Nature vs. Nurture

Nature – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

There is an age old debate about what forms a person – nature or nurture. Are there some people who are just born with a nature that leads them to be good, wholesome, helpful, virtuous citizens and others who are born to be criminal, reprobate, and generally just bad people? Or is the way a person turns out the product of their upbringing and life circumstances?

I guess all of this is a way to as who is to blame or who can take credit for someone else’s lot in life, as if you could fully do either.

I suspect that there is some middle ground in all of this. Some folks seem to have a temperament independent of any of the things that have gone on in their life and independent of the people around them. Likewise, there seem to be people who are genuinely trapped by circumstances.

Which was it for the Billington family?

As a native of the south shore of Boston, it’s not surprising that my wife has ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower. What is surprising is the people that she descends from. John Billington, his wife Elinor, and their children, John Jr. and Francis, were among the passengers on the Mayflower. I have read that William Bradford considered them more trouble than the other 98 passengers, combined!

Reading their history feels like walking into a broken down trailer park behind a run-down Walmart somewhere in the middle of nowhere on the wrong side of the tracks.

Francis, the son, apparently made the equivalent of cherry-bombs and set them off in the ship, as well as firing his father’s musket while inside the ship.

John Sr. routinely challenged the orders of Myles Standish, railed against the leaders of the party, and was implicated in a revolt against the Plymouth Church.

Elinor was sentenced to be whipped and to sit in the stocks after she was convicted of slander of another settler.

John Jr. got lost in the woods and was captured, later to be returned, by Native Americans on Cape Cod. It was also widely thought, though never proved, that John Jr. burned down several of his neighbors houses.

The ultimate, however, was when John Sr. happened upon John Newcomen, a man with whom he had a long-running feud while out hunting. John Billington took matters into his own hands and shot John Newcomen, dead. Thus happened the first murder in Plymouth Colony. As a consequence, my wife’s 11-times-great-grandfather became both the first murderer and the first person hanged in the Colonies.

You can read all about this lots of places. The New England Historical and Genealogical Society, FindAGrave, Wikipedia have great articles.

Two last curious facts I noticed about the Billingtons: First, among the families that arrived on the Mayflower, virtually no other families survived the first couple of years unscathed by deaths in the family. People died of starvation, Indian attacks, accidents, sickness, etc. But, the Billingtons prospered through the first couple of winters. John Jr. died first not long after his father’s hanging (I am not counting that one) in 1630, but they all made it through the really rough years. Bad or not, they seemed to be strong and resilient. Such is nature.

Second, if you research Mayflower families, they pretty much marry into each other’s families. There is a close association between them right from the outset. John Jr never married, even though by the age of 24 (when he died), you might have expected him to be married. Francis was 28 when he married Christian (Penn) Eaton, a widow. She had arrived later on, aboard the Anne. It wasn’t until several generations later that any of Francis’ descendants married descendants of the other Mayflower passengers. Seems like the families of the original Pilgrims continued to stay away from “those Billingtons.” I guess other folks assumed something about their nature, even generations later.

So, what was it, Nature or Nurture, that made the Billingtons just a bad bunch? Clearly, they were not among the Pilgrims who came to America for religious freedom. I wonder if they were escaping a situation in England that they had made for themselves. Were the children just bad, too? Or did they turn out that way as a consequence of how they were raised? Who knows. But, I am sure the debate will go on for years. For now, we look back and shake our heads and just wonder.

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Carl Joins the Army

Military – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Carl Everett Bailey, b. 5 Jun 1896

Carl Everett Bailey was their oldest son and they were immensely proud of him. Charles and Viola Tennison Bailey had photos made of him in a time before snapping a thousand selfies was even a thing. As you might expect there were lots more pictures of Carl than of any of the later nine children. But, that’s how it goes for the eldest.

He was born in Milton, Indian Territory on the 5th of June, 1896. Charles and Viola had married just the previous September. By 1900, they had moved back across the Arkansas River into Sebastian County, Arkansas, to Hackett where Charles had grown up.

Left to Right: Charles C. Bailey (father), Donald L. Bailey, Lena Lucille Bailey, Roy Thomas Bailey, Carl Everett Bailey, Viola Tennison Bailey (mother)

By August of 1916, the world was at war. Or at least Europe was. The US was sort of, kind of trying to straddle the fence and stay out of things while still being in things in its own way. But, the US was not yet at war. Carl was twenty years old and wrote a letter to his parents that seems to have take them by surprise. I am not sure where they thought he would be, but from the letter, obviously, this was not the place!

Carl had gone up to Missouri and had joined the Army! This was something that he had wanted to do for some time. This was to be a career rather than a short term of service. He has long felt like the Army is a good profession and he’s really looking forward to it.

