Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Buckhanans, Smiths, and DNA

In July of this year, 2016, our Smith Family was accepted into a nationwide study of genetic hearing loss by the University of Iowa, Department of Molecular Otolaryngology & Renal Research Laboratory. As you, no doubt, know many of the descendants of William Franklin Smith (1865-1921) and his wife Sarah Frances Buckhanan (1864-1937) suffer from a serious hearing impairment. The researchers at the U of I, led by Dr. Richard J. H. Smith, will take our DNA samples, process them with their state-of-the-art equipment, and identify the mutated gene or genes that have caused this malady in our family. Identification alone will be a godsend. If the study leads to treatment or cure then it will be a life changing result and one we can all take pride in.

Mary R. Simms, a gr-grandaughter of WF Smith and Sarah Buckhanan Smith, has made it her life’s work to gather data from her family, including audiograms, genealogy charts, and personal stories, and compile this information in book form which she submitted to Dr. Smith’s research team. It will be instrumental in chasing this gene mutation to its source. It is that source that I am writing about in this blog.

Mary named the hearing condition she shares with so many of her family the “Smith Family Curse,” and that is appropriate, but it now seems that it was our Buckhanan family who brought the gene mutation to our genetic makeup. That is an assumption on my part and may be disproved or amended after the DNA study. I thought you might be curious about the Buckhanan family, as I am.

First, let me say that I am no expert on the Buckhanan family, but we have a relative, Debbie Cooper, who is. She is related to us Smiths this way; Sarah Frances Buckhanan had an older sister named Mary Jane, and Mary Jane is Debbie Cooper’s gr-gr-grandmother. Debbie’s sister, Barbara Rogers, has also become quite an authority on the Buckhanan line and together these two sisters and their mother, Jane, have gathered an amazing Buckhanan genealogical record. They gladly share it and I will draw on their research to flesh out this family line of ours. Any errors are mine for I’ve not kept up with the ongoing study of this branch of our family tree.

We’ll start with Sarah Frances Buckhanan who is the mother of  Tom Smith, Ernest Smith, Rosa Smith, and Julia Smith…just to be clear how she is related to you. Sarah was born January 1, 1864 in Bentonville, Arkansas to John Littleton Trout Buckhanan and his wife Elender Jane Keeling Buckhanan, the fourth of five children born to this couple. Since this is a genealogy study and not her life story we’ll fast forward to December 24, 1887, Grayson County, Texas when Sarah married her longtime friend and neighbor William Franklin Smith, whose maternal grandmother was also a Buckhanan, Elizabeth Jane Buckhanan McConnell. It is possible, even probable, that the marriage of these two cousins, technically not first cousins but first cousins once removed, increased the likelihood of that mutated gene we are trying to identify affecting most of their descendants.

The Buckhanan family was a large, extended family who lived in and around War Eagle in Benton County and later Madison County, Arkansas. Their name is found spelled various ways in old documents of the time, Buckhannon, Buckhannan, Buchanan, and more. They pronounced it like “buck” the deer, not like “bu” and in beautiful. John Littleton Trout Buckhanan was born April 26, 1834 in Madison County, Arkansas, to John Montgomery Buckhanan and his wife Catherinie Airheart, one of eleven children. John and Catherine were both from Tennessee. One of their children, Reaghta “Rollie” H., born about 1840, was listed as deaf in a census record. We don’t have any other accounts of hearing loss in that family but hope to connect with other Buchannan descendants and compare family histories as this DNA study progresses. John was a tanner and postmaster, a successful man in War Eagle. A relative, Andrew, was a Presbyterian minister.

Now that this study is underway my curiosity about the Buckhanans just went up about 10 notches. I will write again when I’ve learned more about them. I’d really like to know how many generations of this family carried the mutated gene and where it came in. Did a Buckhanan man marry a woman with that gene and if so what was her last name?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Palisade Peaches

Summer of 1952, Doyle Russell loaded up his family of six, into their 1929 Chevrolet truck, leaking fumes and outfitted with a homemade canvas cover stretched over the back, a truck Doyle’s daughter Mary affectionately dubbed “Tooky” for that was the sound the engine made as it puttered along, tooky, tooky, tooky…, and ventured away from his once-again-hailed-out wheat crop in Weld County, chugged up over the Continental Divide, and moseyed into the high valley country of Western Colorado, peach country. His hope was to find an affordable peach farm where he and his family could prosper and get away from the hardluck dryland farming in Weld County.

