Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Spotlight: Peter Garrison

Peter Garrison and family, c. 1877.
(Click image for more info.)
In honor of Memorial Day, I thought I'd sidestep the Murray clan for a moment and pop over to my dad's side of the family to talk about Peter Garrison, one of my ancestral Civil War veterans.

To orient you with the Great-grandparent Key in the sidebar, my great-grandmother Stella Lowen Barnett was the daughter of Edwin Allen Barnett and Amy Belle Garrison. Peter Garrison was Amy's father, making him my third great-grandfather.

Peter Garrison was born in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, on November 15, 1837.[1] Around the spring of 1845, when Peter was about seven, his parents, William and Amelia (Oman) Garrison, decided to move west to Illinois, "with Lee County as their destination."[2]

The Garrisons did not choose this destination at random. In the 1830s, the government had declared the land in Lee County and surrounding areas up for grabs to any settler willing to clear and farm it; in response, a wave of land-hungry pioneers swept westward from Pennsylvania and other (mostly northern) states. The Garrisons were part of this wave, but they did not come alone: at least one, and possibly two, of William's brothers also migrated from Pennsylvania to Lee County around 1845, and one of his older sisters had made the same move back in the 1830s.[3]

Once in Lee County, William bought a patch of government land, then turned around and sold it, moving to neighboring Ogle County to run a sawmill. After a few years, he returned to Lee County and bought a new farm in what is now Nachusa Township, where he finished raising his family and spent the rest of his life.[4]

Wherever William Garrison went, his ever-growing family followed. He and Amelia may have had as many as fifteen kids--several of whom they lost to stillbirth, childhood diseases, or tragic accidents. Peter was one of the nine who made it to adulthood.[5] As the second-eldest son in such a large family, Peter Garrison would have been put to work around his parents' farm as soon as he was old enough to carry a bucket, dig a hole, or swing an axe. When William took to running that Ogle County sawmill, he would have relied on the labor of his eldest sons to keep it going, even though they were still only children. And when William gave up the sawmill and bought a new farm back in Lee County, he would have counted on the sweat of his sons' brows to help get it up and running.

Until a little over a year after the Civil War broke out, Peter's life was that of a typical pioneer farmer's son. Then, in the summer of 1862, President Lincoln issued a massive call for volunteers to swell the Union forces. The governor of Illinois echoed Lincoln's call in a series of rousing speeches, prompting thousands of young men across the state to enlist.[6] Peter Garrison was among the early volunteers, signing up on August 12, 1862, for service in Company G of the 75th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.[7]

According to a history of Peter's regiment, Company G "was organized at Franklin Grove, Lee county. Its members were from that vicinity and adjoining towns."[8] The recruitment drive in Franklin Grove was intense, whipping the community into a patriotic frenzy. Lincoln Hall--a local meeting-place normally used for dances and church services--"rang with cheers, and the schoolhouse fairly trembled with stamping, as the patriotic gatherings assembled night after night."[9] Franklin Grove was in Peter's township, and although it's impossible to know if he attended any of the recruitment meetings, there must have been a strong brotherly vibe among the soon-to-be soldiers of Company G: most of them were men who shared ties of community, family, and allegiance. Peter had probably known many of the men he joined in the enlistment line since boyhood. At least two--John W. N. Garrison and William L. Girton--were very likely kin.[10]

Peter Garrison was an utterly typical Company G enlistee. On the day he signed up for service, Peter was a 24-year-old bachelor who probably still worked on his father's farm. His company was about two-thirds bachelors and positively overflowed with farmers, the vast majority of them between the ages of 18 and 29. Many of Peter's companions also probably belonged to pioneering families, since most were born within the United States but outside of Illinois, in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Maryland. Only Peter's physical description was unique to him: he had light, perhaps somewhat reddish hair, blue eyes, and a light complexion, and at 5 feet, 8¼ inches, he stood slightly taller than the average American soldier of his time.[11]

