Saturday, May 7, 2011

Emerging from the Midwest

We stayed an extra day on the farm in Iowa. I'd finished my family research and we had a day to spare. We felt so comfortable interacting with the host family and the workers, we weren't ready to leave. Art loves to cook for people he cares about, so he took over Stacy's kitchen and made spaghetti, Italian bread, his special salad, and biscotti for the meal to take to the workers.


Stacy and I served the dinner out of the back of her Suburban at three farm sites. We even had a teenager say he liked spaghetti - for the first time in his life! Maybe it was the sausage in the sauce rather than ground beef.

On Wednesday we started driving west. We took backroads most of the way. There was no traffic on the roads - no competion from the 18 wheelers that ply the interstate. We spent the night in Pierce, Nebraska, in a comfortable but elaborately decorated B&B two miles out of town on a dirt road.

Thursday we stopped at Ashfall State Park. I'd read about this place in a Bill Bryson book called "A Short History of Nearly Everything." About 12 million years ago there was a volcanic eruption in what is now southern Idaho, from the same hotspot that now generates the activity at Yellowstone. The ash cloud spread across the continent. At a certain point the ash fell. At that time the area that's now Nebraska was a savannah. Animals at a watering hole breathed the ash and died - first the birds and small animals, then the larger animals. They died in the watering hole, and the ash covered them before scavengers could scatter their bones.

Then, in 1971, a paleontologist was doing some surveying on a farm, and he found, at the edge of a small ravine, the intact skull of a baby rhinoceros. He came back with a crew to explore further, and they found dozens of intact (articulated) skeletons. They've been digging ever since. In a covered area called the Rhino Barn, we can see the results of their dig on display. Mother rhinos lying next to babies. Completely intact birds. Fascinating!



On Friday we arrived in Gordon, Nebraska, where my great grandparents Samuel and Mary Catherine Wallace are buried. I found them in the cemetery on the hill right away. I was surprised to find myself close to tears, standing there looking at the evidence of my connection to past generations. The cemetery is irrigated, and the minerals from the hard water have tarnished the stones. I asked Art if we could try to clean up the headstone while we were in town, and he agreed.

I was in Gordon to gather more information about my mother's family. Everyone I met, I told my story. The first night, after we got back from dinner, the hotel clerk's husband gave me a name and phone number - Harlen Wheeler, the local historian, was expecting my call!

At breakfast the next morning, the restaurant owner referred me to Kim at the city office. I went there and talked to her, as well as to Frank, the city manager, and Mike, the city guy responsible for the cemetery. He drove out there with us and tried using a fine-grain sandpaper on the tombstone, which worked. Mike told us some of the history of the city and showed us the snowy owl babies in the big fir tree. Then I talked to Charlotte, who does genealogical research as her hobby and church calling.

At the cemetery I found the graves of my great uncle Edward and his wife Annie, and my great aunt Lutie and her five year old daughter Dorothy Grace, whom I'd never known about. We drove to Rushville, the county seat, and I went through my great grandfather's probate papers. There I found the married name of another great aunt, Vene, and the description of the land my great grandfather bequeathed to his six children - confirming that he'd obtained 160 acres as a homestead when he arrived in Nebraska in 1885. This morning I met Harlen, the historian and storyteller, at the local museum, and found a picture of my great grandfather, taken with a group of Civil War veterans, and one of my great aunt Vene at her 10-year high school reunion.

In all my Gordon explorations, the people of the town were friendly and eager to help me. They gave suggestions: try the city library, go over to the American Legion hall and see if there are any records, check out the rural cemetery rolls and see if any of Samuel and Mary Catherine's four other children are buried someplace else. I did all those things. Everyone I talked to was helpful and supportive. It was a wonderful example of small town hospitality.

Today we bought sandpaper at the True Value hardware store. Both of us worked on my great grandparents' tombstone and it took about two hours. Very tiring for 60-something arm muscles! But we were happy with the result, and I expect the spirits of Samuel and Mary Catherine felt the same way.



Tomorrow morning we leave for our weeklong tour in South Dakota. This has been a grand week!


19 comments:

Teresa Evangeline said...

Linda, It sounds like you're having a great time. Restoring your great grandparents headstone is a kind thing to do. Can you imagine knowing our own great grandchildren would do the same? Caring for those who came before is a good way to honor the past. If you go anywhere near Red Cloud, Nebraska, that is the home of writer, Willa Cather, and has some interesting history to it. Enjoy your travels.

Arkansas Patti said...

What an amazing journey you are taking. It would give me goose bumps.
I can't believe the difference in the tombstone. Excellent job and it had to be rewarding.

Beth from Maine said...

It must be wonderful to know your family.

Tracy said...

Linda,
Wow, you are finding some very cool things in your adventure! I think it's fascinating the people you've come across that have pointed you in the right direction to find information of your family...it truly is a group effort!
I hope you continue to have a wonderful and safe time!

marciamayo said...

What a great trip! I am so jealous.

Out on the prairie said...

You found some great info but discovered the beauty of the people. You will be a topic of conversation for some time after your leaving.It is amazing the strength that binds these tiny towns.When i go to a church all the people are bursting at the seams trying to figure out who I am related to by the end of the service.I am eager to hear more about your journey.

DJan said...

This is a truly inspiring post about people who care. The work you did on the marker is a true labor of love. What a wonderful post for me to read on Mother's Day. It's a real gift, thank you so much!

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

You give traveling a much deeper meaning. You are having so many meaningful encounters with your own past and with whole towns! Very, very cool.

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

Never heard that story about Ashfall, what an odd little bit of history to stumble across on your journey! The pictures are really interesting, will have to try to get there when we're finally out west. The headstone came out like its brand new, all the effort was certainly worth it. Enjoying hearing about your journey & I'm so excited for you that you were able to come across so much useful info. Looking forward to more! Be safe & have fun :-)

Sightings said...

Is that the same eruption that created the Columbia River and the Columbia Basin? And rhinos in Nebraska. Who would thunk it!

You're really inspiring me to get on the road. I gotta get on the road.

Deere Driver said...

Ditto to everyone's comments. Drive on. Blog on!

Linda Reeder said...

Ashfall is much like Mammoth Site in South Dakota, but mammoths instead of rhinos!
I agree, your work on the headstone is a labor of love, and wha a difference.
We have done some tracking down of ancestors here and in Europe. There is nothing quite like being where they were and walking in their footsteps. And yes, people are wonderful everywhere!

Jennifer said...

Art! You look great! I bet they loved your famous biscotti.=) Linda, those stones look like new! How precious to give with no strings attached. Good for the soul, yes?

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

What a fascinating journey you'e on! I'm so happy you're sharing it with us!
And what a difference you made with your great-grandparents' headstone!

CB said...

A geneaolgical make over: nice legacy. =)

Retired English Teacher said...

This is a wonderful story. It is amazing to meet such kind, helpful people who take the time to help others along the way. This story is heartwarming in so many ways. I think that way you cleaned up the headstone of your predecessors, shows the depth of your character and respect for those who went before you. Bless you.

moni said...

I really enjoy reading your blog. You two are leading a really interesting life and I am so happy that you are sharing it with the rest of us.

Deb Shucka said...

What an amazing journey you've been on - both inner and outer. I felt like I was with you in your travels around this small town, and could feel your satisfaction at restoring the gravestone to its former beauty.

Decca said...

I love reading about your adventure, your research, and the people you've met. Thanks for sharing and for inspiring others to write and reach out.