A Terrorist in the Family – Or Not

In the Papers – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

I was all set to tell you all about my great-grandfather, John William “Will” Higgs, and his years running a host of newspapers across Arkansas and Oklahoma in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I was going to tell you about my theory of how he and his bride might have met, and how I found that idea in the paper.

But, instead, I was taking a new look at my step-dad’s family and was reminded of a story that is way too good not to share. It’s a huge mystery to me, still. So, I’ll just tell you what I know.

Jacob (or Jakob, or maybe Jakub) Reglin was born in about 1848. Maybe he was born in Switzerland. Maybe even around Lugano. Maybe that’s bogus. I think it’s likely to be true. The little bit I have tried to do with Swiss research has only frustrated me in finding access to records online. I’ve not yet written away for the records, but should. Of course, since this is in the part of Switzerland that speaks Italian, I have been advised to write in Italian rather than even English. Luckily, I have a good friend who is fluent.

He came to America about 1867, though we are still trying to decide whether the passenger records we have seen are for him or for someone else. He landed in New York and settled in Newark, New Jersey. On 9 Sep 1872, he married Franciska Siehe, the daughter of Frederick Carl Seihe and Louise Christiane Herboth. Frederick and Louise were both from Prussia and Franciska had been born in Manhattan in 1854. Jacob and Franciska had four children together, though only one, Frederick, born in 1879, lived beyond the age of five.

Apparently, things went well in their marriage. For a while. And then, they didn’t. According to the annual report of the City Attorney, in the “Message of Hon. Joseph E. Haynes, Mayor, together with the Reports of City Officers of the City of Newark, N.J. for the Year 1886”, there was trouble in paradise. In April 1886, Franciska brought suit against Jacob for refusal of support. John McLorinan, Overseer of the Poor, had Jacob arrested on 27 Sep 1886. He plead not-guily and bonded out of jail on May 1.

Report of the City Attorney in Report of City Officers of the City of Newark, NJ, 1886, page 458

On 27 Jun 1886, the case went to trial, with no verdict from the jury. It was tried again on 20 July 1886 and Jacob lost. He was forced to pay $5 per week. He appealed and on 23 Sept 1886, the case was heard by the Quarter Sessions Court with no jury. Jacob was found not-guilty this time. (By the way, there’s no record in the city attorney reports for ten years either side of this of any other actions. But, I expect looking at the court proceedings might show a different story.)

But, whatever had led up to this was apparently still a problem in their relationship.

Meanwhile, half a world away, there was turmoil in England as Irish Republicans were carrying out a campaign of dynamite and other attacks as a part of their quest for Irish Independence. In the midst of this, there were Irish secret societies in America, primarily made up of immigrants to the U.S. from Northern Ireland. Some of the battle played out on this side of the Atlantic.

And there was collusion from across the Atlantic. It seems that there was a group in the Philadelphia area, made up of immigrants, who after receiving U.S. citizenship, made their way back to England to fight for Irish independence. One of their number, maybe known as Joseph Cohen, or maybe Brown, died of disease while in England and the connection to Philadelphia was discovered.

(Note, all of these newspaper articles about the dynamiter are large. Click on the page, then use the link in the lower right corner to view full-size. For the Irish Times and The Standard, the story is in column 3. In the Times of Philadelphia, it is at the top of column 6.)

October 1887 is about a year after Jacob was found not-guily of refusing to support his wife. But, she must have still be angry and their relationship deteriorating on both parts. In the midst of all of the press about the dynamite attacks and the questions about Cohen’s actual identity, we find an article in the New York Evening World on 24 November 1887:

Franciska and her father went to the police and reported that Jacob was the mad bomber! They said that he and Franciska had been married for about twelve years, but in the last two, he had been withholding his pay from his wife (remember her previous charges?) and becoming more and more disagreeable. Finally, she said that he had left the country for Europe in July and she had heard nothing more from him. Hold Everything! Stop the Presses! Get this in the evening edition.

Another local paper, the New York World, must have also reported this, though they took the time to look into it more deeply. On the next day, they reported about further developments:

The New York Tribune sent a reporter over to talk to Jacob’s employer who immediately said that the picture from Scotland Yard was not Jacob. Moreover, they said that they had received a letter from him from Chicago recently. Strange, then, that Franciska, her father, and the local street commissioner for their neighborhood all said the photo was Jacob.

I’ve not found anything more in the newspaper on either side of the Atlantic to clear this up. But, eventually Jacob comes back. By 1900, he is back in Newark, living alone, a few blocks from Franciska. He died in Newark in 1906 and was buried there.