I don’t know how many inquiries he made over there but I do know that his plan didn’t pan out and soon the family returned home, the truck laden with peaches, many of them bruised and overripe but suitable for canning and preserves.

Bob Russell remembers that trip well, especially the trip home, for he and his brother, Ken, and sister Mary rode in the back with all those peaches, actually perched atop those baskets of peaches. The two older kids invented a game, picking up some of the riper peaches, grading them on just how “ugh” they were, then tossing them into the road ditches, all the while making sure Doyle and Frances did not witness this. Bob joined in to their scandalous game.

To this day, in August of the year when
Palisade peaches make their way to our roadside stands from across the divide, and I bring home a box of them for our enjoyment, Bob bends over the peaches, inhales their fragrance, and recalls that summer excursion, an a 64-yr-old memory brought to life again for just a moment. How different his life would have been, the son of a Palisade peach farmer, growing up on the Western Slope, away from the crowds and traffic of the Front Range.

Instead Doyle Russell bought yet another dryland farm, about four and a half miles north of Wellington, right along the road that was soon to become I-25, the busiest thoroughfare in Colorado. The family lived there for the next forty-seven years and rarely thought of that trip across the mountains, that other lifestyle that almost was.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Elias Russell Eulogy - 1960

Mary Russell Simms, granddaughter of Elias Russell, offers this eulogy from his funeral, penned by Elias's oldest child, Bertie Lee Russell.

Elias Russell, born April 14, 1873, at Cass in Franklin County, died at his home in Cass at 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, January 19, 1960, of a heart attack. He was 86 years old. Mr. Russell was a member of one of Franklin County's pioneer families and spent his entire life there. His mother, Maria Tennessee Turner, was a descendant of the Turner's who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. Mr. Russell was married on September 22, 1900, to Miss Addie Jane Mahaffey at the home of the bride's parents at St. Paul, Arkansas. There were 12 children born to this union and survivors consist of the widow and all 12 children, 29 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.


His children are:

Miss Bertie L. Russell, Denver, Colorado

George W. Russell, Lawton, Colorado
Mrs. Robert Butner, Ripley, Tennessee
Doyle J. Russell, Wellington, Colorado
Mrs. Nannie E. Wilson, Detroit, Michigan
William A. Russell, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Samuel Carter Russell, Richland, Washington
Sidney R. Russell, Ozark, Arkansas
Charles E. Russell, Richland, Washington
Seldon Russell, Ozark, Arkansas. 

Harold Russell, Ault, Colorado. 

Brothers and sisters surviving are: 
Fred H. Russell, Ozark, Arkansas
Sam H Russell, Ozark, Arkansas 
Mrs. May Younger, Duncan Oklahoma
Mrs. Pearl Turner, Ozark, Arkansas 

Mr. Russell attended an old-fashioned revival meeting conducted by a traveling evangelist, Brother Valines, at the New Enon School house, accepted Christ and was baptized in 1908 in Big Mulberry River. There were 19 converts. Mr. Russell lived on the farm and considered himself a farmer, but he will be remembered by many as the peace officer during prohibition days. He was deputy sheriff for years. He was an excellent blacksmith and wagon builder. His shop was always open to help others. He kept seasoned lumber on hand to build caskets when called upon. It was not unusual for a stranger to ask for his services, and he never charged for the material, use of his shop, nor his work in connection with making a casket. He took pride in his work and a homemade casket was often desired. Elias was also a horse and mule trader and trainer and enjoyed this very much. 