I get the impression that this is something that maybe his parents are not so keen on. In his letter, after he drops his bombshell, he sets out to convince then that the Army is a good life, that it’s not as hard as people make it out to be, and that he has lots of opportunity ahead of him.

Carl might have misrepresented things a bit to get into the Army. He says that the enlistment officer must have misheard him when he said his age was twenty and refused to correct his mistake for fear of losing his position. But, in 1916, a man under 21 had to have his parents’ written consent to enlist. This was changed to 18 in 1917, but in 1916, he still needed their permission. (By the way, Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, has a great article about this at https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2012/01/24/a-doughboys-age/)

Carl Everett Bailey, in uniform

But, in the Army, he was. And he was happy about it. He certainly looks proud and happy in his uniform.

From basic training at Jefferson Barracks, he went to Eagle Pass, Texas. His duty was as a mechanic. Eagle Pass is right along the Rio Grande River and the border between Mexico and the U.S. You might recall that there were a lot of border tensions at that time. Pancho Villa had attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico in March 1916 and the mood was still tense. So, the Army patrolled the border.

One night in April 1917, Carl was returning from guard duty at the Blocker Ranch. While he was about 60 miles from Eagle Pass, the truck he was in was in an accident and he was thrown from it. His leg was run over by the heavy truck, resulting in its amputation above the knee. He also received a serious puncture wound to the groin in the accident. And so ended his military career that he had been so excited about.

Carl returned home to recuperate and rehabilitate. He spent time in Army hospitals and worked to receive a pension. It could not have hurt that his uncle, who just happened to be the presiding judge of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, wrote to advocate on his behalf. He received his pension, but still needed a way to supplement it for a living. He tried several things that would not require his having both legs. It looks like he tried sewing and watch repair and sales, both.

Just to add insult to injury, while recuperating and rehabilitating from his injuries, Carl came down with tuberculosis. He went to Ft. Bayard in New Mexico, a U.S. Army sanatorium for servicemen who contracted TB. Carl took a number of photos that captured what it was like at Ft. Bayard and the surrounding area. He even drew layouts of the interior of some of the buildings. He made friends, participated in debate, and taught Sunday School there.

Carl Bailey (right) with friends at a sanatorium.

In the end, though, Carl’s life was a short one. Based on all of the things of his that his parents saved, he continued to be a favorite of theirs. He always appears to be smiling in his photos. I am sure he had times of brooding and regret for running away to the Army. But, maybe not. He had taken the chance to do something that was important to him. And that in itself was important to him. Carl died in April 1923 at the age of twenty-six, just six years after he joined the Army.

It was just like he said it was!

At the Cemetery – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Jeremiah H. Cason is one of my most colorful and interesting ancestors. My great-great-grandfather was a missionary to Africa in 1856, a Chaplain and Captain in the Confederacy who lost an arm, and a Baptist preacher for over 60 years. Last year, I talked about his wife, Bettie Cooper Cason and at some point, I will tell more of J.H. Cason’s story. But this week, our theme is “At the Cemetery”.

I started in genealogy in the late 1980s. I remember my grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren, showing me the Bibles she had that belonged to her grandparents, Jere and Bettie Cason. She also had the Bible that belonged to her mother Lida Cason Higgs. When my grandmother died, all these Bibles passed to me.

In the front of her own Bible, Lida Higgs Cason added dictation of what her father was saying as he slipped from life to death. His health had declined for the better part of a year. In his last month or so, his mind had also slipped away. Lida wrote to her friend Ida that by the time she (Lida) was able to reach her father’s side, he was no longer able to recognize her. But he spoke of his childhood and Lida captured it in her Bible:

Jere talks about his family, how his ancestors had come to Middle Tennessee years before. He talked about the family farm and the family graveyard at the foot of the hill. He said:

Thomas settled the McGrady farm on Fall Creek, where the Nashville & Cainesville public road cross the creek. The old Cason grave yard is on that farm. The crossing is one mile below the old Smith Mill. … Jere Cason married Elizabeth Favor, Limestone Co, Ala, & bought the old McGrady farm. He lived & died on it & was buried there. At the foot of the hill, where he is buried, you can see the creek for a mile.

Here the years slipped away from my father. He forgot he was dictating to me and wandered again over the old place, telling me of many of its nooks & corners, his favorite places as a boy and young man, where he first took my sweet mother, to proudly show his father & mother his choice.