All the companies of the 75th Illinois Infantry, in fact, "were composed almost entirely" of men much like Peter: "farmers and farmers' sons, and young men in the country towns...very few of whom had seen actual service in war."[12] Albert Crary, a soldier of Company C (organized in Whiteside County just to the west of Lee), paints an even fuller picture of the 75th Illinois:
The regiment was made up of boys from the farm; boys who had been brought up in town with few hardships, many of them ready to graduate from the high-school; doctors, lawyers, barbers, clerks from the stores and quite a goodly number of old men whose only plea for enlisting was that they desired to accompany their sons and care for them in case of sickness, or to bind up their bleeding wounds in case worse came to worse on the field of battle. And all these mixed in with probably a dozen or so who had some little experience in military affairs during the early part of the war.[13]
By late August, Company G and all the other companies that would form the 75th Illinois had gathered at Camp Dement, in the nearby town of Dixon, for training. Dixon would have been a familiar place to Peter and many of his fellow enlistees, since it housed the Lee County government and sat at the junction of several major railroad lines. Any of the local boys who'd ever taken a train or had business at the county courthouse would certainly have been to Dixon. With Camp Dement so close to the towns and farms that most of the recruits called home, neighbors and family must have visited often. Indeed, according to the regimental history, "The camp was thronged with visitors and friends" eager to watch "the regiment...learning to be soldiers": "loading, firing, bayonet exercise, kneeling, alignment, marching, and wheeling."[14] The atmosphere at Camp Dement must have tingled with a mixture of patriotic enthusiasm and nervous apprehension. As Company C's Albert Crary remembered,
ten Companies, numbering 1,000 men were drilling from six to ten hours a day and preparing for active duties in the field. And on the second day of September, a regular United States mustering officer was on the ground and mustered [all the companies] into service as the 75th Illinois Infantry, and when the moment came for us to be sworn in, the words "for three years or during the war" fell pretty heavily upon our ears. But then, we were in it for keeps, hence we took our little medicine as brave boys always do. (68-69)
All the members of the 75th Illinois evidently signed up to fight until the war ended or three years had passed--whichever came first. Perhaps some of them felt that having the balls to enlist showed that
They were men, who, now the Republic was in imminent peril, resolved to throw themselves into the deadly breach, that it might be saved. Forgetful of self, and rising above the sordid views of gain, soldiers [they] were now to "gird on their armor," march forth to battle, and, breasting the leaden and iron hail of the enemy, stand the avowed champions of the national honor and safety.[15]
Even the most battle-hungry, though, must have had some reservations about spending three years under a hail of lead.

The regiment had only officially existed for about three weeks when it received its marching orders. Between about September 27 and September 29, the men of the 75th sped southward by train, chugging four hundred miles from Dixon, Illinois, to where the Ohio River separates Jeffersonville, Indiana, from Louisville, Kentucky. There they stopped for a few days to take on supplies and join up with the Army of the Ohio, a much larger Union force. The Army of the Ohio and a Confederate army had been chasing one another around Tennessee and Kentucky for some time, and now the 75th and other newly formed regiments joined in that chase.[16] There would, however, be no more speedy train rides "with drums beating and flags flying" (Crary, 69). The next hundred miles, the 75th covered on foot. For such inexperienced soldiers, it was a grueling, blister-raising march through weather by turns rainy and hot, with "the dust so thick," at times,
that it almost smothered a man, perspiration standing in great drops on his face, only to be mopped off with a 'kerchief, or if he wasn't lucky enough to have one, with his dust covered blue coat sleeves. It was march, march, march, fifty minutes by the watch, then, with a ten minute's rest in order to take breath and reflect upon soldier life, as we found it. Then to think that a term of "three years, or during the war" was before us. (Crary, 71-72)
The evening of October 7 found the Union forces encamped along a ridge of hills just outside Perryville, Kentucky; the Confederate army they'd been chasing waited just out of reach. The next day, barely two weeks after leaving Dixon, the 75th Illinois Infantry saw its first action, in the Battle of Perryville.

I won't go into the details of the battle here; I'll leave that for a future post. But here's the extremely quickie version, from the 75th Illinois's perspective: while the 75th watched and waited for orders, the rebels attacked another part of the Union army, mowing down many seasoned soldiers. No reinforcements were sent until the Confederates had already blasted a hole in the Union lines; then, the green 75th was sent to fill the gap.[17] The results were predictably bloody: almost a quarter of the regiment's men were killed or wounded. The casualty rate was worse in Peter's company, which lost at least a third of its men to death or injury--including Peter himself.[18]

Fortunately for me, Peter Garrison was reasonably lucky: he took a bullet in the thigh but survived the battle and went on to start a family. The surgeons, though, were unable to remove the bullet, which remained painfully lodged in his left thigh, and he spent most of the rest of his military career in hospitals, unable to return to duty. On March 18, 1863--just over five months after he was shot--Peter was declared officially disabled, discharged from military service, and sent home. (His Certificate of Disability for Discharge appears at right; you can click on it for a larger view.) Unfortunately for him, those five extra months he spent in the army permanently wrecked his health. Whether it was post-traumatic stress, the effects of breathing gunsmoke, the cold of winter, dirty hospital conditions, or all of the above, Peter left the service not only disabled by his wound but also plagued by persistent lung trouble (the "Incipient Phthisis Pulmonaris" his disability certificate mentions), possible heart problems, and some kind of mysterious internal infection.

