Marshall County’s Pioneers

Back in 1855, fifty or so pioneers made their way into what is now known as Marshall County, Kansas. Food was scarce, housing was non-existent. Each of them paid approximately $25 into a general fund for a determined amount of land and agreed to use the money to purchase a steam saw-mill. By 1857, they had their mill.

Daniel Caldwell Auld was one of those pioneers. Born in Pennsylvania, he was raised in Ohio by his Irish immigrant parents. He became the area’s first justice of the peace a year after his arrival in Kansas and his home also served as the second post office ever established in Marshall County. His son, William, took over as postmaster when Daniel Auld joined the army. A staunch union man, he fought many battles in the Civil War and returned home to serve in the legislature and help Kansas become a state.

And here is where my ignorance of pioneer statehood comes to light: Kansans fought ardently to make theirs a “Free State”, the very opposite of the bloodthirsty pro-slavery agenda being carried out by Missourians just across the border.  It turns out Kansans had no intention of creating a Free State for blacks escaping or being released from their lives of brutal slavery in the South. What they really wanted was a Free State for free white people who saw no good in getting politically involved in the slavery issue.

This changes my original feelings for Mr. Daniel Auld, who I spent a week or so believing was an do-gooder abolitionist, but I live a relatively comfortable life 150 years after the fact, so…I can’t judge. Besides, who’s to say back then that having no involvement in the slavery feud was just as bad as, or worse than, being pro-slavery? Was there a difference? Ah, questions for another day.

By now you may be wondering why in the world I’m rambling on about Kansas, the Auld family, and legislative issues from the 1860s. If it helps you at all, I am, too! My story about Marshall County, Kansas, wasn’t supposed to go in this direction but, as you may sometimes notice, I get excited about historical facts that nobody else cares about in the hopes that you will eventually care about them.

It all started with this book my husband purchased a few years ago for $10 at a local antique shop:

Vermillion KS 1866 school bond records

…which led me to me getting all weird about holding in my hands a record book that came to life a year after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination!  

Vermillion KS 1866 school bond records

Vermillion KS 1866 school bond records

The pages of this record book hold school board minutes beginning in 1866 and document who paid their school bonds on time, in full, and who still owed on a payment plan. Daniel’s son, William, was elected to be the Superintendent of the school district they were trying to create and signed off on many a paragraph closing the meetings and passing directions to others. The surnames Barrett, Raiden, Strong, and, of course, Auld are prominent (as were their families in local matters, I have come to learn).  I’m afraid to keep perusing through the book because the fragile pages are beginning to slip from their binding, so I tried my best to make mental notes and employ my usually useful photographic memory to retell what the majority of the pages really hold: recipes and oddly placed bits on how to survive pioneer life.

There are recipes for everything – I lost count of how many types of bread these people baked – and I am utterly confused by the recipe instructions, so Matt and I got a good laugh at the final step for a lot of them, which is to “toss it into the quick oven”. What does that even mean? I need temperatures and measurements to work with, times for which to let the breads bake, and where does one even find lard these days?

Household tips include burning brown sugar bits on charcoals inside your room (“room” was underlined emphatically!!!!!!) to ward off mosquitoes. And if your child is suffering from croup, tie a handkerchief tightly around his neck (but not too tightly) after soaking the cloth in various “vapors”. Uh…what?

And here’s another gem found on a page explaining how to remove stains from one’s silk square pieces (handkerchiefs?) – a tip to treat cholera (is the acid phosphate sold in the same place I can find lard?).

Vermillion KS 1866 school bond records

Matt and I decided to donate the record book to Marshall County’s Historical Society, a small volunteer-run organization that is only open for phone calls three hours a day. I got so excited that I called early and left a message. A nice woman named Ms. Skinner called me back while I was making dinner, long after the three hour window had closed. When I told her the book was from 1866 and rattled off some of the names listed inside, she sounded genuinely shocked and said, “1866? That was before anything!” She took our names to give us credit for the donation and told me to ship it to her at my convenience.

I thought a little this morning about the name Skinner, because it didn’t show up in the record book at all. Marshall County, Kansas, is home to a tiny population of 10,000 and it’s unlikely (according to my amateur observations) that someone would live there unless they had always lived there, at least in the family name. If I am correct, which I think I am, Ms. Skinner is somehow related to one half of the publishing firm Brice & Skinner who distributed a local weekly called the Blue Rapids Times. The paper made its debut in July of 1871 and still runs today.