Written by Bertie Lee Russell

Thursday, April 21, 2016


by Mary Russell Simms

James Marion Russell was my great-great grandfather.   I am the daughter of Doyle James Russell,  who is the son of Elias L. Russell, who is the son of John W.  Russell, who is the son of James Marion Russell.  Therefore, James Marion is my great-great grandfather.  

James Marion Russell was born in 1835 and died 3 October 1863, at the age of 27.  His wife also died in 1863 leaving their children as orphans.  The orphaned children were farmed out to various relatives and grew up as “poor relation”.  None of the children amounted to much as adults.  They really did not have a chance. 

James Marion Russell was drafted into the Confederate Army—14th Regiment, Arkansas Infantry---much against his wishes.  He did not want to leave his wife and children to shift for themselves while he went to fight a war he did not believe in.  Family history, as it has been handed down from generation to generation, tells the story of how the officials came to James’s home, drafted James Marion and forced him to come with them.  James was told to shut up and “don’t look back” at what he was leaving behind.  Thusly did James Marion  became a soldier in the Confederate Army. 

Shortly before James Marion was drafted, he had “proved up” on his 160 acres of homesteaded land.  His land patent was signed by President James Buchanan on February 1, 1860.  Three years, seven months, and two days later James lay dead on a battlefield in Corinth Mississippi.  The whereabouts of his grave is unknown.  An estimated 7,197 American soldiers were left dead when the Battle or Corinth was finally over.  It is most likely that James Marion’s final resting place was in a huge mass grave along with hundreds of his fellow soldiers. 

James Marion actually fought in only one battle before he died.  On September 19, 1862, he survived the Civil War battle at Iuka, Mississippi.  James contracted yellow fever at some point between September 19, 1862 and October 3, 1862, and died of yellow fever complications while the Battle of Corinth Mississippi raged around him.  James Marion Russell held the rank of corporal at the time of his death.

Bless you and may you rest in peace, Great-Great Grandpa James Marion Russell.  

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Daughter Remembers


By Mary Russell Simms

Foreword: The information in Doyle's story came from several sources: 

1) As a little kid, I used to love to listen to Doyle tell his tales about his life in Arkansas. I was fascinated by all of his adventures. 
2) Also, I was very close to Doyle's mother. Even though I only visited at her home in Arkansas three times, Addie and I exchanged letters for over thirty years. She shared many stories with me about Doyle during his early years in Arkansas. 
 3) Perhaps my greatest source of information about Doyle's life came from being Doyle's daughter. I knew Doyle personally for over sixty years. Unfortunately, Doyle did not leave any written memoirs for us. Hopefully the following account will leave a permanent record of a most remarkable man.
                                      * * *
Doyle was truly a self-made man.  He was quite unlike his parents and siblings.  Doyle must have inherited his drive and determination from his favorite Grandmother, Mariah Tennessee Turner Russell. Grandma "Tennie" was far ahead of her times back then. In fact, back in the late 1800s, after birthing eleven children and being pregnant with number twelve, Doyle's Grandma "Tennie" had the courage to divorce her abusive husband! Divorce was totally unheard of back then in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. I always believed that Grandma "Tennie" was Doyle's role model.

Doyle’s early years in Arkansas were truly sad.  Born in 1907, the fourth child of twelve offspring, his mother was always overworked and had little time to give her many children individual attention that they needed.  When Doyle started to school his mother gave him a McGuffey’s Reader and a cold sweet potato for his lunch and sent him off to get his education.  At other times he carried a chunk of cold cornbread for his lunch. 

All of the siblings went barefoot to school back then.  They had to wade across a small creek on their way to and from the school house which was about two miles away.  In the winter months there were chunks of ice in the creek.  Wading barefoot across that creek and having nothing to dry off with must have been very painful for those young children.

In the early part of the twentieth century, teaching at the local school left much to be desired.  After completing eighth grade, a student could take a teaching test and become a licensed school teacher in Arkansas.  The school house was also very austere.  It was a one-room wooden building with a dirt floor.  Very little heat came from a fireplace set into one wall. 