The story Peter's pension record tells is a sad one: he spent the rest of his life bouncing from one odd job to the next, from one state to the next, and from one doctor to the next, as he struggled to support his family through the ups and downs of his physical and mental health. At first, his pension was set at $8 per month, but it was immediately reduced to $4--apparently because pension officials felt Peter hadn't been shot up enough. ("G[un]. S[hot]. W[ound]. left thigh only," wrote the man who rejected Peter's appeal of the lower rate; "no increase.") Even bearing in mind that the dollar was worth much more back then than it is today, $4 was a tiny sum: another veteran whose records I viewed at the National Archives got more than twice that amount to ease the discomfort of his hemorrhoids. In order to receive even this small benefit, though, Peter had to submit to regular checkups. If he wanted to apply for an increase in benefits, there were yet more examinations. And, whenever he moved to a new town, he had to officially inform the pension board of that fact--and break in a new doctor. All of these bureaucratic requirements generated a lot of paperwork, which pads out Peter's pension file to roughly 75 double-sided pages. Those pages are loaded with genealogical information, but that fact doesn't make them pleasant to read.

Peter's injured leg troubled him for the rest of his life. While he probably did suffer permanent nerve damage from the initial wound, it's likely that he would have had a much easier time if not for the Confederate bullet he still carried. Usually described as a "ball" by Peter's doctors, the offending projectile may have been more like a musket ball--round, pitted, and rough--than a sleek, modern bullet. Lodged deep in his muscle tissue, that little piece of metal continued to cause pain, do damage, and generally screw with Peter's leg decades after the entry wound had healed. It shifted with Peter's muscles as he went about his daily life, moving in a slow, tearing dance around his femur. Across fifty-five years of medical examinations, rarely did any two doctors find it in exactly the same position.
Bullet location, 1888 Bullet location, 1892

Upper label: something like "Ball inlet" 
Lower label: "Ball now here we feel it distinctly"

Upper label: "cicatrix"
Lower label: "Ball"
The above two diagrams from Peter's pension record show how far the bullet could move over a relatively short period--in this case, four years. (In both diagrams, the entry wound is shown just below Peter's left hip, while the "ball" is much lower down, closer to his knee.)

Today's surgeons would probably have little difficulty removing such an object, but then, we have the benefit of x-rays, MRIs, CAT scans, and other imaging systems, as well as increasingly precise surgical tools. The battlefield surgeons who treated Peter were likely inundated with other, much more seriously injured patients, and the only bullet-finding tools at their disposal were eyes, scalpels, and fingers. Had they done a more probing search for the bullet, they might have done more damage, before they found it, than the Confederate soldier who shot Peter in the first place. In later years, Peter's doctors almost always described the bullet as being "embedded" or "deeply embedded" in his muscle tissue and/or "sinews." Again, they may have decided it was riskier to try to remove the bullet than to leave it be.

As for Peter's other health problems, they seem to take so many different forms in so many different doctors' reports that I can't sort them all out. It's clear that he had some kind of trouble with his lungs when he left the military, and that that was part of the reason he was discharged. Almost no mention is made of any lung condition, though, until 1878--and then only fitfully for a few years. Then his condition begins to worsen steadily, with his lungs apparently slowly filling with fluid. As his breathing grows more difficult, heart problems pop up--but only sporadically, and they seem different with every examination. Some doctors hear nothing unusual in his heartbeat; others find a heart murmur or other cardiac irregularities. By 1892, 55-year-old Peter looks like a man on death's door:
My left [leg] is weak. It disables me from working. I have to limp. My leg is Painful from my thigh to foot. My lungs have troubled me ever since I left the service. My breath is short. I cough[;] expectoration is streaked with blood. I have pains in my chest. I can do but very little work. I am suffering from Nervous Prostration.
And yet he lived twenty-five more years, and what finally got him was completely unrelated to any of the chronic problems documented in his pension file: on May 19, 1917, his kidneys gave out.

The picture Peter's pension record paints of his life is probably too grim. Peter Garrison, in those pages, is a frail, impoverished, slightly desperate man who never seems quite able to get his paperwork in order. And yet, somehow, he managed to support himself and his wife while raising seven children--and long afterward. They were able to afford multiple cross-country moves; and when they settled down for good--amid the palm trees and citrus groves of 1890s Azusa, California--they had enough cash to buy a house, which they owned free, clear, and unmortgaged by the 1900 census. (Later census records show that the house stayed unmortgaged and in the family through at least 1920.) At this point, I don't know what the logistics were, but it's clear that Peter had some kind of steady income other than his veteran's pension.