Maybe Matt and I will be mentioned in it!

Forgotten History

My mother was born in Marinette, Wisconsin, a small northern town you’ve probably never heard of that sits on the border with Upper Michigan. Marinette is only a couple of miles northeast of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, another town you’ve probably never heard of. And that’s a shame.

I could try to recreate the town of Peshtigo for you from memory, but decades have passed since I last went through the place. I can’t believe too much about it has changed, though. It was (and probably still is) a close-knit lumber town surrounded by pine forests and smelled of the nearby paper mill.  Peshtigo is also divided in half by a river, not surprisingly called the Peshtigo River.

Because I grew up in nearby Marquette, Michigan and passed through Peshtigo at least a handful of times every year as a kid, I know its history. I know its story. I know why nobody else knows it, too. In fact, during my junior year of high school in suburban D.C., Peshtigo’s story was the one thing that helped me graduate from high school on time. My class attendance was awful, truancy-worthy, even, but my history teacher gave me a final shot at passing his class. His challenge:

Teach me something I don’t already know.

So I told him about Peshtigo. I told him about the lumber town, the river, and of one of the driest summers on record. I told him what happened on October 8, 1871, and he asked, “Isn’t that the same date as the Great Chicago Fire?” Why, yes. Yes, it is!

I passed my history class, became a senior, and spent some of my final year of high school helping to grade juniors’ papers with my former history teacher.

***

The reason most people have never heard of the town of Peshtigo is because of Chicago. More people were killed in the Peshtigo Fire, an estimated 2,500 compared to Chicago’s 200 to 300. They both occurred on the same date. Peshtigo’s fire was caused by drought and lightning, not by a legendary cow (I’m looking at you, Mrs. O’Leary!). The firestorm in Peshtigo was exactly that: a storm. It created its own weather patterns complete with cloud-to-ground lightning and tornadoes. But what’s all that worth when a cosmopolitan city on the lakeshore is nearly destroyed by a cow? Forgotten history, indeed.

(I had been struggling a bit to come up with a topic for my upcoming thesis for my bachelor’s degree. When I came across this page in Andrew Carroll’s Here is Where: Discovering America’s Great Forgotten History, I took it as a sign. Also, if you have knowledge of any resources or people, historians or otherwise, that/who may be able to help me with my research, please let me know.):

Small Town Oklahoma

This week has been undeniably boring. Not intolerably so, but enough to make me look forward to the start of my summer semester next week and to sending my kid off to day camp. Let me put it this way: I vacuumed my basement because I was so bored. Aside from ridding the floor of spider carcasses and rogue dryer lint, I made it all cozy and clean for the next time we must take shelter from tornadoes. The incoming migratory wave of camel crickets will appreciate my hard work, I’m sure.

We’ve been holed up since last weekend, practically. By yesterday, though, I had to get out of the house. Elle and I decided on a walk around Lake Overholser as opposed to a drive down Route 66, but only because the weather was promising to get violent again around 2pm. We left around noon and headed west to the lake. The clouds were heavy and the humidity was high, but fresh air and tree canopy always makes me happy.

Lake walk at #lakeoverholser before the storm

looking south from the old pump house walkway

It just wasn’t enough. Not for Elle, at least. She surprised me by asking to continue on down Route 66 while we still had time. It was like pulling teeth to get her to leave her room yesterday morning so I knew I had to jump on this opportunity. We climbed back into the car and headed westward to get out of town, even if was only to Yukon – the next town over.

in Yukon, Okla.

The Yukon Flour Mill has quite the history, but it seems riddled with family discourse. This facility is a rebuild, initiated by a devastating fire that took out much of the original which was built in 1893. A few years later, by the turn of the century, the town of Yukon became a popular settling spot for Czech immigrants. Yukon calls itself the “Czech Capital of Oklahoma” but I saw no evidence of it, not on the main street. I need to drive around a bit more, that’s for sure, but I’m certainly looking forward to the Oklahoma Czech Festival in October. Kolaches! Is that like the Polish pączek?

west of Banner, Okla.