During his first year of school Doyle, was never called on in class.  The teacher never spoke to him or gave him any instruction.  Doyle was a shy little kid and sat quietly chewing on the corners of his McGuffey’s reader and swinging his feet back and forth beneath his desk.  Since the one-room school house had dirt floor, Doyle’s toenails dug two trenches beneath his desk.  All Doyle had to show for his entire first year at school was a round-cornered reading book and two deep ruts beneath his desk.

From early on, Doyle was different from the rest of his family.  Doyle was determined to make his mark in the world. He was willing to work and plan and was determined to have property of his own and provide well for a family. Doyle wanted independence and security.  He was determined to rise above his own raising.   The good news was that Doyle was willing to work for what he wanted.  

He was very much like his Grandma “Tennie” in many ways.  He did his own thing.  In 1929 when the great depression hit America, many people seemed content to sit on the front porch and watch an old hound dog scratch its fleas while they  wished for better times.  Not Doyle. Doyle hitch-hiked to Kansas and followed the wheat harvest going west.  His family needed the money.

Doyle was 22 years old in 1929  when he left home to find work.  He was willing to work long, hard days and give an honest day’s work for his pay.  Doyle was able to cover his living expense and managed to send money home to his mother to help out with paying the tax bills and other outstanding bills.

Doyle continued to do this for several years.  His cousin Archie Turner accompanied him on one of these jaunts to Kansas.  At first Doyle hitch-hiked or “rode the rails” of the freight trains to get to Kansas to seek work in the wheat harvest.   In later years he was able to buy a bus ticket to travel safely back and forth from home to the harvest area.  He was still faithfully mailing money back home to his mother.  Otherwise the Russell family would most likely have lost their home and farm due to delinquent taxes.

Doyle encouraged his siblings to find work.  He sent some of the boys off to the CCC Camps to work.  He encouraged others to join the Army.  Every sibling he could put to work elsewhere made one less mouth for his mother to feed.

Doyle’s father was a delightful, lovable person whose greatest pleasure was doing volunteer work in the community.  He was an unpaid deputy sheriff and was always available to escort prisoners between Arkansas and Texas.  The deputy and prisoner always rode horseback and camped out several nights during these trips.  While this was truly a noble task, it did not put any food on the table at home or help pay the bills.  Also, when anyone in the community died, Doyle’s father would volunteer to build them a nice casket—no charge.  This was admirable but did nothing to pay the bills for a family of twelve offspring plus two parents.  Doyle’s dad was the poster boy for volunteer work. 

Doyle was determined to be nothing like his father when it came to providing for a family.  Hard work and responsibility ranked very high with Doyle. 

For several years Doyle followed the wheat harvest from Kansas through into Colorado  each summer. After a few years he decided to put down roots in northern Colorado.  He liked the land there.  Colorado farmers did not have the same problems that the farmers in Arkansas faced.  Grass did not grow wild in the fields of Colorado.  Rocks did not constantly work up into the plowed land in Colorado.  Unwanted vegetation did not consume the farm land in Colorado.  Becoming a farmer in Colorado sounded like a good idea to Doyle.

Doyle leased a small farm with an old barn, corral, a well, and a two-room shack from Mrs. Entwhistle.  He began farming with a horse and plow and worked long, hard hours.  His determination paid off and he made a success of dry-land farming. 

In 1934 when a night course in college level accounting was offered in the local town, he saw the opportunity to further his education.  Doyle would work a ten-hour day in the fields, come in, wash up, eat some supper, saddle his horse and ride five miles to town to attend accounting classes.

Doyle loved the learning experience but it was short-lived.  Doyle had an eighth-grade education and was doing well understanding accounting.  The problem occurred when the other students—all high school graduates and several college-educated students simply could not comprehend the basics of accounting.  The teacher told Doyle that only two people in the room understood what was going on—Doyle and the teacher.  Unfortunately for Doyle, the course was cancelled before they reached mid-term.

In 1935 Doyle got married to a local sixteen-year old school girl.  Doyle was eleven  years older than his new bride and faced quite a challenge.  The new bride knew absolutely nothing about cooking, sewing, raising children, or keeping a house!  Fortunately, Doyle was patient and a good teacher.   Eventually Frances learned to do routine housework and cook edible meals.  She even eventually learned how to sew.  With the birth of four children and much coaching from the neighbor across the road, Frances learned child care. 