I have no idea whether Peter talked about his Civil War experience in later years, or how he felt about it. Virtually the only thing that is remembered about him in my branch of the family is that he did serve, and was wounded, and carried a rebel bullet to his grave. But the fact that he was buried in the Civil War veterans' section of Oakdale Memorial Park seems a fair indication that his brief time in Company G of the 75th Illinois Infantry permanently changed his sense of identity.


[1] According to Dad's Tree and Peter's Civil War veteran's pension records. All the census records I have found for Peter also support this data.

[2] Frank E. Stevens, "Harriet E. Garrison, M. D." in History of Lee County Illinois (Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1914), 2:305.

[3] The two brothers were Mathias F. Garrison (see his bio sketch here) and (possibly) John Garrison. Right now, I can't prove that the John Garrison who (census records show) was born in Pennsylvania and lived in Lee County from 1850 onwards was William's brother John Garrison. The older sister was Elizabeth, who married Joseph Brierton. Mr. Brierton was born in Pennsylvania and arrived in Lee County in 1837, according to History of Lee County, Together with Biographical Matter, Statistics, etc. (Chicago: H. H. Hill and Co., 1881), 178. This migration date is probably approximate. Two of Joseph and Elizabeth (Garrison) Brierton's sons--William S. and Emanuel--are profiled in Portrait and Biographical Record of Lee County, Illinois (Chicago: Biographical Publishing Co., 1899), on pp. 251-52 and 731-32, respectively. Joseph and Elizabeth's marriage is further attested to in Historical and Biographical Annals of Columbia and Montour Counties, Pennsylvania (Chicago: J. H. Beers and Co., 1915), both in volume 1 (p. 540) and in volume 2 (p. 1252).

[4] See "William Garrison," in History of Lee County, Together with..., 544. The 1850 U.S. census shows the Garrison family living in Taylor Township, Ogle County; ten years later, the 1860 census puts them in China Township, Lee County. William Garrison's farm lay in China Township until February 4, 1871. On that date, Nachusa Township was formed out of a portion of China, according to a "Lee County Fact Sheet" posted on the Illinois State Archives website. The Garrison farm happened to fall within the new township.

[5] Here I draw on 1850 and 1860 federal census records; the bio sketches of William and Harriet cited in notes 2 and 5; and profiles of William's sons John (History of Lee County, Together with..., 549-50) and William H. (Memorial and Biographical Record...of Butler, Polk, Seward, York, and Fillmore Counties, Nebraska [Chicago: George A. Ogle and Co., 1899], 958-60). The nine children who made it to adulthood were (in order from oldest to youngest) John, Peter, George L., Hester A., Hannah, Elizabeth E., William H., Harriet E., and Martha J.

[6] According to William Sumner Dodge, A Waif of the War; Or, the History of the Seventy-Fifth Illinois Infantry, Embracing the Entire Campaigns of the Army of the Cumberland (Chicago: Church and Goodland, Publishers, 1866), chapter 1.

[7] According to Peter Garrison's Civil War veteran's pension record; his entry in the Illinois Muster and Descriptive Rolls Database; and p. 618 of Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois, vol. 4, rev. Brigadier General J. N. Reece, Adjutant General (Springfield, IL: Phillips Bros., State Printers, 1901).

[8] Dodge, 26.

[9] Adella Helmershausen, "China Township," ch. 21 in Stevens, vol. 1, p. 318. 

[10] Peter's uncle Mathias F. Garrison married a Girton (see his bio sketch), and a sworn deposition by M. F. appears in William L. Girton's widow's pension record, making it likely that William was related to M. F.'s wife. John W. N. Garrison (who was not Peter's brother John) swore to the fact that he visited Peter in a field hospital in a deposition he made for Peter's pension records. At this point, I'm not sure how, exactly, J. W. N. was related to Peter, but it seems certain that he was: in the 1870s, Mathias F. Garrison, Peter Garrison, Peter's brother William H. Garrison, and John W. N. Garrison all moved to to the same township (Franklin Township) in Fillmore County, Nebraska. According to William H. Garrison's bio sketch, William more or less named the township, so the Garrisons definitely had close ties to the place.

[11] My analysis of typical Company G characteristics comes from a perusal of Company G enlistees' entries in the Illinois State Archives' Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls Database. The data in this resource is not always accurate (giving Peter's height as a mere 5' 3/4", for example), but the general picture it provides is consistent. The physical description I give of Peter appears throughout his pension record. See, for example, his Certificate of Disability for Discharge, a scan of which appears towards the end of this post. The possibility that his hair may have been reddish is my slightly fanciful speculation; official descriptions just give his hair color as "light." When Peter's four sons registered for the draft during WWI, two of them--William Lloyd and Guy Garfield--were described as redheads. (I viewed scans of all four Garrison registration cards via's database "World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.") This doesn't mean, of course, that Peter's hair actually was the least bit red. As for my speculation that Peter "probably still worked on his father's farm" when he enlisted, the 1860 U.S. census shows Peter as the only young man in his father's China Township household; with five younger sisters and a teenage brother to support, his labor would probably still have been needed in 1862.