The storm clouds starting to close in around us and we had only 30 minutes to get home before the severe weather kicked in. I turned around in a school parking lot outside of Banner and then we saw the scene above! Make fun of me all you want, but I never tire of the view when I feel like I am looking at a true Oklahoma landscape. Flour mills that line the sides of the old main roads, oil rigs in front of the Capitol building and residential areas, bison roaming at the foot of a mountain, cowboys buying paper towels at the grocery store (with spurred boots!) – all that stuff reminds me that I am still in the process of a full Oklahoma immersion.

I have yet to find that field of waving wheat. Someone direct me, please. I’m told the musical rustling is a treat to one’s ears.

Hey, Girl: History, Ryan Gosling, and a ton of book recommendations

The three of us went out to eat a few nights ago and my daughter was playing a game called Plague, Inc. on Matt’s iPhone. Elle wanted me to help her choose symptoms, just a few things to support the launch of her virtual pestilence that she and my husband so heartwarmingly named Mother. We discussed joint pain, fever, vomiting, jaundice, and even tossed around the idea of a painful rash. When Matt ordered his dinner, I mistakenly thought I heard him say “barbecue” so I immediately, and very excitedly, went off on a tangent explaining the 1868 Yellow Fever outbreak in Memphis and its likely contribution to the city’s deep African-American roots. Think about it: were it not for that pesky epidemic, we might not have ever heard of rock n’ roll, B.B. King, or barbecued pork.

Matt and Elle both called me a nerd and never before had I felt so sure about my future career plans in public history.

C.S. Lewis once said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” This, whatever this is, is not another goal nor is it a new dream. It is simply a more refined goal or, if you prefer to be all woo-woo about these sorts of things, an old dream with much better direction.

Also, Ryan Gosling can Hey, girl me any day of the week.

Some fascinating reads on diseases:

Some good reading material on American history and why public history is important:

This post went off the rails about ten links back, but I love to share a good read with anyone who is interested. I am also thrilled to receive new book recommendations so feel free to fire away.

At times, I feel disconnected from the parts of the country that I really love to learn about – Oklahoma is rich in Native American history, obviously, but I’m more of a Civil Rights and Civil War kind of girl. If you know of any war monuments, landmarks, or related places of interest here in the middle of the country, please share.

 

The Village of Castleton

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It tends to be very hot this time of year in Oklahoma, which is evident today as the mercury is set to climb to 91 degrees. This past weekend, on the other hand, was sunny, gorgeous, and unexpectedly comfortable. We spent most of Saturday at the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival, about a half hour from our cabin at Greenleaf, where we wandered the Castle grounds with gypsies, jesters, knights, and the occasional child butterfly fairy. I bought a colorful skirt from an adorable orange-haired pixie and an Italian peasant girl made me one of the most delicious iced caramel lattes I’ve ever had.

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Even Elle admitted to having the best weekend ever. She got to dress up as a gypsy and wear a bright-colored skirt. She played with a bow and arrows, saw her first jousting competition, and walked through a torture chamber museum. Here she is getting her first henna tattoo:

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The great thing about these Renaissance Festivals is that much of what the vendors sell is handmade, or at least produced by small companies that specialize in Renaissance pieces. There were merchants selling plague masks, leather-bound books, hand-carved walking sticks, and even giant wind chimes that sound like church bells, which we ended up coming home with. In this little shop (or should I say shoppe?), I went a little nuts over this whimsical painting and the wooden Viking ship pencil holders (but stay tuned for more Vikings!):

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It’s been decided that, shall I ever have the opportunity to travel back in time, I would like to visit this era (but only after it has been introduced to proper sanitation).

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P.S. About those bells, click here.

Nantucket on my mind

Sometimes I am rewarded with good timing instead of good karma, unless you’re one of those people who considers them to be one and the same. I am not one of those people. Karma is karma, usually in a singular event. Good timing involves a number of events. Good timing requires good karma, I believe, but they are not the same thing.

Let me explain: Have you ever been introduced to something you knew nothing about only to later find yourself coming across this “something” all the time? I consider that good timing (and good observation skills). It happens to me an awful lot with words and only occasionally with facts. This instance involves Nantucket, which I will throw into the category of facts.

