. Among them was our ancestor Harry Warren Mickey. One family tradition has it that he was the physician for our 25th President William McKinley and that Dr. Mickey accompanied the President to Ohio when McKinley was assassinated.

Another notable black relative in our family tree was Bishop Henry Beard Delany (1895-1991). He was an outstanding Episcopal minister who, in the early 20th century, was one of only two black bishops in the Episcopal Church in the entire United States. He is related to us through our Gower ancestor Charity Gower Clayton (1804-1847).

Ruby Dee and Diahann Caroll
portraying the Delany Sisters
In addition to the foregoing, two of the most accomplished black ancestors in our family tree were Sarah and Annie Elizabeth Delany (1891-1995), two of the children of the aforementioned Henry Beard Delany. Annie's biography on reads as follows: 

Annie Elizabeth Delany was one of ten children born to Bishop Henry Beard Delany and Nanny Logan, having been born in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1891. She, along with her sister, were thrust into the national limelight in the last decade of their lives. With her sister Sadie (Sarah Delany) and journalist Amy Hill Hearth, a book was published, "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First One Hundred Years" (1993) which found itself on The New York best-sellers list. The book recounted the sisters' experiences growing up in the segregated South and later in New York. Their story was later made into a play that toured the country. In 1994, the sisters published another book, "The Delany Sisters' Book of Everyday Wisdom." Bessie Delany died in Mount Vernon, New York at age 104. In April of 1999, the Delany sisters' story was made into a movie which starred Ruby Dee and Diahann Caroll.

On Black History Month it is gratifying to know that we have a number of Black members whose lives give credit to our larger family.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Friday, January 20, 2023

Ruth Wheeler Fortner, Centenarian

Children born today
have a fifty-fifty chance
of living to 100.
~William Greider

Recently I was in touch with some kinfolk in Indiana who updated me on a relative by the name of Ruth Wheeler Fortner. Most of us here on the West Coast are probably not familiar with Ruth who is a second cousin of mine. Ruth's Grandfather was Thomas Davis (1872-1955) who was a brother of my Great Grandfather James Brooks Davis (1870-1928). Ruth has lived in Spencer, Indiana most of her life. Spencer is where my Grandmother Bura Davis Shepard was born in 1896 and where many of our Davis ancestors were settled for several generations. Cousin Ruth turned 100 years old last month on December 5. 

Nola Gower in 2004 on her 100th Birthday
with daughter Maida Gower Shepard 
The few times I have been to Spencer, Indiana, I visited Ruth. She was always very welcoming and glad to visit with relatives from near or far away. On more than one occasion she was gracious enough to be my guide to a local cemetery -- the New Union Church Cemetery -- where numerous Davis ancestors of ours are buried.

It is always uplifting to hear of relatives who make it to the century mark. It has not happened very often among members of our larger family. One of the more recent centenarians among us was my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower (1903-2004). Grandma Gower was from a family of folks who lived to advanced years. Her mother Finetta Dearien Shannon (1861-1960) died just 3 months short of her 100th birthday. Her older daughter, my mother Maida Gower Shepard, will turn 99 years old later this year! 

Ruth Fortner and me in Indiana, 2011

I was surprised to learn recently from Wikipedia that there are about 100,000 centenarians alive today in the U.S. That is one in every 3,000 people.

As I looked through our family tree, I could only find a handful of relatives who reached the 100 year mark. But even that handful is a good sign that we have some "longevity genes" in our DNA. As far as I know, Ruth Fortner is the only living centenarian in our larger family today. There may be others. And if so, I hope you will let me know. I would be glad to hear about them and honor them in The Shepard's Crook.

Here is a list of those in our family tree who lived to be at least 100 years old:

Lawrence Davis 1898-1999 (brother of my Grandmother Bura Davis Shepard)
Loudilla Jackson Davis 1904-2006 (Lawrence's wife)
Marjorie Davis 1907-2008 (Lawrence's sister)
Nola Shannon Gower 1903-2004 (my Gower Grandmother)
Ruth Wheeler 1922-

It is interesting to note that this list includes a married couple: Lawrence Davis and his wife Loudilla Jackson. They were married for 69 years! For most of those 69 years they lived in Beaver County, Oklahoma. There must have been something exceptional and good about their life together that enabled each of them both to hit the century mark. It speaks well of our Davis ancestors that their number includes these three centenarians, Lawrence, Loudilla and Marjorie.

Regarding my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower, she lived a healthy, wholesome life. She was always generous and loving, seldom complained, and leaned on her faith to help her through tough times. She lived to be 101 years old, despite the fact that she (a non-smoker herself) lived in the same house with a heavy smoking husband for 53 years. It is no surprise then that Grandma Gower outlived Grandpa Gower by 30 years.

None of us knows exactly how long we will each live. But we all do hope to live long meaningful lives. If we live wholesome and healthy, we too might join the ranks of the centenarians among us.

Best wishes to centenarian cousin Ruth Wheeler Fortner of Spencer, Indiana!
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)