You would think this would be the end of the story. But wait! There’s more! The Evening World said he worked for Darsch & Co. as a mechanic. The Tribune said Dorah & Sons, a shoe manufacturer was his employer and had received a letter from Chicago. Where was Jacob between 1887 and 1900? Chicago? Europe? Newark? Somewhere else?

So, on 5 Nov 1888, there’s an article in the Inter Ocean newspaper of Chicago about a shoemaker named Jacob Reglin, of about the right age, naturalized citizen of the U.S., originally from Switzerland, who apparently had a bad temper. He went into a butcher shop with his dog (who had a big rat in its mouth at the time). The wife of the owner shooed them out. He got mad, so the butcher tossed him out. Jacob came back and shot at the butcher with his pistol and then ran, since this alerted the police. The police gave chase. Jacob shot at one of the officers and hit him in the hand. The officer’s partner shot Jacob in the abdomen. He was taken into custody and then to the hospital.

The article says Jacob is a married man with four children. It also says he “bears a hard reputation in police circles.”

So, is this the same Jacob? I don’t think so. We can find New Jersey Jacob in Newark consistently until his troubles with Franciska. There’s not enough time for him to have gone to Chicago, had a family of four children and create a “hard reputation” in less than a year. And there is a shoemaker Jacob in the 1880 Census and other Chicago records.

But, is there a connection between the two Jacobs? Could they be related? Who knows. That’s one of the mysteries that has vexed us for a long time.

But, between these newspaper stories, we get an idea that there’s a lot more to this story than just some census records, marriage, baptism, and death certificates. The newspapers really pique your curiosity and make you want to find out more about just exactly what sort of people there were in the family.


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Twelve – as in 1812

“12” – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

When Amy Johnson Crow gave this week’s hint as “12”, I have to admit I was a bit befuddled. Last week, we did a big family, so 12 kids seemed right out. I pondered and pondered without anything really coming to mind. Sort of frustrating, since I next week was a slam dunk as soon as I saw it.

I was thinking about the folks in my tree that served in the War of 1812, looking to see who all there was and to see if I had collected their pension records. The War of 1812 is one of those forgotten conflicts. It doesn’t occupy the place in our national memory that the Revolutionary War or the Civil War or World War II does, but it was every bit a fight for our young nation’s survival. Hmmm. War of 18-12! There’s my twelve.

When I look in my family, I can identify quite a few Revolutionary War soldiers and supporters. I can find dozens and dozens of who fought in the Civil War. But, so far, only a handful of men who served in the War of 1812.

  • Col. Uriah Allison – Veteran of the War of 1812 and the Creek War. He served in the 8th U.S. Infantry. His sister, Susan M. Allison, was my 4th-great-grandmother.
  • Francis Baker Bailey – Served in Captain Burchett’s company of Virginia Militia. He was my 4th-great-grandfather.
  • Abner Dickson – A Private in Captain Williams’ company of Tennessee Volunteers, serving under General Jackson in the Campaign for Pensacola and New Orleans. More about him later.
  • Aylesbury Shehee – Served in Freeman’s squadron of cavalry in the Georgia Militia. He was another 4th-great-grandfather.

I am pretty sure that there are some others in there that I have not yet researched.

I’ve said before that my Dicksons have always been a mystery to me. Once I finally climbed over the brick wall of John H. Dickson’s parents, things have become easier. I just have not yet had the time to dig into this section as much as I would like. There is a really good, well researched, and well footnoted history of the Descendants of Simon Dickson, compiled by Claire Jean Potter Ferguson Sullivan, Ph.D. It has, so far, reliably pointed me in the way of my Dicksons.

So, twelve. I started poking around, looking again at my 1812 veterans and discovered that Abner was a very interesting story. As far as I can tell, Abner Dickson was born somewhere around 1786-1790 in Duplin County, North Carolina. His parents were Joseph Dickson, Sr. and Jane Moulton. (I wonder if that means we are kin to Sarah Moulton from FoodTV? Kathleen says she thinks she is from the Boston area, so not likely.) His brother, Joseph Dickson, Jr., is my 4th-great-grandfather.

My Relationship to Abner Dickson

Joseph Sr. came to Dickson County, Tennessee shortly after Tennessee statehood (1796). He died in Dickson County in 1803, so he wasn’t there very long. The family’s coming to Dickson county was hardly a coincidence of naming. The county was named for Joseph’s cousin, William Dickson, Jr., who was a good friend of Andrew Jackson. But that’s a story for another day.

