Saturday, October 11, 2014

TURNER BEND; A Community Full of History

(reprinted from the Arkansas Gazette, 1969, by Shirley Curtis) Turner Bend, near Cass up in the Ozarks, got its name for a couple of obvious reasons: It is named for a family named Turner and it is situated on a bend in the Mulberry River.
Here Champ and Flora Turner daily ply their trade – the operation of a grocery store-service station combination. Seven days a week one or both of them help the numerous people who stop, lending credit to old customers, making friends with the new ones. The Turner family has lived in this valley for 120 years. It was in 1849 that Elias Turner and his wife Sarah made their way from Tennessee to Arkansas and fell in love with this promising area. The fertile land, majestic mountains, the swift-moving clear creek that cut its way down the center of the valley could hardly be overlooked, and they probably arrived in the springtime when the woods were blossoming with greenery that deepened as the months progressed to summer and later turned to brilliant hues of red, gold, and brown in the autumn. Here they were to work the land, rear eight children, and live for the rest of their lives.
Elias Turner was born in 1821 in Perry County, Tennessee; Sarah (Durning) in 1815. Little is known about them until they reached Arkansas in the mid-19th Century. At this time Elias contracted to buy 500 acres between Cass and Ozark for $2 per acre. He and his wife settled on the land, and it wasn’t long until they acquired many new friends, one of them a neighborhood school teacher. Elias confided in his new friend that he had $1,000 with which he was going to purchase the 500 acres. And before too much time had elapsed, the teacher stopped by the Turner house when he knew Elias was away for the day and Sarah was down at the creek washing clothes. Although he had not been told where the money was hidden, it didn’t take him long to find it tucked away in a walnut chest the Turners had brought with them from Tennessee. He took the money and skipped the country, never to be found. The $1,000 was lost forever, but the Turners were still obligated to buy the land because they had signed a contract. Somehow, over the years, Elias managed to pay his debt and the land became his, later to be handed down to his heirs. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Turners were true to the Confederacy. As Union troops eventually edged through Arkansas, Elias preserved food for his family by storing corn in the logs of the cabin where pilfering soldiers and renegades could not find it. (These same logs are still intact today, covered with siding but nevertheless comprising one room of the house near Cass.) As the war progressed and soldiers were desperately needed, Elias joined the Southern army, fighting in both Arkansas and Texas and rising to the rank of captain.
Samuel Turner, Elias’ son, also served with the Confederacy, in the 23rd Texas Calvary. In 1862, at the age of 20, he married Phoebe Marsh, a midwife who was to deliver most of the babies born in the area during her lifetime. (ed: Samuel Turner was brother to Mariah Tennessee Turner who was Doyle J. Russell’s beloved grandmother.) Clearing land for a homesite proved to be almost more than Samuel could handle, but as the sky grew dark and the air became heavy one day, he continued to work. By the time he realized a tornado was descending upon him, it was too late to find safe cover. Throwing himself to the ground, he locked his arms as tightly as possible around the tree, but the lashing wind was so strong that it literally bounced him and the tree up and down. Incredible as it may sound, he escaped unhurt – and built a home.
In 1892 Samuel built another house, a handsome two-story log structure that still stands today. (It is now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Berterotti.) The hand-hewn logs have since been painted red, as striking contrast to the white mortar which holds them together. The tall, natural stone fireplace he pieced together with rocks gathered from his hillside. It was this same year that Samuel and Phoebe entertained the James Brothers – Jesse, Frank, Bob, and Cole Younger made up the party that spent the night with the Turners. As the adults settled down to talk, one of the gang poured out a sack of money on the floor so the children could play with it. (Incidentally, whether the family actually wanted to entertain the notorious outlaws is what the lawyers would call a moot point. Quite possibly they had no choice in the matter.) Phoebe Turner, as well as her family, was unique person. She smoked a clay pipe (which the Turners still have), using a small piece of cane for the stem. Whenever she was ready for a smoke, or a chew, up went the long skirt as her hand reached for the pouch of tobacco and the pipe carried in a handy pocket in her petticoat. Usually she chewed awhile before smoking. Phoebe’s mother was a fearless woman. Like most people in the 1800s, she raised hogs, and inasmuch as this was a time when animal predators roamed widely through the Ozark hills, she trained the hogs to run to the house when wolves got after them. Upon hearing the hogs squealing one day, she quickly let them into the house and barred the door, but not before she had caught a glimpse of the large black bear in hot pursuit. Determined to make a meal on the swine – if not her - it lunged against the door again and again. Growling and clawing, it angrily even tried to dig under it. The bear was making progress when Phoebe’s mother grabbed an axe and with