[12] Dodge, 27.

[13] A. M. Crary, The A. M. Crary Memoirs and Memoranda (Herington, KS: The Herington Times Printers, 1915), 70-71. Crary sometimes lifts whole passages from Dodge, but he is also much less pompous and usually renders Dodge more readable.

[14] Dodge, 28-29. 

[15] Ibid., 27-28. Sometimes I don't know whether to hug Dodge or shake him by the shoulders: I can't help but admire how vibrantly purple his prose can be.

[16] Dodge, 19-33, and Crary, 69-73. Neither Dodge nor Crary states that the 75th traveled by train, but in 1862, that would have been the only way to move 1,000 men 400 miles in 2 days.

[17] My quickie summary of the Battle of Perryville from the 75th's perspective is based on Dodge, Chapter 3, and Crary, 73-77. To understand the battle a bit better, I also did some light research: I downloaded battle maps from, read the "Battle of Perryville" Wikipedia article, and browsed some of the articles and accounts at the Battle of Perryville website ( The accounts in Dodge and Crary seem to tally with the other research I've done so far.

[18] I have left these figures rough because I'm not sure how accurate they are. Page 76 of Crary lists the following regimental losses: "43 killed in action, 154 wounded, and a dozen or more taken prisoners" or otherwise missing. I haven't made a thorough study of how many men were actually in the regiment, but Crary estimates there were about a thousand at Camp Dement. A list of the original members of Company G appears on pp. 617-618 of Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois, vol. 4; 88 men are listed, and 14 of those are identified as having been killed at the Battle of Perryville or as a result of wounds sustained there. In one of the published Lee County histories I regularly consult, I found a list (perhaps only partial, I don't know) that named 15 additional men who were wounded (but not killed) at the Battle of Perryville. I cannot now locate that list, but by comparing it with pp. 617-618 of the Adjutant General's Report, I came up with my rough Company G casualty figures. I'll try to track the missing source down and update this note.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Frank Murray pt 1: From Rocking Babies to Herding Cattle

My great-grandfather Frank Murray was what you'd call a self-made man. Born in the early 1880s, as a young adult he left the family farm near Kearney, Nebraska, with dreams of starting a new life for himself further west. Eventually, he settled in the area around Pullman, Washington, bought a farm, and raised his family.

Frank didn't have much to his name when he left home, so he
worked his way West, doing anything he could to earn money “from rocking babies to herding cattle,” he said. (Murray-Ryan Packet)
This seems to have been Frank's favorite phrase to describe his journey, since I've also heard it from both Grand*a Murray and my mother. Not very much is known about where he went or exactly what he was up to (we don't even know when he set out), but he had a repertoire of colorful stories he liked to tell about some of his adventures, and sometimes the stories give clues to his movements. For example, I once asked Grand*a Murray if *e knew anything specific about what Frank did on his early travels. "Well, he spent a little while in Wyoming," *e told me--and went on to relate the following tale.

Once, while Frank was driving cattle in Wyoming, he returned to camp very late after a hard day's work. He was exhausted and very hungry. Desperate for something to eat, he spotted a pot of navy beans near the fire. Seizing the pot, he wolfed down the beans--with an eagerness he would later regret. As the ominous rumblings of his stomach soon made clear, those beans had sat out too long.

"Dad said he was never so sick in his life," Grand*a laughed. "He thought he would die."

Frank probably spent most of his journey doing seasonal work on farms and ranches, but he also sometimes earned money by working as a barber (according to the Murray-Ryan Packet, Grand*a Murray, and my mother). This was apparently a very important skill to him, and he liked to tell his children and grandchildren about the kinds of characters he ran into on the job. Mom often talks about how he kept his barber's kit and used it to cut his children's hair (and how Grand*a Murray never liked the results).

Frank may have learned the barbering trade in Nebraska. We're not really sure, but it would have been a sensible profession for a young guy on the move without much cash. You only needed a few items to get going: razor, strap, scissors, comb, shaving mug, and brush. And it was, as Mom put it, "a very portable trade--you could pretty much take it anywhere" and find guys who needed a trim and a shave.

In the early twentieth century, though, local barbers did more than just cut hair--especially in rural areas. Barbers provided a listening ear, a word of advice, and even basic first aid to their clients. (Before the 19th century, barbers doubled as surgeons and dentists, and even in the early 20th century many people still went to their barber rather than their doctor to get minor ailments treated.) Barbers got to know their regular customers, who came from all walks of life, in a different way than any mere hairdresser would.