When the war with England broke out, volunteers were raised in Tennessee to fight for our new nation. Abner answered the call. It looks like at least five of his brothers also served, including my ancestor, Joseph Jr. I just need to research this more. Abner enlisted as a private in the 1st Reg’t Mounted Gunmen (Dyer’s), Tennessee Volunteers. He served under Captain Williams, in General Coffee’s brigade. They were part of the Campaign for Pensacola.

Ultimately, Abner and his unit ended up with General Andrew Jackson in New Orleans for the famous Battle of New Orleans. New Orleans and southern Louisiana was even swampier then than it is now. Apparently Abner came down with some sort of a spinal infection while in the swamps. He was rendered completely unable to walk and had to be carried back home on a litter. As a consequence, he very quickly was awarded a life pension of $8 per month as an invalid.

Just this week, Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, had a post called “Down the legal rabbit holes”, all about private laws. Turns out this was a great and timely post. When I read Abner’s pension file, I discovered that there was actually a private law passed by Congress to increase his pension from $8 to $16 per month. What an awesome coincidence! (By the way, the 12th Congress was during the War of 1812. Just saying….) This act doesn’t have nearly as much genealogical information in the Act itself as some, but the depositions and comments in the pension file supporting it are interesting and helpful.

Abner applied through his Congressman for this bill to be sponsored. It was read in committee, voted on, approved in committee, and passed by Congress. I am still trying to figure out exactly when this happened. The text of the act says 1836, but it appears to have been passed in 1856, retroactive to 1836. The pension account has a note that the increase occurred in 1836 and was paid in full in 1856.

His increased pension didn’t last for long. Abner died 11 Sept 1857 in Franklin County, Alabama. At the end of his life, he was living with his sister-in-law, Hannah, the widow of his brother Hugh. He never had a home of his own and appears to have always lived with family. He never married, being disabled and unable to take care of himself. But, there are a number of deeds and land warrants that he appears to be party to. That’s another area to research.

So, with a mystery topic like “Twelve”, we look at a sort of mysterious and unknown part of our history, the War of 1812. We find the secrets of private laws. And we continue to be amazed at the records that can be found today, 200 years after the fact, that can illuminate the lives of those who have gone before us.

Love – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

A Different Kind of Love

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air and on the minds of people around the world. I could tell you about love by talking about my wonderful wife, Kathleen, with whom I’ve just celebrated our twenty-second anniversary. Or I could tell you about the sweet, steadfast love that you could find in my grandparents, Robert H. Dickson Jr. and Susan Louise Bailey Dickson.

Instead, I want to tell you about the kind of love that both literally and figuratively gives of yourself, giving life and hope to people in hopeless situations.

Ralph & Bob Dickson

Let me tell you about my uncle Ralph. Daryl Ralph Dickson was born 9 Feb 1944 in Fort Smith, Arkansas, the second son of Robert and Susan Dickson. My dad, Bob, was his older brother by three years. Ralph and Bob grew up in a house full of love. Like all brothers, they had their moments and squabbles, but as different as they were, it was always apparent that they loved each other dearly. Even as they drove each other crazy, sometimes.


Bob, Ralph, Scott, & Robert Dickson

Bob married and became a father. Ralph was single for most of his life, marrying only later, in his forties. But, Ralph was a fun uncle. I remember riding around with him in rural northeast Arkansas in his big station wagon. He had a fancy air horn in it. We would cruise around quiet neighborhoods looking for people and cats by the side of the road. He would let the air horns go and watch to see how high the cat would jump. He would never hurt any animals, but he like to surprise them! We would ride for burgers at the “Ptomaine Castle.” He loved to tell stories about things that happened to him, though you were never completely sure of the veracity of all of the details.

Ralph went to the University of Arkansas, got two degrees in English, and became a high school teacher, following in his mother’s footsteps. He actually taught in the same school where his mother began her career in Lavacca, Arkansas. He moved to Osceola, Arkansas and to Houston, Texas, and finally back to Fort Smith, Arkansas as a teacher. In each school where he taught, Ralph gave his all to his students. He was class sponsor, or led the student newspaper, or engaged with the students beyond the classroom in so many other ways. As a result, he was as loved by his students as he loved them. I think that, like his mother, he had high expectations of his students, but helped them meet those expectations.

Like his parents, Ralph was a helper. He was always pitching in to help people who needed something – a ride, a hand moving something, help building something or repairing something, whatever was needed. He was active in his church, singing in the choir and playing the handbells.