Meanwhile back in Arkansas, Doyle had become a local legend in his own time.  Doyle was looked up to and admired by his friends and family remaining in Arkansas.  It became the goal of every young man in Cass to one day go visit Doyle in Colorado and see their hero in person. 

During the early years of their marriage, Doyle and Frances entertained many of the Arkansas bunch.  Some slept on the floor in the kitchen while others bunked out in the barn.  One couple even stayed at the local hotel.  Most of their visitors stayed for a few weeks.  Some stayed for a few months.  Others stayed for a year or more.  Most of the Arkansas friends and relatives could not tolerate the cold Colorado winters.  Doyle’s youngest brother Harold was the only friend or relative from Arkansas to choose Colorado as his permanent home.

Every one of Doyle’s seven brothers visited Doyle at his various farms in Colorado.  Two of his four sisters came to see him.  Everyone who visited and returned to Arkansas had nothing by praise when telling of Doyle’s life in Colorado.  Doyle remained the village hero.

Doyle moved forward with his farming, increasing his plowed acreage from time to time.  He got a tractor and upgraded his source of farm power.  He bought 320 acres of farm land and in 1938 moved his wife and two children to a different  house.  The new home had four small rooms, a barn, pigpens, and workshop with attached chicken house.  From G P Brandner Doyle had leased 960 acres of farm/pasture land plus access to another 320 acres of pasture land.  He then leased another 160 acres of farm land from Fred Walker.  By 1946 Doyle was farming and/or grazing over 1400 acres of land in Weld County.   He was running about 100 head of whiteface Hereford cattle and owned about twenty head of horses.   He also had numerous hogs and chickens.

Just before World War II began, Doyle’s mother begged Doyle to send a bus ticket for Doyle’s youngest brother to come to Colorado and live with Doyle.  Harold was about fifteen at the time.  Seems Harold had been caught one time too many shooting game out of season.  The authorities gave Doyle’s mother three choices: 1) send Harold to jail, or 2) send Harold to the CCC Camp, or 3) get Harold out of Arkansas permanently. Addie did not want her baby to go to jail!  She also did not want her 15-year old son living in the CCC Camp with the rough workers.  Addie could not afford a bus ticket for Harold to Colorado, so she begged Doyle to send a ticket so Harold could leave Arkansas and avoid jail or the CCC Camp. 

Doyle ended up raising his younger brother.  In Colorado Harold continued to hunt game out of season without a license; however, Doyle had so many acres of private land that Harold was never bothered by the Game Warden.  Harold joined the Navy shortly after the War broke out.  At the end of the war, Harold returned to live with Doyle.  In 1949 Harold married a local girl and finally moved out on his own.  Harold remained in Colorado until his death many years later. 

 Everything went sour in 1946 when G P Brandner double-crossed Doyle and secretly sold the 960 acre farm.   The land owner then tried to cancel Doyle’s ten-year lease.  The lease had not yet expired.  This caused many hard feelings.  G P Brandner’s foul act cost Doyle 1,280 acres of farm/pasture land plus his home. 

Doyle still owned his 320 acres of farm land nearby but this property was without a house to live in so Doyle purchased a 160-acre farm with a large house on it.  Doyle moved his family into the larger house in March 1947.  His two farms were now separated by thirteen miles of dirt roads.  The new farm was located seven and one half miles from the nearest town, driving on dirt roads all the way.  

With the loss of over 1,000 acres of land, Doyle had to downsize his livestock situation.  He sold all of the horses but two and sold about eighty head of cattle leaving twenty cows.  He had limited water and pasture at the new farm. 

In 1952 Doyle sold the 320 acres of land he owned in Nunn Township.  In 1953 he bought a 600 acre farm in Larimer County.  He moved his family to the new property which was not as isolated as the house in Weld County.  The house was much smaller, and water was even scarcer.  For about twenty years Doyle tried to work both farms that were fourteen miles apart.  He eventually sold the 160 acre farm in Weld County and concentrated his farming and junk yard in Larimer County.