one blow severed a paw from its body. But it was not until after the animal had climbed onto the roof and torn off several boards that it gave up and lumbered off into the woods to nurse its wounds. Phoebe’s brother, Jim Marsh, risked his life during the Civil War to protect his neighbors. As bushwhackers began to straggle through the community, stealing and plundering as they went, Jim built himself a fort of rock near the road. Darkness one night found him hidden behind his shield with plenty of ammunition but only one gun. The bushwhackers came, a few at a time, only to meet their deaths. Before the night was over, Jim had killed nine. Phoebe and other neighbor women buried soldiers whenever it was necessary, once putting away a dozen or more Confederates who had been ambushed in their camp. No one knows who they were or where they came from, but the stone markers the women placed on their graves are still visible on a hillside overlooking the Ozark Frontier Trail.
The next descendant in the line of Turners was William Eli, Champ’s father, who not only farmed and ran the store for awhile, but also made coffins for people who could not buy one. Eli had a total of 24 children, an even dozen by each of his two wives. Eighteen of them are still living (1969), and it is no small wonder that they now keep in touch with each other through their own newspaper, The Turner Tattler, published by members of the family living in Texas. Six of Eli’s sons were in World War II at the same time and all came back alive. Champ, stationed with the 84th Infantry, was engaged in the action of the Battle of the Bulge in addition to other major battles, but safely returned to his wife, Flora, whom he had married in 1939, and his business. Home at last, Champ was in the familiar surroundings he had known all his life. Champ remembers his early days at Turner Bend when toys were scarce and the whole outdoors was his playground. With his friends he spent many memorable hours swimming, hunting, fishing, and exploring the intriguing caves scattered around the hills. When he wanted to visit someone, and the distance was too far to walk, he rode an ox. In fact, he road an ox to call on his first girl friend. But the time for play and adventure was little, for there were chores to be done, land to be farmed, and livestock to feed. Leisure time was so precious that not one minute could be lost. Perhaps this is why children found so much to do during their free moments. As a boy Champ learned that a turtle’s shell becomes a dandy soap dish after it is scrubbed, and a limb from a sweet gum tree makes an excellent toothbrush. You simply cut the limb at the notch, peel back the bark, and chew the fibers until they bush out. Today Champ and Flora are two of the few Turners left around Cass. Only one of their sons, Paul, remains at home. Gary is assistant manager of a restaurant in Fort Smith, and Lonnie is a law student at the University of Arkansas. Champ’s Uncle Gilbert, the oldest living member of the Turner family, lives in Fort Smith, but returns whenever possible for a visit. A spry man of 89, he just recently sold a three-wheeled motor scooter which he bought four years ago. When the purchaser couldn’t pick it up, he promptly hopped on the scooter and delivered it from Fort Smith to Van Buren. Gilbert remembers the days when his mother, Phoebe, and his grandmother Sarah labored from dawn to dusk canning fruits and vegetables, spinning cloth and making clothes for the entire family, and curing meat for the long winter ahead. Gilbert recalls the night the James Brothers came to his father’s house, but the thing that impressed him most was, “They didn’t think any more about us kids playing with that sack of money than anything.” Except for modern conveniences and a paved highway, Turner Bend looks much as it did in the old days. Champ and Flora have retained many of the family heirlooms, such as a powder horn that belonged to Elias, cotton cards to make bats for quilts, a shoe last for mending shoes, and a tooth extractor used in the days when the man of house was also the dentist. Their large mantle clock, dating back to 1825, came from Belgium and was made by a soldier serving under Napoleon when Belgium was reunited with France. While wild animals are rather rare in the area, they are by no means nonexistent. Occasionally someone still tells about seeing a panther or a mountain lion, and armadillos and roadrunners, which have started migrating up from Texas, are seen frequently. Tourists traveling the Ozarks on Highway 23 find Turner Bend a natural stopping place, and the Turners readily give them any information needed to make their journey more pleasant. However, they do lose a potential customer once in a while before he ever enters the store. Some people take offense at being greeted by a long, loud wolf whistle, and this is exactly what happens to every one who stops. The explanation is simple. The Turners have a Mynah bird who never misses an opportunity to pull this mischievous antic. But it is a little unnerving to the unsuspecting tourist who opens his car door and thinks someone inside is whistling at him or his wife, as the case may be. Some merely close the door and drive away. The Turner family has found peace and tranquility in this beautiful valley since 1849. No one can venture a guess as to how long Turners will live in it, but undoubtedly the love first felt by Elias Turner for the land has endured in the hearts of each generation.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Nora Olive Jones Smith - Our Link to mtEve