But, Ralph always had some health issues. Kidney problems ran in his family. His grandmother only ever had one that worked and eventually his were giving out. As his illness was progressing, Bob one time told him that if he ever needed a new kidney, Bob knew where he could find one. Eventually things came to that and Ralph needed a new kidney.

After going through all of the preliminary examinations and testing, Bob was found to be a good match and offered to give Ralph one of his kidneys as a transplant. The kidney problems that Ralph and Grandmother Bailey had did not carry into Bob. The love of brothers one again was coming through.

Bob Dickson in the hospital to donate a kidney to his brother

Ralph came to Pittsburgh, where Bob lived and where there were world famous transplant centers and they prepared for the surgery. Ralph and Bob shared a room before and after the surgery. I have heard that even though they were sometimes driving each other crazy (depending on who told it, the blame might have been more on one side or the other!), there was never any doubt that the room was filled with love and commitment to each other. And with that, Bob became a living organ donor to his brother, Ralph.

I wish I could say that Ralph lived for years and years after that, and that his young marriage became a long one. But ultimately, even though the kidney transplant was successful, Ralph’s other heath issues were too much and he died 6 Feb 1992, just a few days shy of his 48th birthday and only having been married for a year and a half. He was buried back in Arkansas, in the Vinita Cemetery in Hackett, Sebastian County, along with generations of his ancestors. His students turned out for the funeral. He was the much beloved class sponsor and the love was very much mutual.

Let me tell you how the love continued. Scott Lang was Bob’s stepson. He and Scott’s mother, Mary Ellen, had married in 1989. Scott was basketball coach at LaRoche College in Pittsburgh, PA. LaRoche is a small Division III school and even though Scott had had offers to move into Division II and Divison I schools, he cherished the atmosphere of the small school. At LaRoche, he could, as he put it, coach his players to not just be basketball players, but could coach them to become genuinely good men. That’s another kind of special love.

Half-way through a fairy-tale season, one where Scott’s team was clearly a special group and was on its way toward great things, tragedy struck. One Friday evening during practice, Scott had a heart attack and died on the basketball court, surrounded by his players. It was a huge shock to the team, the school, and certainly his family. He was only 41 years old.

The outpouring of love for him was overwhelming. The school had tributes for him and his death was covered on local TV and newspapers. His storybook team went on to win the conference championship for the first time and then to make it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in the school’s history. They said they were “Winning for Coach”. His story was featured in Guideposts Magazine. (You really ought to read it.) The team’s story was the subject of a tribute aired on ESPN during the Division I championship that year. There was no doubt about the love Scott had for his players and his school.

Scott Lang Tribute from ESPN

Upon Scott’s death, Bob and Mary Ellen knew that Scott wanted to continue to share of himself, something that they were already familiar with. Scott had long been signed up as an organ donor himself and his parents made sure that this was known at the hospital. Scott’s tissues – all sorts of things from skin to tendons and ligaments to corneas – were used for transplants to a number of other people. So, his love continued to other people that he never even knew.

Center for Organ Recovery & Education billboard in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Bob Dickson is in the center.

And that love that gives of oneself – both figuratively and literally – continues. Bob and Mary Ellen are active in recruiting and promoting organ donation with CORE, the Center for Organ Recover and Education. They help to answer peoples’ questions and calm any sorts of fears and qualms about organ donation. (Hint: It’s not like what you might have seen in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life!)

Love. That’s our topic. And you see that it comes in lots of flavors -from the love of brothers to the love of a marriage in one’s middle years to the love of helping young men grow and mature to the love of brothers and parents to give, literally, a part of themselves to save the life of another.

Let’s celebrate that love and look for ways that we can take it forward in our own lives.

Consider becoming an organ donor yourself.

Stay blessed!
–SCott

Surprise – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Hey Mom! Guess Where I’m Going?

There’s lots of kinds of surprise that we find in our families. Sometimes, we find a surprise ancestor as we are looking for someone else. Sometimes, in these days of DNA, we find “surprises” of a completely different sort. What was that song? “Your daddy’s not your daddy, but your daddy doesn’t know”? Luckily, I’ve not any any NPEs (non-paternity events) in my research.

