Sunday, December 30, 2012

Uncle Tom's Memory Book

                                         Cora, Thomas, and Ada Rosser

Among my mother’s keepsakes is a “Memory Book” with autographs and notes collected by my great uncle, Thomas Spurgeon Rosser. The book looks like it probably had a cover at one time, but all that is left now are a few pages of brittle paper with notes written in pencil. It contains notes from classmates and family members written between 1890 and 1892.

Uncle Tom was 21 years old when he started his memory book. He had spent his life moving from one place to another as his family migrated over the 800 miles from Georgia to Indian Territory. His education would have been haphazard as they moved from one place to another in an ox drawn wagon. As the only son he helped his father build or repair cabins where they would settle, plowed the fields, and hunted game. They would live for several years in one place before moving on, becoming part of each community.  

The Rossers spent the most time in Palmer Station, Arkansas, about 8 years. You won't find Palmer Station on a map, but it's in eastern Arkansas, not far from the Mississippi River, where Tom would later return to start his own farm. My grandmother, Tom’s little sister, loved Palmer Station, with it’s rolling hills, wild flowers and birds. That’s where she spent her childhood and where Tom probably got most of his education. The older children went to school at Hyde Park. You won’t find it on the map either. 

Grandpa, as my mother called her grandfather, had been headed for Texas, where his older brother Ed had settled years earlier, but he was enchanted by the rich bottom land in the Washita Valley in Indian Territory. In 1888 when he paid the $5 fee to live in the Chickasaw Nation and rented a farm near Cherokee Town, it had been 22 years since he and his wife Emily had fled the turbulent South.
By then it was probably too late for Grandpa to make it to Texas. His older daughter, Cora, was already married, and Lillie and Kitty were nearing marriageable age at 16 and 14. By the time he had saved enough money to move again, even his younger daughters Victoria and Ada, aged 11 and 9, would be practically grown, so he had to give up on joining Uncle Ed. 

Most schools on the frontier were private “subscription” schools. Grandpa actually got together with some other settlers and hired a teacher when he first arrived in Indian Territory, but later he sent his children to a subscription school in Pauls Valley started by one of my grandfather’s cousins, Amos Waite, who had a college education. The Chickasaws actually had public schools supported by the tribe, but white children weren’t eligible to attend. Many Indian children attended subscription schools though. In fact that’s where my grandmother and grandfather met.  

Uncle Tom was 21 when he started his memory book, and he probably figured he had had enough schooling. there aren't many entries in his book. Some sound a little old fashioned, but not unlike notes you'd find today on a high school year book. The notes from his sisters are especially sweet. He must have been a good brother. 

The first note in Uncle Tom’s memory book are from his sister Lillie (age 18): 

Night and day have passed away
The hills and valleys part
But the dear affection I hold for you
Dear Brother shall never leave my heart
This Dec 30, 1890, Your sister Lillie 

On June 20, 1892 my grandmother (age 15) added: 

Sailing down the sea of time in your little bark canoe may you have a pleasant trip with just room enough for two.
Your sister Vicie Rosser 

Next, a classmate: 

To a friend
Oh think of me when far away and only half awake.
Oh think of me on your wedding day and send me a piece of cake.
Mary A. Schmidt 

Another classmate: 

Friend Tommie
May joy through all your future flow
Like water down a tater row
May peace and plenty be your lot
As down the hill of life you roll
Your friend and well wisher,
W.N. Green 

Gag notes were popular then as they are now: 

Mr. Tom
If scribbling in albums remembrance insures
With the greatest of pleasure I’ll scribble in yours
Your friend Josh 

An ornery classmate: 

Well Tom you have a long time yit.
But divil the gal you will ever git.
J G R 

One of the descendants of Jesse Chisolm, after whom the Chisolm trail was named wrote: 

Mr. Tom
Always remember your true friend
Emma Chisolm 

Finally, a note from Sister Kittie:

In the evening of life
Cherish the remembrance
Of one who loved thee
In its morning
Jan. 18, 1891
Your sister, Kittie B. R.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Mamma's Proverbs

                                                 Victoria May Rosser Paul

Some of you may wonder why I haven't published more of my mother's stories, Wenonah's stories, in this blog. I've been feeling guilty about that, and so I may as well come clean. It's because they're in the book. When I started writing this blog, it seemed like I was almost finished with the book, but writing a book takes a long time, at least it has for me, so I'm still just teasing you with stories about peripheral events and background history. 

Now it does seem like the end is in sight. That's the reason I've been neglecting the blog lately. I've been spending most of my time editing my manuscript to get it ready to send to the publisher.  