Frank told Mom that Two-by-
Four Johnson was the spitting
image of Hoss Cartwright.
My mother recently told me what she said was a typical story from Frank's barbering days. According to her, Frank's client list at one point included a number of Swedish immigrants named Johnson. These Johnsons tended to be tough farm-laborers who were known by nicknames: Johnny, Goose, Two-by-Four. One day, Goose Johnson came in looking a mess. "What happened to you?" Frank demanded. "Well, I hit a fella!" Goose replied--and presented his black eye for treatment. No doubt, he told Frank all about his dust-up.

Eventually, Frank's travels took him to Washingon, where he found steady work in a barber shop in the little town of Waitsburg, according to both the Murray-Ryan Packet and Grand*a Murray. He apparently stayed in Waitsburg for an extended period--but again, we don't know much in the way of specifics. Who did Frank work for? No idea. When did he arrive? Not sure, except that it was before 1910. How long did he stay? Most estimates range from "some time" to "quite a while." After some thought, Grand*a Murray ventured that she believed it was about two years.

An even larger question, though, is why Frank chose to go to Washington in the first place. Why not Idaho, Oregon, Montana, California--or some other part of the country entirely?

My mother believes that Frank was inspired by one of his uncles, William H. "Bill" Kincaid, a Washington pioneer. Bill, who was Frank's mother's brother, had left his family's farm back in the 1860s or '70s with his own dreams of a new life out west. In the 1880s, when Frank was still a baby, Bill had homesteaded in Whitman County, not far outside the town of Pullman.

According to Bill's homestead records, he and his wife and two children spent about a year and a half living in a 16-by-26-foot, wood-frame shack to secure their claim. Those months of hard living paid off later, though. With 160 acres of land officially his by 1884, Bill began a successful career as a farmer, livestock-raiser, and real estate investor. Within a few years, he became one of Whitman County's more prominent and prosperous citizens.

Bill Kincaid tried his hand at all kinds of enterprises.
Think of this one as the Avis of the 19th century. (Click image for more info.)

My mother says that Frank Murray, like his uncle, had some idea of homesteading in Washington--but that by the time he got out there (ca. 1905-1909), all the best land had been claimed. She says he used to talk about how he'd wanted to homestead. When I asked Grand*a Murray why Frank chose to go to Washington, though, *e simply responded, "I don't know"; so it's Mom's memory against Grand*a's on this score.

Whether or not Bill Kincaid's example directly inspired Frank to head to Washington, once he got there he couldn't help thinking about the old pioneer. Sometime around 1909, Frank decided to pack up his barbering kit, leave Waitsburg, and look up his uncle. By that time, Bill had more or less handed the day-to-day operations of his farm and ranch over to his eldest son, Charles H. Kincaid, and retired to a spacious townhouse in Pullman.[1]

When Frank arrived in Pullman (so the family story goes), it was the Fourth of July, and celebrations were underway. Frank had probably never met his uncle before and didn't know how to find him. So he asked somebody he met, "Do you know Bill Kincaid?" "Well, sure!" they said. "There's a parade coming by, and he's in it!"

Horse parade, Pullman, Washington, June 28, 1913. (Click image for more info.)

Sure enough, pretty soon down the street came Bill Kincaid in his horse-drawn buggy. Beside him sat his youngest daughter, "Nita" (Mary Anita), decked out in her patriotic finest. When Frank saw his uncle and cousin, he ran right up and jumped in the buggy--scaring Bill half to death (but accomplishing his mission). Uncle, nephew, and cousin finished the parade together.[2]

Frank soon began working the Kincaid land with Bill's son Charles, showing up as a "hired man" in Charlie's household in the 1910 federal census. It's lucky that Charlie's place was in the Ewartsville neighborhood just southwest of Pullman, because the local paper, the Pullman Herald, ran a regular column on Ewartsville happenings. In 1911, Frank's name started appearing in that column--and at first, the items were not very cheerful:
Frank Murray went to Juliaetta Saturday to receive treatment for appendicitis. (28 July 1911, p. 4, "Ewartsville" column; view page)
Frank Murray is at the home of his uncle, W[illiam]. H. Kincaid, having sufficiently recovered from his recent operation to leave the hospital [in Juliaetta] last Wednesday. (25 August 1911, p. 8, "Ewartsville" column; view page)
Frank Murray is at home again, after his recent operation. (8 September 1911, p. 3, "Ewartsville" column; view page)
Clearly, Frank's story about the spoiled beans was a little stretched: that appendicitis took him out for over a month! By October of the same year, though, he was starting to find his place in the Pullman community, as the Pullman Herald shows.
Among Ewartsville visitors to the Lewiston fair were Mr. and Mrs. C[harles]. H. Kincaid and Frank Murray. (13 October 1911, p. 4, "Ewartsville" column; view page)
Mr. and Mrs. W[illiam]. H. Kincaid and daughters, Anita and Belle, and Frank Murray visited the J. M. Klemgard home Sunday. (29 December 1911, p. 6, "Ewartsville" column; view page)
The Kincaids were active in their community and had a large circle of friends and extended family within a few miles of Pullman. Frank was a solid, affable fellow, and his aunt, uncle, and cousins introduced him to many of their friends and relations. He began getting invited to Christmas parties and weddings, and when there were fairs or other celebrations going on nearby, he had people to enjoy them with.