Bettie Cooper Cason

Sometimes, our ancestors do surprising things. We can document some of these, but others are stories of legend. I’ve got one of each of those this week. Elizabeth Cooper, “Bettie”, was born 10 Sept 1834 in Bedford County, Tennessee to Micajah Thomas Cooper and his wife Sarah “Sally” Vincent. The family lived near Bell Buckle, Tennessee, which is a very cute little town today with a couple of nice shops and restaurants, and Wartrace, Tennessee. This is the heart of the Tennessee horse country. The Coopers were fairly well to do, not wealthy, but certainly comfortable and above average for their area. So, Bettie grew up in a safe and comfortable world.

Rev. Jeremiah H. Cason, Baptist missionary and preacher, Captain, 41st Alabama Infantry, CSA

In 1855, she met a young preacher, a student at the local college (Union University), Jeremiah H. Cason. Everyone called him Jere (pronounced Jerry). He must have been a convincing and dashing person in person. I have a number of the letters that he wrote to her while they were courting and they were more like sermons than love letters. My wife said that had I courted her with that sort of letter, we would not have just had our 22nd anniversary! But, in person, I am sure he was something special because in June 1856, they were married.

(You’ve met Bettie and Jere before here and here.)

I guess that’s surprise number one – this daughter of a comfortable family marries a preacher, guaranteeing a life of moving from town to town and of certainly a lower standard of living than the one she grew up with. But, it was a role that must have filled her soul. From her letters, she seemed as in tune with his call as he was.

The big surprise for the family was that not only was Jere a preacher, but he was planning to go to the foreign mission field. And he was planning to take Bettie with him! At the outset, there wasn’t a certainty of where they would go. The Baptist Foreign Missions Board would choose where they needed them the most. So, Bettie, from a little town in Middle Tennessee was going to pick up stakes and go somewhere exotic with this young preacher. Maybe China. Maybe Africa. Maybe somewhere else.

The call came shortly after their wedding for them to go to Africa, to the Yoruba Country, in what is today Nigeria. This prospect was both a surprise and a fear for their parents. I wrote in an early blog about a letter I have from Micajah Cooper to Jere and Bettie as they were on their way that talks about how scary this whole prospect was for both of her parents. You can see the letter and read a transcript here.

Yoruba Country of Africa

In August 1856, the boarded a train for New York and in early September, a ship bound for Africa. They landed in Lagos, in Yoruba, in early January 1857 after working their way up the coast of Africa trading in various ports. I am sure that every single day was filled with a million surprises. The places that they served, the four cities of Lagos, Abeokuta, Ijaye, and Ogbomosho, were all large cities, larger than any others in the South. Some of these had over 100,000 people!

Baptist Missions in Yoruba, 1850s

The next surprise was a baby girl, born on the first of May, 1857. Tragically, the next surprise was her death on 12 May 1857. They called her Sally Vincent Cason. And the next surprise was likewise difficult. After the birth and death of Sally, Bettie’s health failed resulting in an abrupt and surprising return to America after just a year in Africa.

Do you see what she’s doing?

After their return to America, Bettie and Jere settled in, serving churches in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. With the Civil War, Jere went off to serve first as a Chaplain and then as a soldier, losing his arm in East Tennessee. After the war, they moved west, serving churches in Arkansas and then across Texas. You can see a map of some of the churches that they served.

Churches served by Rev. Jeremiah H. Cason

Some of these surprising stories are hard to verify. The things we’ve talked about before all have documents to back them up. We have lots of letters and census and official records to show where the family was and when. We have published accounts of their ministry. But the best stories come down in the family.

Both my grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren, and her sister, Bettie Higgs Finney, told me a story of their grandmother, Bettie Cooper Cason. Neither of them actually knew Bettie. But they both knew Jere. So, the story must have come from him or from their mother, Lida Cason Higgs.

Apparently late in the 1800s, while Jere and Bettie were serving a church in west Texas, the circus came to town. Along with the circus came the side show. And this side show had a group of “Savages from Darkest Africa” that the local townsfolk could go an gawk at.

Well, apparently Bettie caused a tremendous stir in that little west Texas town, in the days of segregation, Jim Crow, a very active Klan, and all sorts of discrimination. She went over to the Savages from Darkest Africa and talked to them! Not only did she talk to them, but she talked to them in THEIR OWN LANGUAGE! I am sure that a lot of the old biddies in the town were wagging their tongues for weeks after that. I mean, the scandal of it all. And how in the world did she know the language of the savages, anyway?

But all those years earlier, her surprise marriage led her to a surprise call on her life that led her to a surprise encounter with people from a place in a her past and a chance to not only surprise, but SHOCK her neighbors.

I think I would have liked to know Bettie and Jere. They must have been powerful characters.