Dividing my time between writing the book and the blog has given me an appreciation for the values of both. On the one hand, in the book I can show how the events in the lives of my mother's family fit together, how they combined to make them the people they were. It's only by knowing in detail the joys, the obstacles, and the tragedies they faced, that you could ever hope to understand them.  

I've always enjoyed listening and telling stories, but a short story only gives you a snap shot of a person. Now that I've worked so hard to tell my mother's story, I appreciate more the importance of putting stories into context. It's helped me to understand my mother better - her whole family for that matter, and I want to leave that understanding, limited as it still is, to my children, to the rest of our family, and to whoever else wants to read about us.  

Now for the advantages of a blog. The most painful struggle I've had in writing this book is having to leave things out. To me every story, every little fact about our family is interesting. I have boxes of pictures, documents, letters. I have hundreds of hours of taped interviews with my mother, and I've read dozens of books to learn about the historical, political, and social background for our story, but I just can't put all that into the book. As interesting as it all is, putting it in would destroy the continuity, the drama, but I can put it into the blog, and now that I know what's going to be included in the book, perhaps I won't be so stingy about sharing facts that are peripheral to the main story.  

Also once you get to know Uncle Haskell, or Uncle Tom, or Grandmother by reading the book, it should be more interesting to learn more about them.  

The most important person in my mother Wenonah's life was her mother, Victoria. I knew Grandmother only in her later years, and although I spent a lot of time with her, I never saw her as the inspiration, and the tower of strength that she was to my mother. Grandmother taught her children with proverbs, and I've tried to collect some of them, both proverbs and also some colloquialisms, as my mother, Wenonah told them to me.  

          Beggars can't be choosers.

          Willful waste makes woeful want. Mamma said that when Roosevelt put dye in potatoes and paid farmers to destroy hogs.

          Still waters run deep.  Refers to people who are wise but speak little.

          I did very well by my supper. Mamma would say after a hearty meal.

          When you pour, pour!  Mamma said when she was teaching me to pour.

          (My mother quoted this to me when she was trying to get me to get to the point when I was telling a story.)

          Mamma never did whine. In spite of what she had to go through. She was always trying to figure out how to get along. And she didn't let us whine. This was her phrase:  I'll give you something to whine about.  That's one of her phrases that's glued to my memory. And we weren't allowed to tattle either. Me and Bob would tattle on each other and then we'd both get a whipping

          The Rooshuns. That's how Mamma pronounced Russians. Also she pronounced her a's as er's, and er's as a's, so my sister Oteka was "Teker," and her sister Ada was "Ader." Her brother Luther was "Lutha," and vinegar was "vinega."

          Mamma's toast was: Up to my mouth and down to my toes where many quarts and gallons go.

          A giggling girl and a cackling hen never can come to a good end.

          He=s a fool for the want of sense. (My mother made this comment about a cousin of mine who pretended to be smarter than everyone else.)

          A fool and his money are soon parted.   

          A house divided against itself cannot stand.  Mamma would say this when we=d fight with each other.

          So and so is more to be pitied than censored

          You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

          Pretty is as pretty does.

          If you don't act like a lady people won't treat you like one.

          When two or three are gathered together I will grant their requests.

          The sins of the fathers are visited on the sons.

          If you lay down with dogs you're going to get fleas.

          Blood is thicker than water

          Oh, for pity's sake.

          Birds of a feather flock together.

          A watched pot never boils.          

          I wouldn't have given a plugged nickel forC

          Mamma would also say AI don=t love ...@ instead of saying she didn't like


          If Mamma called someone "old" it meant that she was mad at them, or didn't like them. She called her sister "Old Sis" when she opposed her marriage to Pappa.

          It's a long lane that knows no turnings. Is a quotation from Robert Browning's poem, The Flight of the Duchess. Mamma used it to mean that people get their just deserts.  

          Wheels within wheels. Mamma used to refer to complicated political or social situations.

          Leave well enough alone

          A friend in need is a friend indeed.

          Mamma used the expression Plotting against the British in reference to my brother Haskell checking on us to see if we were talking about him. It refers back to the revolutionary war when the colonists had to be careful what they said around the British. 
          Your damned old Daddy. The only curse word that Mamma ever used.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Health in the Family

                                                The Paul Family
                               Haskell, Bob, Homer, Wenonah, Kaliteyo

I want to do one more blog about the health and medical care of the past, and I thought I would use my own family as an example. My parents were members of the so called "Greatest Generation," the term coined by Tom Brokaw to describe the generation who grew up during the Great Depression and then fought in World War II. I was glad when Mr. Brokaw wrote his book because I had always felt that there was something special about my parents, my teachers, the people who were adults when I was a kid. They had a kind of toughness and self confidence that I knew I would never have, something that was forged by their experiences.  