While trying to farm two places fourteen miles apart, Doyle was plagued with thieves. The thieves would strike in the middle of the night with a cutting torch and chop up his machinery left in the field, and sell the pieces for junk.  If Doyle left a tractor and plows in the field overnight and returned the next morning, he was likely to find the machinery stripped.  This problem caused a lot of trouble.  He finally solved the problem by selling the 160 acre Weld County farm. 

Doyle also had a huge junk yard.  He bought and sold junk cars, tractors, trucks, heavy machinery, and other things.  He was a very astute business man with his junk yard.   Many times people would give Doyle their ailing cars and trucks and even pay the title transfer fee!  Doyle would then keep the free vehicle a few years and someone would come along and pay him several hundred dollars for the vehicle that Doyle acquired for free.  Doyle was quite the wheeler dealer.

Doyle and Frances were married for fifty-five years when Frances died with a heart attack in 1990.  Then in 1996 Doyle suffered a near fatal farm accident when he and his tractor caught fire.  Doyle was severely burned and not expected to live, but he pulled through only to spend his final four years in a nursing home. 

In January 2000, at the age of 93, Doyle died quietly in his sleep.  A truly self made man who will forever remain a local legend in Cass, Arkansas.  

Rest in peace, Daddy. 

Note:  My story about Doyle covers his earlier years of life.  It does not cover his later years because an excellent account of this period was written by his daughter-in-law Pam Russell.  Hopefully she will include this story about Doyle in her blog. 