A few years afterward, early in my genealogical career, I was pleased to meet J. Merritt Graves, a cousin and Cason researcher who knew Wilson County well. Merritt took me to see the old Cason cemetery. It was past the end of a gravel road. Once the road gave out, you had to walk through the woods, down an old path and fence row that appears to have been a road, for about a quarter mile.

When we got to the cemetery, it was just as Jere Cason had described on his deathbed. It was tucked at the bottom of a hill, and from there, you could look back up the valley of Fall Creek for a long way. The old cemetery was surrounded by a stacked stone wall, about three feet high, with a long-rusted gate at its opening.

Most of the cemetery was grown over, but the stone stood proudly upright, like the people that they remembered. There were stones for Jere and Bettie Cason, several of their children and many members of the children’s families.

I think it’s fascinating that Bettie Faver Cason’s stone lists her name as Elizabeth Faver, wife of Jeremiah Cason. It seems like there was a lot of pride in being a Faver.

Ultimately, even though he talked about his old home place and the cemetery there, when he died in June 1915, Jeremiah H. Cason was not buried in Wilson County, Tennessee. Instead, he was buried in Royce City, Rockwall County, Texas, alongside his wife, Bettie Cooper Cason. Bettie had preceded him in death in 1901. She has a large, impressive marker in the small-ish cemetery of ordinary markers.

Lida wrote to her best friend, Ida, shortly after her father’s death. In this letter (which I suggest you read in full), she talked about how Jeremiah had already selected his monument and was prepared to cross over to the life he was certain of after his death:

Soon after Mamma’s death, Papa had his monument made just like hers. He had all the inscriptions put on it but the date of his death. It was a source of great satisfaction to him the rest of his life – that it was prepared just as he wanted it done. He had no fear of death but enjoyed life. He had many times given us minute directions about the way he was to [be] laid to rest. He had an agreement of years standing with a preacher friend, a lifelong friend, that whichever one survived the other, the other should conduct the funeral service. That also was carried out.

Graves of Jeremiah H. Cason and Bettie Cooper Cason, Royce City, Rockwall County, Texas

With a start like this to my genealogical career, with ancestors who left Bibles and letters and amazing stories, how could I not be hooked? From that time on, I was stuck on genealogy like the ticks I found on my socks in the cemetery.

Since then, there have been many trips to many cemeteries. At each one, I try to imagine what kind of people these ancestors would have been. How they would have treated the people around them. What their life was like. What the place they lived was like when they were there. Many people think of the cemetery as a place only for the dead and for the grieving. True that grieving is certainly a part of many people’s cemetery experience. But, for me, it’s a place where I try to understand the lives of those who have gone before me.

California or Bust!

Road Trip! – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Jere Will Higgs was on the move again. This time, he was moving from Texas to California for a job. It wasn’t going to be a forever move. Just about six months. But too long to leave his son behind this time. So, the whole family was going to take an adventure and make a roadtrip.

Will Higgs, Jere Will Higgs, Lida Cason Higgs

Jere Will had moved before. A number of times. He was born in 1893 in Alma, Crawford County, Arkansas to John William “Will” Higgs and Eliza Johnson “Lida” Cason. From there, his family moved to Van Buren, Arkansas and then to DeQueen, Arkansas. By the time the family was moving to Idabel, McCurtain County, Oklahoma, Jere Will had enrolled at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Arkansas. He graduated (I think) in 1914 with a degree in Civil Engineering, one of several engineers that this family produced.

Lt. Jere Will Higgs, 334 Field Artillery, U.S. Army

Jere Will took a job with the Kansas City & Southern Railroad in 1914. This certainly put him on the move. When the Great War broke out and the US became engaged, he enlisted in the Field Artillery and went to France. In 1919, he as discharged and returned home to Idabel, Oklahoma.

In 1926, Jere Will married Grace Clowdis. They had a son, Jere Will Higgs, Jr. (called Jere) in August of 1927. Grace died just days afterward, leaving Jere Will with a baby and a job on the road. His mom, Lida Cason Higgs, and his sister, Mary Higgs, pitched in to help. Lida even moved to Dallas to help take care of her grandson.

I am sure that Jere Will felt fortunate to have a steady job as a professional person during the height of the depression. So, when his job was to take him out west visiting some of his company’s plants and then staying in California for a time, I have no reason to believe that he hesitated. But, what about Jere? Well, what if Grandma came, too? And so she did.

Lida Higgs Travel Journal

On April 12, 1933, Jere Will Higgs, his mother Lida Higgs, his son Jere, and Jere’s dog Bob piled into a car pulling a trailer in Dallas, Texas and headed west. Their destination was Bodie, Mono County, California. That’s the middle of mining country. I think Jere Will worked as an engineer in mining and mineral exploration. His brother Morton certainly did. And his cousin Griff C. Lee was world renown as a petroleum engineer.