Until next time,
–SCott

Nice – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Nice. Some people are just naturally nice – optimistic, caring, considerate, polite, and full of an inner joy. Others know how to make their way through, doing and saying the right things. But it’s just not the same. I think the key to “nice” is the inner glow and sense of caring that you can feel from a nice person.

Bettie Higgs Finney (b. 24 Nov 1903, Arkansas, d. 2000, Oklahoma) – Be sure to zoom on that cute face.

When you think about your ancestors, “nice” is likely lost a lot sooner than “naughty”. We just don’t spend as much time passing down the stories of the person who, day in and day out, cared about folks in very ordinary ways. But, the naughty ancestor? There are *always* stories about them that come down the years.

Maybe we need to do a better job of telling the stories of the nice people in our families.

One of my nicest ancestors is my great-aunt Bettie. Bettie Higgs was born 24 Nov 1903 in Dequeen, Sevier County, Arkansas. In 1911, her family moved the 50 or so miles to Idabel in the new state of Oklahoma where her father was editor of a newspaper. And there, she stayed.

Bettie married Thomas Dunn Finney on 15 Mar 1924 in Idabel. Uncle Tom was an attorney in Idabel. He served for a time as the assistant Attorney General for state of Oklahoma in the 1930s. And in the 1940s, he served for several years as a state senator in Oklahoma. And then, they came back to Idabel.

Aunt Bettie and Uncle Tom had a single son, Tom Jr., who followed in his father’s footsteps and became an attorney, active on the national stage. They had four grandchildren, three of whom are still living.

Of course, my experience of Aunt Bettie came later in her life. I barely remember Uncle Tom. He died in 1968, while Aunt Bettie lived another 32 years. She died in 2000. It’s hard to believe that it has been that long.

But, Aunt Bettie was always cheerful and nice when I was around her. “Bless the Lord, Oh my soul! And forget not all His benefits” was something I heard her say over and over. That and “Oh, foot” as her multi-purpose punctuation mark saying.

Aunt Bettie lost her father when she was a teenager. Her mother worked as a teacher and things were not very easy for them in those days. Living in southeastern Oklahoma wasn’t easy for anyone, especially not then, and especially not for a widowed mother with five children. But Aunt Bettie, by my experience, always had an inner joy about her that allowed her to persevere.

Bettie Higgs Finney, 1989

Aunt Bettie lost her father when she was a teenager. Her mother worked as a teacher and things were not very easy for them in those days. Living in southeastern Oklahoma wasn’t easy for anyone, especially not then, and especially not for a widowed mother with five children. But Aunt Bettie, by my experience, always had an inner joy about her that allowed her to persevere.

In the 1980s, Bettie had a stroke while visiting her sister, Mary. She worked hard to regain all of her mobility. She would carry her cane around and forget it places since she really didn’t need it.

I remember driving Aunt Bettie from Idabel, Oklahoma down to Plano, Texas to visit my mother. As we crossed over the Red River in to Texas, Aunt Bettie exclaimed, “There’s old Red!” and said that that was what they always said in her family as they got to the river and crossed over. She told me stories along the way of being a young person in that part of the country years ago. Very cool day.

It’s funny, though. When we think about how someone is, and our experience of someone, everybody knows a person in different ways. Last January (I think), I was in New York City and was able to have dinner with Deedie, one of Aunt Bettie’s grandchildren and my second cousin. After dinner, Jenny, Deedie’s spouse of thirty years, met us for dessert. Jenny asked what memories of Aunt Bettie we had in our side of the family that might be different than the experience of their part of the family. I said how she was so nice and positive. Both Jenny and Deedie laughed a bit at that, I guess Aunt Bettie had a bit of fire in her, too. The niceness only would go so far! That’s certainly the case with her younger sister, Mary, my grandmother, too.

Aunt Bettie had a great letter that her grandfather sent her the day she was born, but more about that another day. I think that this is a good place to stop. Part of being nice is not overstaying your welcome! I hope we can all remember to share our stories of Nice ancestors instead of just the naughty ones.

Until next time, Merry Christmas!
–SCott

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Family Legend

It’s Week 33 and the theme is Family Legend.

Every family has at least one legend, one story that has been passed down without any sort of substantiation.  Folks just take them for granted and accept them as the gospel truth.

For example, nearly every family has three brothers who immigrated to the Colonies together. One went south, one went west, and one stayed along the east coast.  Almost never true.  Nearly every family has an “Indian Princess” in there somewhere (we certainly do, a couple of times).   There’s even less likelihood for there to be even a germ of truth or drop of native blood in that one.