Doyle Russell
by his daughter-in-law Pam Russell

Doyle was sixty-four years old the first time I saw him, that spring day in 1971 when Bob took Patrick and me up to meet his folks. I was nervous about the meeting and remember getting that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as the Volkswagen bus made the final curve on the road leading up to their house. Bob hadn’t told me what to expect, didn’t try to tell me what his folks were like or whether they would approve of their younger son’s new girlfriend and her 2-1/2 year old son. Minutes later we were all seated in the living room looking at Doyle’s whittlings and homemade puzzles, relaxed and smiling, starting to get to know one another. Doyle and Frances accepted both me and Patrick, and from that day on treated us like family.
Doyle was born in 1907 in Cass, Arkansas, the fourth of twelve children born to Addie Jane and Elias Russell. Doyle learned blacksmithing and farming before he left home to travel west working with wheat threshing crews, following the harvests. He was an ambitious young man with big, strong hands and a good head on his shoulders. He realized that he his future was not in Arkansas where his less ambitious brothers took advantage of the gains he made, holding him back. After a few trips west to work the wheat harvest in eastern Colorado he decided to stay.
When Doyle first laid eyes on Frances Smith she was only thirteen years old but he liked her flashing eyes and shy smile, and he was smitten. For the next few years Doyle worked on farms near Purcell, Colorado, where Frances lived with her family, and in May of 1935 they were wed. Doyle gave Frances money to buy her wedding clothes and many years later she liked to recall exactly what she bought for her trousseau.
I’ve heard the stories of how Doyle worked and saved to buy his first tractor, and then his first piece of land, and then the next, but the details are fuzzy now. I know that he worked hard and was frugal, not one to splurge on a night on the town or a new car or any of those things that tempt young men. Doyle placed a high value on land ownership and step by step, year by year, he bought farm equipment then land, never running up debts for these purchases but paying cash whenever possible.
 I’ve often wondered what motivated Doyle, what forces shaped the man. He talked about his family a lot and there were two people in his past he seemed to truly admire, his paternal grandmother, Mariah Tennessee Turner, and Mariah’s youngest son, Doyle’s Uncle Sam Turner. I believe he not only admired them but learned from them and patterned his life after theirs.  Doyle was a very intelligent man but with only an eighth-grade education he would never become a lawyer or legislator, careers in which he may have excelled. He was a shrewd businessman, though, and rarely made mistakes which set him back.
Doyle started out in eastern Colorado farming rented land and using decrepit farm equipment. Dryland farming is a risky business relying on the whims of Mother Nature for rain needed to germinate the wheat seed then praying she doesn’t drop the late summer hail that can turn a thirty-bushel an acre crop into a worthless field of stems and mud in minutes. Rain is scarce in Colorado and hail all too predictable. He was hailed out so many times in Weld County that in 1953 Doyle moved his family a few miles west to Larimer County to a 340 acre farm, not all of which was tillable. Here he pulled more profit out of the land than any other man I know could have accomplished. He not only raised seed wheat and cattle, he dug for gravel and established his own gravel pit. And when Interstate 25 came through separating his grazing land from his water holes and making raising livestock a difficult proposition Doyle started a junk yard, buying and selling (mostly selling) used automobiles, tractors, machinery, scrap wood, and much, much more.
When someone wanted to dispose of an old car, Doyle didn’t buy it from them, he charged them to leave it at his place and then he sold parts off of it. He frequented farm auctions and had a knack for buying low and selling high. Doyle was a born salesman. He charmed his prospective buyers with stories about “down there in Arkansas”, and his no-pressure approach gained him a pocketful of cash most every day of the week. Doyle’s customers became life-long friends.
His proximity to I-25 brought a steady stream of customers from all across the county, vacationers with their families, tractor buffs with their empty trailers hoping to find a rare jewel to take home to the Midwest, and a lot of “looky-loos”, those who were intrigued by the mounds of junk but who didn’t spend a dime. Colorado’s dry air means a tractor which has set out in the sun for thirty years has very little rust. Had it been in Illinois it would have crumbled into the earth leaving a pile of worthless junk. Doyle’s place became a junk lover’s paradise.
Frances and Doyle found a ready market in the sale of Siamese cats, a commodity rare in their part of Larimer County. Each kitten was worth $20, so a litter of six was very valuable and they often had several litters living in the house at the same time. Doyle was patient in training the little kittens to perform endearing tricks so that prospective buyers couldn’t resist taking one or two of those little kittens home with them.  See what I mean about Doyle pulling money out of his farm that others wouldn’t consider? He had a good reputation in the community for castrating hogs, dehorning cattle, witching for water, and butchering animals, all useful and sometimes profitable skills.
Frances and Doyle brought four children into this world, two boys and two girls. I know those four children well enough to know that they each had a very different childhood from the others. Perhaps that’s the case with every family. Education was a priority. Although all were expected to participate in chores and farm work the kids were never kept out of school to help Doyle with the farm. I have my own opinions about Doyle’s parenting skills based on my husband’s recollections of his youth, but I will not judge him too harshly. As a parent myself I know that most of us “shoot from the hip” with our parenting, combining what we learned from our parents with a few ideas of our own to form the basis of our own parenting style. Doyle could be strict and heavy handed but Frances handled most of the day to day disciplining of the children. Competition between the kids was greatly encouraged and not tempered with kindness and concern for one another so that the relationships which formed between the kids were never warm and supportive of one another.