I have no affiliation with the island of Nantucket at all. My New World/New England ancestors got rich in the village of Salem, Mass., pre-witch hunts, converted a bunch of people into Baptists, and then tried to settle in New Amsterdam (New York City – Throggs Neck, anyone?) until the natives slaughtered the lot of them. My man John and the Throckmorton family survived and ran off to Rhode Island to found Providence. Also, the farthest into New England I’ve ever gone was Amish Country in Pennsylvania. Does that even count?

Not too long ago, I finished reading In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick, a true story of a whaling disaster that originated in Nantucket. Needing some whimsy to decompress from the horrors of being stranded in the Pacific and the games of chance to see which of your shipmates gets cannibalized next, I took to reading Mat Johnson’s Pym. Again, there is a strong connection to the island of Nantucket. The story itself does not originate in Nantucket, but the story within the story does.

Lake Hefner lighthouse

Lake Hefner lighthouse

Last week while Matt and I were bicycling around Lake Hefner, we decided to stop for a break because, well…the wind, and benched ourselves near the Lake Hefner lighthouse. This was the first time I had ever paid attention to the plaque leading up to the structure itself. And guess what? It told me that the Lake Hefner lighthouse is an 36-foot tall replica of the Brandt Point lighthouse in Nantucket!

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You might think this is very unimportant, and maybe it is. But then you have to ask yourself: Why is there a replica of a Nantucket lighthouse in Oklahoma City? I haven’t figured this out yet. The reading of the books and the bike ride all occurred within three weeks of each other, which means this Nantucket thing keeps showing up in my life. Why? I haven’t figured this out yet, either, but I am a believer in good timing and weird little coincidences. Something is afoot.

What I’m Reading

What I’ve read lately (and highly recommend):

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: I may never have read this had I not moved to Oklahoma. These Okies are a prideful bunch and Steinbeck is never far from their thoughts, it seems. I’m just sorry it took me so long to finally start reading it.

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin: This book was purchased at a Half Price Books for less than four bucks. One of the best book buys I’ve ever made. Also, why is this not required reading for high school students? Or college students, for that matter?

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick: My paperback copy had been sitting on the bookshelf for a few years and I only decided to read it because Black Like Me was weighing heavy on my mind and I needed more tragedy…I guess? This actually works in my favor because I have yet to read Moby Dick and Melville’s tale was based on the Essex disaster. Happy accident. The timing of my book choices, not the Essex getting rammed by an angry whale.

All three of these books seem to have led me to Pym by Mat Johnson, another happy accident. I’ll be honest with you: I only chose Pym because I saw it listed as a “current read” by a blogger I read just so I can catch a glimpse of the wonderful foods and cakes she’s always cooking up and posting photographs of. Plus I liked the cover (yes, I do judge books by their covers). But Pym combines the lessons of all those other books mentioned above (friendship and hope, racism and slavery, woefully unprepared seafaring crews) in just this one tale. I can’t even begin to explain it to you.

Pym is just that weird and just that wonderful.

What I’m Reading

As I crawled into bed last night, I reached over and grabbed the book I’m currently reading from my shelf. This book is on my own personal bookshelf, of course, much to the surprise of my husband who looked at me and said, “You’re reading that for fun?”

688 pages of things I should already know

Yes! Then I blabbered on about all I had learned in just the first three pages (sadly, I don’t have a lot of free time these days for fun reading). What isn’t entertaining about hearing how Christopher Columbus set into motion the complete extinction of the Arawak people in the Bahamian Islands beginning in 1492? He was a schmuck, a liar, and a manipulative bastard who managed to pocket an annual pension away from a sailor named Rodrigo. Apparently a reward was to be given to whoever spotted land after more than a month at sea and Rodrigo saw white sand on the horizon on October 12th, legitimately having claim to the reward. Well, here comes Christopher Columbus who swore he’d seen land the night before. C’mon, really? What a jerk.

How Columbus managed to persuade the king and queen of Spain to completely finance his wackadoodle sea voyages to capture gold and slaves (and slaves were way more plentiful than this gold he kept yammering on about) astounds me. Was he like the Rasputin of the New World or something?