I've been doing some reading about Mitochondrial DNA, a unique part of the human genetic makeup that is only passed from mother to daughter. My interest was piqued when I had my own DNA tested through the National Geographic Genome project, and being female, my mitochondrial DNA is the line I now have most knowledge about. But all that is only important in this blog to explain why I am thinking about genealogy, genetics, and our Smith/Jones family line.
Nora Olive Jones, the fourth of thirteen children born to James Archibald Jones and Eliza Jane Holcroft Jones, married her longtime neighbor become boyfriend, Thomas Alvin Smith, on August 24, 1910, at the Jones family home in Weatherford, Oklahoma. It was Tom Smith's 21st birthday; Nora was seventeen. Their first child, Ola Mae Smith, was born a year later on August 10, 1911. A son James Franklin Smith followed on May 11, 1913, and a second son, Oliver Thomas Smith, on June 30, 1915. Nora's short life ended on October 23, 1918 in Craig, Colorado, where she had just given birth to her second daughter, Jennie Frances Russell on September 12, 1918. The childbirth weakened her and the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 took her life. A rift occurred between the Smith and Jones families after Nora's death, specifically, Nora's mother blamed Tom Smith for taking her daughter to that God-forsaken land northwest of Craig, Colorado, and letting her die there, far from her Oklahoma family. Eliza Jane had lost her husband in 1917 so the death of her daughter a year later was particularly cruel. Because the families were estranged Jennie Frances Smith, or Frances as she was called, grew up with scant knowledge of her Jones relatives. It was only as an adult that she made contact with uncles and aunts, learned a little about the mother she never knew. Frances did pass along to us, her children and in-laws, a bit of the history of the Jones family and a few personal stories about her mother but not nearly enough for us to know what Nora was like. Instead we are left with a few sad photographs of an over-worked woman living in a small log house on the sagebrush covered plains of Bare Valley, Colorado. But she left two daughters, Ola Mae and Jennie Frances, and those daughters had daughters and granddaughters and so Nora Smith's mitochondrial DNA lives in the cells of those granddaughters and gr-granddaughters today. Ruth and Emily can trace their mtDNA from their mothers, Nora and Cyndee, to their maternal grandmothers, Irene and Gladys, to their maternal gr-grandmothers Ola and Frances, to Nora. Nora's line continues back through time through her mother, Eliza Jane Holcroft, through Martha B. Robbins in the early 1800s and beyond. Current genetic theory traces us all back to one woman living in Africa about 140,000 years ago, nicknamed Eve, not the Eve of the Bible but the Mitochondrial Eve. As I understand it, the mitochondria is not responsible for traits like hair and skin color or shape of our eyes. In fact, scientists are not sure what traits are passed through the mitochondria but it's a fantastic tool for tracing our ancestry through our mothers. It has been used by geneticists to establish migration routes and time frames. Nora Olive Jones Smith had a short and difficult life but her contribution to our family was significant and her genes live on.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Our Smith Family is Better Known to Us Now

