I am dismayed that the numerous members of my father’s and mother’s families didn’t have the foresight to record their family history for future generations. So there we were, a passel of kids that would grow up to have our own passel of children, but not a paragraph or a sentence was penned for historical value. For all we knew, the entire gang of us were adopted from the Masonic Home.
A note in an old bible or a scribble on the back of an old picture. Who is the old farmwife holding a baby goat in front of a ramshackle barn in 1935? She may as well have been Ma Joad.
Ancestry has been no help, I know where my father’s family came from; England, Ireland, and Scotland; via ships with vast yards of sails, they made landfall in New York, kissed the Statue of Liberty, and then on to Pennsylvania, and points west these were men and women of Celtic origin, who could handle a sword and drank Jameson Irish Whiskey instead of water. They were the refugees of the potato famine and the Catholic-Protestant conflict that still rages today.
My mother’s family is vague, shrouded in indigenous Indian mythical mystery. Relatives who grew up on the Cherokee Indian Reservations, also known as The Indian Nation in Oklahoma and Arkansas.
These folks lived in Buffalo skin teepees and log cabins and hunted for their food, and there are rumors they killed more than a few white settlers. My grandmother had a large mass of human hair she claimed was a scalp her father took during a raiding party; she would bring it out at Christmas to add drama to the children’s holiday.
From what I’ve been told, my great-grandmother had a serious “thang” with the violent but educated Cherokee Chief Quannah Parker, and that “thang” is still a family mystery. Still, my grandmother looked like him, so the family story calls us relations. There may have been more than holding hands in the moonlight on the banks of the Canadian River.
Belle Starr, the infamous outlaw gal, is another relation on my mother’s side. My grandmother said she never intentionally shot anyone but did shoot her husband’s pinky toe off when he wouldn’t help dry the supper dishes Dime Novels made a fortune off of her antics.
Belle was a larger-than-life fixture residing in the old Fort Worth district known as “Hell’s Half Acre.” Butch, Sundance, and Etta Place were her drinking partners, and it’s rumored that she could out-shoot Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill, who also had a “thang” for Belle. The famous quick draw Sherriff Jim Coulter was puppy-love sick for her, but he knew she could likely out-draw him, so he loved her from afar.
A famous uncle also worked as a US Marshall out of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and rode with the legendary black marshall, Bass Reeves. Bass handled a Colt 44 as gracefully as a forkful of steak and taters. Unfortunately, he had to replace the handles on his pistols twice after he ran out of room for the notches related to the count of bandits he had plugged. The uncle in question was likely the model for the character July Johnson in Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Lonesome Dove.” I’m waiting for confirmation that I may be related to Will Rogers, Sasquatch, Blue Duck, and Amelia Earhart.
I was a teenager when I heard one of the better stories from within the family. My mother’s brother’s wife shot and “more than killed” their only daughter’s mean-spirited husband during an “Old Crow” inspired confrontation of which there were many. The old gal shot her son-in-law three times in the chest with a 38 Police Special and then once more in the head, just to ensure he wouldn’t get up. She got off in self-defense. However, the thoroughly dead fellow was unarmed and stupid drunk.
The famous weapon hung on the wall in a framed case, still loaded with the two remaining bullets. Family badges of honor come in all forms.
For me, time is of the essence because it’s running out. I hope to complete some family history for my grandchildren by Christmas. It may not be pretty, but it will be a good read.