Moving on…

Matt is sometimes baffled by how I can manage to read more than one book at a time. He is faithfully committed to finishing any book he starts and never gives attention to another until the current book’s last page has been read. Aside from my textbook readings that require about three hours of my time a day, I have four books on my current bookshelf. These are the books that I read at night to decompress and I’m honestly pretty thrilled when I can manage to get through more than two paragraphs before I fall asleep.

Howard Zinn: The People’s History of the United States – I only read the first page yesterday while waiting in the car pick-up line to get my daughter after school. Three pages in, I was hooked. I know history books are usually written by the victors of wars or the mentors of a struggling government and everything comes out in the end hunky dory, but I have a feeling this isn’t one of those books. Do I believe everything Zinn writes? Of course not, and therein lies the responsibility of the reader – research, research some more, then research even more! There will always be people who disagree with your conclusion.

Sarah Vowell: Take the Cannoli – I love this woman. Sometimes I find her writing style difficult to appreciate when she tries too hard to describe certain events with run-on sentences that I have to read more than once. This book is more about her personal life, though, and includes often hilarious essays such as how her Cherokee ancestry affects her opinion of Andrew Jackson or how she hid her obsession with The Godfather movies from her roommates so they wouldn’t think she was weird (if only they’d known she used to ride her bicycle to town as a teenager to hear presidential debates). Her book Assassination Vacation is one of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read. I only wish it had been around in my D.C.-livin’ days. Ford’s Theater will be seen with fresh eyes the next time I visit.

Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Time – The simple fact that Hawking is a scientist intimidates me but I read this book for an astronomy class years ago and actually enjoyed it! I wouldn’t have this on my bookshelf again were it not for the fact that I’m taking yet another universe-evolution class. Hawking has a unique writing style that reaches out to those of us who don’t understand even the basis of how stars are born and he explains everything clearly. On the flipside, he adds personal touches to his narrative by discussing his earlier fears regarding his ALS diagnosis and (false) life expectancy and at one point even admits that even he no longer believes in the theory he worked for 20 years to prove. It is now one of his goals to convince all those other scientists that he was wrong. You gotta love a guy who can admit he’s wrong, amirite?

Jonathan Weiner: The Beak of the Finch – Again, this is another book I am reading for a class on biology and evolutionary progress, but it is very well written! I have enjoyed this book more than I expected and I actually packed it for our camping trip (and no other books). My spring break vacation was spent camping, hiking, and reading about the evolution of finches’ beaks while the campfire roared away. Weiner is sometimes repetitive with his information but I don’t find it distracting. In fact, I quite appreciate it. Perhaps this is why the book is so popular – not only does it break down the decades’ worth of work put in by the Grants on the Galapagos Islands, but it is written so that anyone can understand it. Have you ever read an entire chapter on how a single millimeter can make or break the evolutionary cycle of bird’s beak? Neither have I but it was fascinating! Evolution doesn’t take millions of years. It can happen over the course of one or two generations.

Behold! The finchy beaks of Darwin’s darlings:

Flight Between Questions

Plans for the summer are already in the works. There is no question that I’ll be returning to Florida for a few weeks, but I might try turning this 2-day drive into a less frantic rush to reach the North Florida coast. I am hoping to make some time with the kiddo to walk the Civil War battlefield in Vicksburg, Mississippi or to tour the USS Alabama battleship in Mobile Bay, which is the last thing to disappear in my rearview mirror as I cross over Escambia Bay into Florida.

I think the overdue appearance of spring here in Oklahoma has me already pining for summer in Florida. There is even a remote possibility of finally seeing Key West with my husband.

Vicksburg cannon

Mississippi River and Civil War cannon in Vicksburg, MS

I like having a plan, as I’ve mentioned before. My astrological sign accuses me of being indecisive and a website I recently came across calls my Libran indecisiveness legendary. I won’t argue with either of those statements although I wish there were more emphasis on the Libran’s ability to commit to that hard-to-come-to final decision. Happily, I have made a decision for myself and it will have everything to do with what happens next year as far as deciding whether I will continue on with my education or rest for a while and enjoy life without research projects for once.