In 2007 Mary Russell Simms, daughter of Doyle Russell and Frances Smith Russell, decided she wanted to host a gathering of her mother's family, the William Franklin Smith descendants. Aware that a few of the Colorado-based Smiths were meeting each summer in Windsor, Colorado, she wanted to expand on that to include all the far-flung relatives across the nation. That huge effort culminated in a family reunion held near Oklahoma City mid-September 2008. Sixty-two attendees made the gathering a wonderful success with cousins united after years of separation. Thanks to Mary's searching out distant kin there were cousins there who had never met one another.
Each year after that Mary coordinated reunions of her Smith family, the most ambitious of which was a gathering in Moffat County, Colorado to visit the home sites in Bear Valley, northwest of Craig, where the Smith family lived in the early 1900s, where Grandpa and Uncle Jim, aka William Franklin Smith and his son James Wesley Smith, were murdered, and where Mary's own grandmother, Nora Jones Smith succumbed to the Spanish Flu of 1918. Only one reunion had to be cancelled and that was last year, 2013, when tornadoes lay waste to areas around Oklahoma City.
This year's reunion is now history. Mary accomplished her goal of erecting a sign on the land her gr-grandfather homesteaded near Noble, Oklahoma in 1894. The attendance this year was very small, an indication that interest has waned, old age has taken its toll, and the bad economy is affecting us all. But we can all be thankful to Mary for bringing us together again, the descendants of William Franklin Smith and his brother John Alvin Smith, for teaching us about their lives and our connection to them. We now know that we are a hardy bunch, healthy, good looking, and prosperous. But we do share a hereditary hearing loss and Mary researched that too, encouraging all family members to share their audiology profiles which culminated in Mary's book "The Smith Family Curse."
I would personally like to thank Mary for all the hard work she put into this study of her mother's family, for bringing us together year after year, and for accomplishing her goals of posting permanent markers on the land and publishing the results of the hearing loss study. Thank you, Mary. You persisted where others would have given up years ago. Great job!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Tom Smith, a Man Difficult to Define

I'll start by saying, I never met the man. Tom Smith died December 29, 1960, twelve years before I became a part of his family. He was my husband's grandpa on his mother's side. Sadly, Bob's grandpa on his father's side, Elias Russell, also died that year, on January 19. Growing up in a farm family closely tied to the land, livestock, and daily chores, Bob had limited contact with either of his grandpas but a little more with Tom Smith as Tom lived in Colorado the last 35 years of his life, within a day's drive of his daughter Frances Smith Russell and her family, which included son Bob. Every summer the Smith clan met at a park in Denver or Greeley for their annual picnic and family reunion and some years that was the only time Bob saw his Grandpa Smith, but it was enough to develop a strong liking for the man. Bob was 18 the year he lost both of his grandfathers so his memories of them are childhood memories.
Thomas Alvin Smith was born August 24, 1889 in Paris, Texas, the first of ten children born to William Franklin Smith, known by most as Frank Smith, and his wife Sarah Frances Buchanan Smith. We know very little about those early, formative years Tom lived with his family in Texas. By 1893 they were in Noble, Oklahoma on a homestead near Frank's only brother John. Family lore has Frank racing in the Oklahoma Land Rush for that parcel of land near Noble. In 1909 the family moved on to Weatherford, Oklahoma where Tom met his wife-to-be, Nora Olive Jones, one of the Jones girls, nearby neighbors. They were married on Tom's twenty-first birthday; Nora was seventeen.
A neighbor and shirt-tail relative of Toms, Robert E. Morris, was a land speculator in Moffat County, Colorado and probably lured Tom and his brother Jim to that far northwestern corner of the state where homesteading was not only encouraged but solicited.