But, here’s one that I actually tried to figure out whether or not it could be true.

higgs-0024-f-v00-Higgs-Will-Nan-Colorized
Lida Cason Higgs and Will Higgs – Wedding Photo

Meet Lida Cason Higgs.  This is her wedding photo, taken with her new husband, John William “Will” Higgs.  They were married in 1889 in Arkadelphia, Clark County, Arkansas.

Lida was a strong, strong woman.  But she came from a strong, strong family.  Her parents had gone to Africa as missionaries in 1856.  Her father served as a Chaplain and then a Captain of Infantry in the Civil War.  Her mother kept the family while her husband was away at war and while they moved across Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas serving churches and working to evangelize the Native Americans in west and central Texas.

Lida and Will and their children moved to southeast Oklahoma shortly after statehood, where Will worked in the newspaper business.  When he died at a relatively early age, leaving young children at home, Lida picked up and did what she needed to.  She taught school and continued the work at the newspaper.  When her son’s wife died shortly after the birth of her first child, Lida stepped in to help raise that little boy and to travel west with her son as he pursued work.  She just kept on through lots of difficult circumstances.

But what of the legend.  First, you need to know that Lida’s actual given name was Eliza Johnson Cason.  Where in the world did that come from?  No one in the family was named Johnson, much less Eliza.  In fact, this part of the family has had a long tradition of Betties.  Well, in Lida’s father’s Bible, there was a notation that Lida was named for the woman who nursed her father back to health after he lost his arm in the Battle of Bean’s Station in the Civil War.

Rev. Jeremiah H. Cason
Rev. Jeremiah H. Cason, Baptist missionary and preacher, Captain, 41st Alabama Infantry, CSA

That sounds like it needs a little background.  Lida Cason Higgs’ father was Rev. Jeremiah H. Cason.  J.H. Cason was born in 1832 in Wilson County, Tennessee.  He answered the call to preach when he was just nineteen years old.  He and his wife Bettie Cooper Cason were part of the first supply of missionaries that the Baptist church sent to the Yoruba Country in Africa.

After his return, he served churches in Tennessee and Mississippi.  When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted as a Chaplain.  After a short time, he resigned and then reenlisted in the Infantry, quickly rising to become Captain of Co. C, 41st Alabama Infantry, a part of Gracie’s Brigade.

In December, 1863, J.H. Cason was indeed a part of the Battle of Bean’s Station in east Tennessee.  And he lost his arm in this battle due to a bullet wound.  His left arm was amputated above the elbow, but he survived and lived another fifty years.  Jere Cason died in 1915 in Royse City, Texas.

So, if the notes in the Bible detailing how and where Jere lost his arm were right, could there be some truth to the idea that Eliza Johnson nursed Jere back to health?  I am not sure how certain we can be, but here’s what I have found.

The Battle of Bean’s Station took place near the town of Bean’s Station in Grainger County, Tennessee on 14 December 1863.   On a hunch, I took a look in the census for that area in 1860, as close as we can get to the date of the battle.

Sure enough, according to the Census, Larkin Johnson lives near the site of the battle and he has an unmarried 26-year-old woman, presumably his daughter, named Eliza, living in his household.  Looking backward, we find the same family in place in 1850 as well.

By looking at the estate records for Grainger County, we find that Larkin died in 1865.  In 1870, we find Eliza, still unmarried living in the household of a William Johnson who is a few years her junior.  The 1860 Census lists a William (presumably a younger brother) in the house then, too.  So it looks like Eliza is living with her younger brother and his family.  Both she and he show up on the Agricultural Schedule of the 1870 census as farm owners, presumably from the (missing) distribution of their father’s property.

In 1880, we again find Eliza, still unmarried, listed as sister-in-law to John G. Brown.  His wife is Elizabeth and there is an Elizabeth Johnson in the family in 1860.

What does all of this tell us?  Well, it can tell us that this family really is a family.  It can tell us that Eliza Johnson really lived, lived adjacent to the battlefield at the right time.  Can it tell us that she served as a battlefield nurse?  No.  Can it tell us that she tended J.H. Cason after he was wounded?  No.  Can it give us circumstantial evidence that this legend could be true?  Absolutely!  The story talks about a person that we likely have found.  And one thing I have found to be true.  When Jeremiah H. Cason wrote something down or said something, it was by-golly the gospel truth.  So, in true Mythbusters style, I would call this family legend proved “Probably True”.

Now, if I can only find those three brothers and where they went….