Or research projects in the academic sense, I should say, because I’ve decided to volunteer at the Oklahoma History Center. This opportunity will teach me a variety of skills such as preservation, genealogical research, and cataloguing as well as help me to become more familiar with specific exhibits and, ultimately, Oklahoma itself. As much as I get exhausted by the socializing required of me when my husband and I host weekend gatherings at our house (one Sunday after our hot tub party, I barely moved out of bed for the entire day and thought I might have caught the flu – nah, I was just tired and I’d been sober the day before!), I really do enjoy being in front of a crowd of people, even kids, and sharing knowledge. This experience will give me that knowledge to share. I’m a history nerd and I want to get others excited about it, too.

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(Case in point: I had my daughter watch the Capital Cities video for Safe & Sound and explained to her the evolution of dancing and how it corresponds to the video’s scenes of war. She immediately went off to Google the Hindenburg disaster and learn more about the A-bomb. Mission accomplished.)

It feels good to have a plan, to have some kind of direction, even if it seems vague to everyone else. Sarah Vowell even wrote in Take the Canolli: Stories From the New World, “There comes a time halfway through any halfway decent liberal arts major’s college career when she no longer has any idea what she believes. She flies violently through air polluted by conflicting ideas and theories, never stopping at one system of thought long enough to feel at home.”

Sarah (I once had a dream that I picked her up in my neighborhood where she was hitchhiking so, in my head, we’re now on a first name basis with each other) closes this thought by adding, “Until I figured out that the flight between questions is itself a workable system, I craved answers, rules.”

It hits me as rather strange that it’s taken me this long to figure that out. Thanks, Sarah.

Isaac and Me

Jones, Oklahoma

Jones, Oklahoma

My family is a hardy bunch of contemporary Midwesterners and Floridians whose ancestors emigrated from England and Prussia over 350 years ago. One of the first of our kind to land in America, John Throckmorton, helped to establish the first Baptist church in the country in Salem, Massachusetts with Roger Williams before going on to found the city of Providence, Rhode Island. Ambitious man, apparently. Another of my ancestors served in the 1st Ohio Regiment during the Civil War and fought in the Battle of Shiloh, among many other battles over his three years of service. This is only a smidgen of the history I have found in my Dickensheets family tree.

Throckmorton? Dickensheets? (Don’t forget my Bieber lineage!) Go ahead, poke fun all you want at my family names, but know this – I have castles named after me in England! Moving on…

Most of my family, from centuries past and until now, is settled in Northern Wisconsin and Southeastern Ohio (only in recent decades have some of us headed south to Florida). There is a distant connection to the Ingalls family of Little House fame by way of my grandmother by marriage, but besides that most of our kind have stayed east of the Mississippi River with the exception of my daughter and me. However, a few weeks ago, my brother informed me that we were not, in fact, the first of our family to head this way…out here to Oklahoma.

Introducing Isaac Wentz – a grandson of the first Dickensheets to arrive here in America!

Wentz Family - my Oklahoma history

On Saturday, a friend and I took a drive out to Jones, Oklahoma, where Isaac and his wife are buried. It is only about 25 minutes away from my house in Oklahoma City but I found it a bit comforting that others in my family tree are nearby. So what if they’re dead?

The weather was a bit chilly but the sun was out, making it a near-perfect way to spend an afternoon in an old graveyard. I haven’t enjoyed a good old cemetery stroll since the last time I visited Savannah, Georgia. And no, the Jones IOOF Cemetery is hardly an elaborate showcase of burial vaults and historical markers, but the headstones served enough purpose to at least make me want to know more about these people who were alive when Oklahoma was only a territory, not even yet a state.

Did Isaac come to Oklahoma for something or to escape something back East where most of his siblings remained (good ol’ Grandpa Dickensheets had amended his will out of resentment, though I don’t know if Isaac or his mother were affected)? And why did he decide to settle in the small town of Jones? The Oklahoma Land Run took place long after Isaac was already established here with his wife and children. I know so little (read: nothing) about the history of Oklahoma, especially this region, and can’t imagine what could possibly make life so appealing here at the time.

Yet Isaac and I have at least something in common with each other – we’ve both left our families and all we know back East to make a life of adventure in the wild, wild West (even if my adventures really only consist of visiting long-lost relatives in nearby rural Oklahoma cemeteries).

Wentz Family - my Oklahoma history

Wentz Family - my Oklahoma history