Jim had been married for a short time but Bessie took a look at that forlorn vista in Bear Valley and quickly returned to Oklahoma. Jim filed on a claim about 20 miles northwest of Elk Springs, Colorado in Moffat County, and so did his father. In 1915 Tom's wife and children traveled by train from Oklahoma to Craig, then by buggy out to their new home, a hastily built cabin on the high, dry plains of Bear Valley (some call it Bare Valley). Tom's parents also made the move to the new land and brought their children, cattle and horses on the train.

If Tom had known in 1915 what his future held he probably would have sat down on a stump and cried. In 1918 Tom's wife, Nora, died in the Spanish Flu Epidemic just weeks after giving birth to a daughter, Jennie Frances Smith who would later become Bob Russell's mother. Tom's parents took Frances into their nearby home leaving Tom and Nora's older three children with their dad. Within a year Tom traveled across the Continental Divide to bring home a new mother for his children, the widowed wife of his first wife's brother, Chloe Callender Jones. Three hard years later Tom's father, Frank, and brother, Jim, were shot and killed by a neighbor after arguing about a shared field of potatoes. Tom still tried to hang on to the land in Bear Valley but when his stepson got in trouble with the law and was given the option of leaving town or facing charges the family pulled up stakes and headed east to Purcell, Colorado where they had family. There is more about that trip here Craig to Purcell.

From that time of exodus from Bear Valley until the end of his life in 1960 Tom kept his family fed. The first years in Weld County he rented farms where he grew crops and raised livestock but that country is dry, windy, and prone to hail storms. He and Chloe brought three more children into this world, two who lived and one buried out on the plains. About 1929 Tom bought several pieces of brand new farm equipment but had them repossessed when the Depression hit. Drought and the death of Choe's son, Frankie, added to the family woes. Tom lost 29 head of cattle to starvation the same winter that Frankie died.

In Frances Russell's autobiography she tells that 1936 was Tom Smith's last year to farm. He got a job for the state as a liquor inspector, moved his family to Arvada, and bought himself a brand new Chevrolet car for six hundred dollars. Life got a little easier for Tom and Chloe in Arvada and the memories of their two youngest children, William and Marion, spoke of a kinder, gentler Tom Smith than the man remembered by his older children.

And that brings me back to the reason I wanted to write about Tom Smith, to try to define the man but not pass judgment. When he lived out in Bear Valley he was young and inexperienced,  struggling to survive on land that was only good for growing potatoes after grubbing out acres of tenacious sagebrush using hand tools and reluctant children. Tom had a short temper and little patience with his strong-willed children and ornery horses. Raised by parents who kept their bibles close at hand, Tom disciplined his children harshly "for their own good."

Later in life, long after Tom had passed away, his oldest daughter, Ola, could find very little good to say about her dad but she was like him in so many ways - his mannerisms, speaking voice, penchant for telling a good story, so that I was told, "You want to know what Tom Smith was like...take a look at Ola."

Bob Russell remembers his grandpa as a man who liked to play cards, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and tease the womenfolk. He called his daughters "sister", his granddaughters "daughter" and used colorful language to embarrass them.."your little titty, sister". Tom liked his whiskey and even when times were really lean he usually had a bottle hidden out side the house where he could have a nip or two. No one would ever say Tom handled money wisely or planned well for the future but he and Chloe kept a home where friends and relatives were always welcome to sit at their table, share Chloe's delicious meals, listen to Tom's entertaining stories, and spend the night.

Tom's grandson Kenneth Russell summed up his assessment of his grandpa with these words, "He did the best he could with what he had," and what more can you ask of a man? I think Tom was a much more loving grandfather than he was a father but by the time the grandkids came along Tom didn't have to fight so hard to keep the wolf from the door.