Swinehood vs. Socrates

I know that I don’t have the writer’s gift that my aunt Linda Ridener Dickson has, nor that of my grandmother Susan Louise Bailey Dickson.  The two of them set a high bar that I can only aspire to.

bailey-0200-f-v01
Susan Louise Bailey, age 6, and her cow, Blossom

Susan Louise Bailey was born in October of 1919 in Hackett, Sebastian County, Arkansas.  She was the youngest of Charles Council Bailey and Viola Tennison’s ten children.  The farm where she was born and grew up had been in the family since 1840, purchased by Charles’ grandfather Francis Baker Bailey.

(I am convinced, though I have not yet proved, that the family was in Arkansas just prior to statehood.  It appears that some of Francis’ sons claim to have been born in Arkansas with dates of birth that predate statehood, but the census is never a great source.  Another post for another day.)

bailey-docs-0929-p1-v00I think things were often tough on the farm.  Through the Depression, I find lots of cases, especially after Charles died, where the farm was always under a lien for back taxes.  Money appeared to be really tight.  It wasn’t a big place and could never do more than scratch out a living on it.  No one was going to get rich there.

With a rural and difficult childhood, you might be surprised to see Susan not only go to college, but also to get a Masters degree, so that she could grow in her career as a teacher and help take care of her family.

dickson-1493-f-v00-SusanDickson-CommencementGrandmother was a teacher for a number of years in Southside High School in Fort Smith, Arkansas, teaching Math the whole time.   She was a special teacher to many students, taking time with them and helping them to understand the concepts that often seemed beyond their grasp.  So appreciated was she that she was recognized as Teacher of the Year.

I think she could be a tough teacher, expecting a lot of her students in terms of academics and in terms of behavior.  But she could also be a lot of fun.  She was always willing to go out of her way to support her students, attending football and basketball games and helping out with various activities.

And she could be an enforcer in class.  She would growl at her students.  It was a low, rumbly growl like an aggravated bear.  They knew to behave when they heard her growl!  But if that didn’t work, she kept a bullwhip on her desk!  I don’t think she ever had to use it.  Somehow, I think both of these are pedagogical techniques not commonly used in the classroom today.

But back to the gift for writing.  Dad shared a brief essay that Grandmother wrote for a class at her funeral.  This must have been in a freshman English class, based on the date – January 1938.  The class was English 103a.

In an assignment on Appearance, Mechanics, Style, and Content, the students were asked to address the question of whether you would rather be a live pig or a dead Socrates.  Here is Susan Louise Bailey’s classic answer to that question:

Sue Bailey
English 103a
January 13, 1938
Appearance, Mechanics, Style, Content

Swinehood vs. Socrates

I must confess that to be either a live pig or a dead Socrates would not be very desirable to me; however, being a swine might have some merits.  In a discussion of the subject a short while ago, a person said “at least Socrates is dead.”  This statement cannot be disputed; but, dead though he is, I am sure that Socrates is unable to sleep peacefully because of the beratings of harassed students struggling with his philosophy and teachings.  After an unhappy existence on earth, troubled with a scolding, brawling wife and stupid children, as well as many scornful enemies, to be troubled even in death by the chiding of one’s victims would be absolutely unbearable.

The swine, on the other hand, has few troubles in life and none in death if he has been a well-behaved swine.  He has nothing to do but doze in the warm sunshine.  If the sunshine becomes too warm, he has only to go to the shade to doze.  He does not have to go to school because there is nothing which he needs to learn.  It is unnecessary for him to work because he is provided with food and shelter.  This lucky swine has no diet to be observed religiously because obesity holds no terrors for him; in fact, the more obese he is, the more admiration he receives.  Most people, in considering the choice of a pig’s life, raise their hands in holy horror at the thought of the food given to swine.  Of course, such food is very repulsive to human beings; but we must remember that the swine does not know anything about our mode of living and is, therefore, content with his lot.  Some might object to the fact that the pig will soon be killed for food.  Since this is true, the choice is not between being a live pig or a dead Socrates, but a choice between being a dead pig or a dead Socrates.  After the pig is dead he is appreciated more than while he is alive, because people enjoy eating the pork roast and ham sandwiches into which he is transformed.  Instead of cursing him for having ever lived, people think kindly of him and his spirit rests peacefully.

As I said before, neither idea appeals to me; but if I were forced to make such a choice, I would rather be a live pig who lives in indolent contentment and by his death brings pleasure to human beings.  I hope that, after my death, I will be as kindly remembered as the swine is.