I can see Lida opening up her little notebook as they got ready to pull out of the driveway and make her first notes in her diary of the trip. She recorded her observations of the trip as they headed out on the road, where they stopped, what kind of places they stayed. That little notebook came down to my mother from her mother, who got it from Jere Will’s (her brother) wife Florence after he had died.

After a good start, things went south pretty quickly:

Apr 12, 1933

Left Dallas 11 A.M. Blow out in trainer 10 miles west of Ft. Worth.  Jere & I stayed with trailer 2 hrs while Jere Will went to Ft. Worth for tires.Good lunch at Ft. Worth.3 miles E of Strawn, trailer came uncoupled.  A complete wreck. Sold new tires & all for $12.00.
Wrecker carried what was not broken of our effects to a tourist camp in Strawn. Repacked to fullest capacity big good box & shipped it.
With great difficulty put rest of suitcases &c in car.  Had to raise
back seat & filled the back of car & made a bed for Jere & Bob on top.  Jere Will much more philosophical than I would have expected.
He had taken great pride in traveling in an empty car.

How frustrating! Many of their possessions destroyed on the first day on the road. Sounds like The Grapes of Wrath from the outset. And as a family historian, I can only selfishly wonder what was lost when the trailer overturned.

Jere Higgs and his dog, Bob

Lida, for the most part, just kept a record of the progress of their travels – where they stopped, what they spent, what sort of places they stayed. But it wasn’t all ledger-faire. I know I might be reluctant to jump into the car with a young boy and his dog for a long trip like this, but …

This first day out Bob proved himself a good traveler. Took the pillow from Jere Will at every chance, barked when he needed to get out a minute and was just as little trouble as a dog could be, but was lots of company for Jere.

And she talked about the people that they met along the way.

Visited Kiser home.  Very interesting collection of mounted animals, birds, &c collected in their hunts. A very happy couple though she looked not more than 25 and he about 70.

And she talked about the fun that they had along the road.

But such a wonderful day – of mountain scenery, gorges, also vast stretches of desert lands.Great variety of cacti  -wonderful roads – stopped at Coolidge Dam, a marvelous structure

Apr 19
Gila Bend to Los Angeles by San Diego, Long Beach mountains & valleys & snow. Wonderful scenery. First view of ocean at San Diego.  Saw part of U.S. Pacific Fleet.  Earthquake ruins at Long Beach very evident.

April 20
Jere Will wanted to take us on world famous cruise to Catalina Island.    Just had time to catch train to Wilmington where we embarked on the Catalina.  A most wonderful day for him & me. First time on ship – town beautiful & picturesque.  Lunch looking at ocean – seafood. Trip around island to see herd of seals. Never to be forgotten.

To round out day in a wildly extravagant way he could not afford, Jere Will took us to dinner at ______ . Everything suggested fishing occupation.  Nets on wall, little light houses for light fixtures – clam chowder served in shells for bowls. Oars for wall decorations, wonderful service.  Women in evening dress.  Wonderful aquarium display at door. Jere could hardly be persuaded to leave.  His Daddy had explored & explained every inch of vessel open to public. U.S. Navy ship in harbor also many others & a day never to be forgotten by Jere & me.

After ten days on the road, Jere Will, Lida, Jere, and Bob reached their destination: Bodie, California. They had stayed in Strawn, Texas, Pecos, Texas, Demming, New Mexico, Geronimo, Arizona, Gila Bend, Arizona, Los Angeles, California, and ultimately arrived in Bodie.

Route from Dallas, TX to Bodie, CA. 12 Apr 1933 – 22 Apr 1933

For six months, Jere Will worked in Bodie. And in September, they turned around and headed back home. This time, by a more northern route. In her ledger this time, Lida spent more time describing their lodging, whether they had water and a stove for her to prepare meals, how far they traveled, and how much it cost.

This time, their travels took them through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas, and finally into Oklahoma to visit a bit on the way home. Lida’s daughter, Bettie, was living in Idabel, Oklahoma with her family

Route home from Bodie, CA to Dallas, TX. 25 Sep 1933 – 11 Oct 1933

It was clearly with a sigh of relief that they pulled into Bettie’s driveway that Monday evening, 2 October 1933.

Reached Idabel about 5:30. Words can hardly tell the luxurious felling of seeing & using again the usual utilities & conveniences of life which we take for granted.

And after visiting for a couple of weeks, Jere Will came back up to Idabel from Dallas, collected his mom and his son (and his dog) and headed for home in Dallas.

A six month adventure had come to an end. And as Lida said, it was “never to be forgotten.”