Frank made another social connection, as well. "One day," says the Murray-Ryan Packet, "when he and his Uncle were building fence he saw a 'beautiful lady' ride by in a buggy, and he told his Uncle he would like to meet her. Her name was Jennie Ryan."[3]

Frank's story will continue in Part 2.


[1] This is an inference from census records (which show Bill, after about 1900, living in a house in town, while Charlie occupies a farm outside of town) and the Pullman Herald (which makes repeated mention of the "W. H. Kincaid home" in Pullman and the "C. H. Kincaid home" in the country; "C. H. Kincaid" also starts appearing in agricultural stories more often than his father after 1905 or so). By June of 1910, when census records show that Frank was definitely in the neighborhood, Bill would have been 65 years old. 

[2] Grand*a Murray told me this story. I don't think it has been told much to my generation, but Mom says she has heard it "many times." I gather that it was one Frank told often. I'm not sure whether Frank actually arrived in Pullman on July 4th or not. As I show in later paragraphs, Frank had definitely connected with the Kincaids by June of 1910. Based on his age and the amount of time it must have taken him to work his way west (stopping for weeks or months here and there to earn money), I suspect he had only recently arrived at that time. I'm guessing that he first made it to Pullman around 1908-1910--which would have been during a four-year hiatus in the town's usually lively Independence Day celebrations. There were, however, other summer festivals in the area that featured parades--and some even overlapped with the 4th of July (here's one). So perhaps Frank turned up for one of those. Bill Kincaid very likely did participate in the parades, though I couldn't find any specific references in the Pullman Herald. As a long-time breeder of both horses and cattle, he would certainly have taken every opportunity to show off his best animals.

[3] Frank was more likely to have been "building fence" with his cousin Charlie than with Bill (who was in his mid-to-late 60s by the time of this story). On the other hand, Bill Kincaid's townhouse was closer to Jennie's father's townhouse than Charlie's farm was to the Ryan farm.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

New Theme: Murray Mania!

In the next few posts, I'll be sharing information, stories, and impressions of my great-grandfather Frank Murray and his ancestors and relations. I'll also be transcribing documents related to the Murrays and adding them to the "Transcriptions" section of the As Old As the Hills website. Mostly these will be biographical sketches that have appeared in local histories I've found on either the Internet Archive or Google Books.

Why did I decide to go to the bother of transcribing stuff that's already digitized and freely available online? Three reasons.
  1. The sketches are scattered all over the place, and I felt it would be useful to corral them together in one spot. 
  2. The Internet Archive could crash; Google could decide to scrap their massive digitizing project, start charging for it, or take some stuff down that's currently posted. What's available now might not be available forever, and for my own purposes at least, I'd like to record my findings.
  3. Computers stink at reading scanned documents. If you look at the raw, computer-recognized text of a Google book, you're going to find stupid errors, like "Vl/omen" instead of "Women." Google, though, is constantly working to correct its texts. The situation is much worse on the Internet Archive, where anyone can upload documents, but there's no quality control on the OCR jobs and no way for users to make corrections (short of uploading duplicate copies of the book). Some of the bio sketches I've transcribed, I've stumbled on by chance in digitized books whose OCR'd text was too garbled for the names to pop up in a search. By posting accurate transcriptions on my website, I hope to make the job of finding all these sketches easier!
Since the Murray branch of my family did not produce very many of the sort of wealthy and distinguished individuals that local histories love to praise, most of the bio sketches I've found are of more distant kinfolk--third great-uncles or second cousins twice removed. One exception to this rule, though, is my third great-grandfather George Kincaid, who owned an impressively large farm in Illinois. (If you're looking at the Great-grandparent Key in the sidebar, George Kincaid's eldest daughter, Lucy Kincaid, was Frank Murray's mother.) I'll be talking more about the Kincaids later, but check out George's bio sketch to see a picture of him!

I do also have some primary research I'll be sharing on the website--for example, I've begun digitizing the probate records of Maranda Corbin (Maranda's son Maxwell Gulliver Murray was Frank Murray's dad).