Although Doyle never returned to Arkansas to live and only visited there on rare occasions his family ties remained strong. At different times all of his brothers came through Colorado to visit and some stayed for weeks and months especially before WWII. In later years many of them returned with their wives and children to visit Frances and Doyle and the kids on the farm. Doyle’s sister Bertie came many times and Nan just once. The other two sisters, Nellie and Bonnie never made it out to Colorado, to the best of my knowledge. Doyle cared very much for his mother and father and all his siblings and tried to help them out in many ways.
I didn’t know Doyle to be a religious man but his hard-shell (Primitive) Baptist upbringing had its effect. Doyle didn’t drink or smoke and rarely cursed. He hated gambling and felt that card playing could lead to trouble. There wasn’t much of the poet in Doyle either. I doubt he lay awake nights contemplating the meaning of life. Neither did he enjoy music or have any musical talents. He did like to square dance and he and Frances were members of a square dance club in Wellington for many years.  No, Doyle was not a mystic. He was a practical man who looked at life from the perspective of a farmer, a man of the soil. Man (and woman) were higher forms of animals but responded to the same training and discipline and were just as predictable.
But that’s not to say that Doyle wasn’t talented because he was. Like many of his Arkansas friends and neighbors he learned early how to use a knife with the skill of a surgeon, whittling toys and puzzles with patience and finesse. He was also quite a magician and used sleight of hand and other techniques not understood by me to create illusions and more concrete tricks like carved wooden arrows in bottles that no one could figure out how they got in there. He liked to tell stories and jokes but Frances outshined him in this category. He liked her jokes, too, and laughed along with the rest of us. Doyle could fix all sorts of farm machinery and equipment with a minimum of tools and techniques – baling wire being one of his favorites. There was not a lazy bone in the man. He worked in all kinds of weather from morning until night.
There were two areas of business that Doyle dealt in that fascinated me. He bought and sold land for other people and wrote his own contracts keeping meticulous ledgers of all the transactions. He also loaned money to people – lots of people – and kept the same careful records. Most of those ventures were profitable for Doyle and on those rare occasions when someone tried to abscond with Doyle’s money or refuse to pay what was owed he consulted a lawyer. There were several relatives who took advantage of Doyle’s personal loans and never paid him back. He didn’t sue them or pursue them much but he also never forgave or trusted them again.
I got to know Doyle best after Frances died in 1990 and Bob and I took meals to his dad each day at noontime. It was not easy on him, losing is wife of fifty-five years. He continued to work outside each day and sell to those who came for car parts or other items in the yard but it was many months before he regained his vigor and laughter. I asked him to tell me about his family back there in Arkansas and I took a lot of notes but mostly I listened to an old man reflect back on a life I could only imagine. I came to respect him for his fine memory, his fair treatment of his relatives, and his work ethic. I learned about the jobs he took in the lean times, climbing oil derricks and taking any odd job he could find. We had some fine conversations, not always agreeing, especially about politics, but he treated me with respect and I believe I reciprocated.
On that fateful January day in 1996, Martin Luther King Day, when Doyle’s tractor caught on fire and he was burned over much of his body I rushed to his house and was there in the kitchen when the firefighters took him out to the helicopter that would whisk him away to the burn unit at the Greeley hospital. He handed me his wallet and gave me a look I’d never seen in his eyes before – Doyle was scared. I drove to the hospital and went into the room where they were removing his shirt from his back and arms and when the doctor ask, “Mr. Russell, if your heart should stop during this ordeal do you want us to restart it,” he said, “Well shore (sure),” as if to ask, “What kind of a stupid question is that?” Of course the doctor knew something that Doyle didn’t know and that was the next few months would be full of pain and agony for Doyle. He survived, slowing coming out of a medically-induced coma to find that his hands were severely scarred and had lost much of their strength and agility. Those hands that could wrap around an anvil and lift it high, could whittle a delicate wooden scissor connected to another scissor and another, could handle a meat cleaver with precision and cut perfectly sized pork chops one after another, those hands that were a work of art, blackened with grease and dirt from working with oily machinery. Those hands could barely hold a fork even months into his recovery. It was because of the damage to those hands that Doyle couldn’t live on his own again without assistance, a reality that broke his heart.
I find my eyes filling with tears as I remember those last four years of Doyle’s life. We tried, we all tried to treat him with respect and kindness but the only thing Doyle wanted was to go back home, something we, his family, didn’t think was wise. I really don’t want to rehash the decisions that were made; it was painful enough going through it the first time. It took many long months but I believe Doyle finally came to accept the nursing home in Windsor as his home, or maybe his home away from home.
Doyle had a strong will to live; a lesser man would not have survived those awful months right after the fire. I remember the day he could no longer remember his brothers and sisters’ birthdates. He became very sad. Watching someone you love die is a painful process. And yes, I loved Doyle. I didn’t realize it until those last few years. He and I hadn’t always seen eye to eye. There were times when I was very angry with him, and I know he thought I betrayed him when I agreed that he couldn’t return to the farm to live after his accident, but in the end ….. we were family.