So stay tuned here, keep an eye on the website, and let Murray Mania begin!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

How Old Are the Hills?

"Jennie was born in Lowville New York on Aug 30, 1885?"

So begins a letter Grand*a Murray wrote to help me out with a 7th-grade English project. Our assignment was to fill out a rough family tree and write a short essay about one of our ancestors. I had chosen Grand*a's mother, Jennie (Ryan) Murray, and Grand*a had sent me a wonderful, nine-page mini-biography to draw from. At the time, I was stressed about finishing the project and didn't notice Grand*a's question mark: skimming for details to put in my paper, I was just happy to have a date to write down.

Once it was in my essay, though, I became sure of it. I began to think of that date as a fixed point from which the rest of Jennie's life could be reckoned. How old was Jennie when her mother died? 15! How old when she married? 28! The sentences filled themselves in naturally, and as they did, I became more and more confident of the story I was building. For several years afterward, whenever Ryan or Murray family history came up, I would automatically relate it to that date: how long had such-and-such happened before or after August 30, 1885?

I didn't begin researching my family history on my own until a few months ago. By that time, I'd forgotten the date and hadn't looked at Grand*a's letter in years. What I recalled most about Jennie then was that there were lots of great stories about her. Because she was still so vividly remembered (and because I hadn't forgotten my junior-high confidence), I assumed that I didn't need to worry about the accuracy of the information my main written family sources gave about her. These documents, after all, were put together either by Jennie's children or with their help.

So when I found Grand*a's letter again recently, the deep uncertainty surrounding that first, most basic fact startled me.

"[Mother] would never tell us her age," Grand*a explains in the letter. "When we asked her she would say, 'I'm as old as the hills.' After her death the Ryan family said she was older than the date on her tombstone."

At first, I was horrified. If this information panned out and it turned out that the Ryans were right, it would mean that not only had my family sources gotten Jennie's birth date wrong, but that it was also wrong on her marriage return and her death certificate. If even official records couldn't be trusted for such a recent ancestor (Jennie died in 1947), how could I be sure of anything I learned about the older ones?

The answer, of course, was that I couldn't--not completely. Even when you're dealing with official documents, clerks make mistakes. People misread what's been written. Files get shuffled around and mixed up. Bugs chew holes in paper. Disasters strike. Ink fades. Knowing these things from the outset, I had already prepared myself for more and more guesswork and less and less hard evidence the further back I went. And I knew that I would be very likely to run into ancestors who didn't know their right ages or other information due to lack of education or just because their families didn't keep track. But the Ryans were proud of their literacy. They kept track. Jennie knew exactly how old she was. She just refused to admit it--and that was what took me off guard. I knew at once, though, that she couldn't be the only woman in my family tree who had withheld information from her children. Clearly, I needed to ease up on my assumptions and dial up my doubt-o-meter.

Once I'd taken a few deep breaths and adjusted my thinking, I realized what a wonderful gift Grand*a had given me: an insight into Jennie's character. This was a more than even trade for a little uncertainty about her exact birth date. How great to learn that she was so obviously sensitive about her age! The age she claimed to have been at marriage (28) was a bit late for the times, and her touchiness shows that she worried about how others might see her. But the fact that she chose to respond to the unwelcome question of "How old are you?" with a such a teasing non-answer also shows that she had a sense of humor--even mischief--about it.

At a recent family gathering, I mentioned this "old as the hills" business to two of Mom's first cousins. To my surprise, I learned that Grand*a had only told half the story. It seems that denying her age became a sort of game that Jennie played with her children, and it made such an impression that Mom's cousins had grown up hearing about it. Here's how the game went:
"How old are you?" (someone would ask).
"I'm as old as the hills" (Jennie would reply).
"How old are the hills?"
"As old as Anne."
"How old is Anne?"
"As old as I am."
So Jennie not only made her age a secret, she turned the secret into a riddle that looped back on itself. (And naturally, nobody I've asked has any idea who Anne is.)

At that point, I had already decided to call my family history blog "As Old As the Hills," but I knew when I heard the extended version of Jennie's tease that I'd made the right call. I like the fact that it makes a nod towards a family story, and that it's also an older figurative expression: on Mom's side of the family, at least, capturing a relative's way of speaking is sometimes the whole point of sharing a story about them. "As old as the hills" also draws a connection between time and the land--fitting, since most of my ancestors were farmers. At the same time, it's nicely vague: How old? Which hills?

And finally, it serves as a personal reminder to me to work carefully and avoid assumptions--but also not to take the whole project too seriously. The dead, after all, could be feeding me false information. Perhaps one day, after a long climb, I will reach a high pinnacle of understanding--only to find some long-dead ancestor has been pulling my leg the whole way.
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