In addition to facing the Depression and WWII, the Greatest Generation grew up in a world without effective medical care. Doctors back then didn't have the vaccines, antibiotics and other medicines that we take for granted. They were forced to sit  helplessly at their patients' bedsides as illnesses took their natural course. They may have been able to diagnose diseases, but they were rarely able cure them. In fact, most of the things they did actually made things worse.   

I don't know too much about my father's family, but I know quite a bit about my mother's because of the years I spent talking with her after my father's death.  

My mother said that my grandmother was obsessed with preventing disease. She always made sure plates and glasses weren't shared, and if one of her children was sick she immediately isolated them and washed their dishes separately. She placed heated bricks in her children's beds to protect them from chills. She soaked puncture wounds in coal oil (kerosene) to prevent tetanus, and she tried to provide her children with good nutrition.  

Doctors didn’t understand many things in those days, but they did understand contagion. When someone in a family came down with one of the dread diseases of the time - polio, typhoid, or meningitis, a big red quarantine sign would be placed on the door, to warn the neighbors to stay away.  

Many children died during childhood in those days. There were so many diseases that we no longer worry about that were then deadly threats: measles, mumps, chickenpox, scarlet fever, dysentery, typhoid, rheumatic fever, polio, dyphtheria, whooping cough. Grandmother's first baby died before his first birthday of pneumonia, and her oldest daughter died at the age of six with meningitis.  

One of my mother's older brothers had polio, whick has now been virtually ellimated by a vaccine. Then it caused many deaths and left many more paralysed for life. Furtunately my uncle Homer survived with minor weakness, and Grandmother was able to isolate him so that the infection didn't spread to her other children.  

My uncle Haskell was almost deaf from recurrent ear infections, and my mother suffered from chronic strep throats. both of these infections are now treatable with antibiotics.
My aunt Oteka was sick with typhoid fever for weeks, and grandmother thought she was going to lose her. My mother said that the Dr. would come over every evening after he had seen his other patients and sit for a while. His "treatment" amounted to purgatives, the theory being that purging the poisons would help the patient improve. Actually giving a laxative to someone with an intestinal infection is the worst thing you can do.  

Of course typhoid is completely treatable now, but it caused terrible epidemics back then. The doctor would watch for the "crisis," when the high fevers would start coming down, and they could start giving the family hope that their child would recover. Children would be weak and emaciated after a bout with typhoid. Aunt Oteka's hair fell out, and her sisters encouraged her by telling her that it would grow back in brown and curly. She didn't like having straight black hair.  

The recovery time for typhoid fever was long, and patients' had to be fed soft bland food. That's one thing my dad did tell me about his childhood. He had typhoid fever too, and he said that his mother fed him so much custard that she "burned him out" on it, and he never ate custard again.  

My aunt Kaliteyo was the "sickly" one in the family. She had pneumonia several times and also had a large abscess around the root of one of her teeth that finally drained under her chin. Without antibiotics the only treatment for a dental abscess was to pull the tooth so the pus would drain. During most of my mother's childhood there was no dentist in town, but at the time Kaliteyo's abscess broke there was a dentist who came to Pauls Valley in a railroad car. He had his office there, and he and his family lived inside. My mother told me that she got to go with grandmother when she took Kaliteyo to see the dentist, and the railroad car was very fancy inside. There were shiny felt curtains on the windows, and the pull cords had tassles on them.  

As careful as my grandmother was about contagion, she didn't pay much attention to dental care. About all she did to clean her children's teeth was to rub them with baking soda. I don't think any of them reached middle age without false teeth.  

One of the crises in my mother's family was when her sister took in a stray kitten. About that time her parents got news that someone in town had died of hydrophobia, or rabies. They knew there was no cure so they searched for someone with a "mad stone." Which was believed to be able to draw out the poison from an animal bite. They didn't find a mad stone, and Kaliteyo didn't get hydrophobia, but that was the kind of fear that people had of infection. 

People back then used many remedies like the mad stone that we would now consider superstitious. One of these was the asphidity pouch. It was a small packet of herbs that mothers would hang around their children's necks to ward off infection. My mother said that when she saw other children with an asphidity pouch she wanted one too, but Grandmother told her it was just superstition.   

One of my uncles had a chest deformity, and the doctor told Grandmother that it would make him susceptible to tuberculosis. He was skinny, which was probably normal, but the doctor recommended goat's milk to fatten him up, so Grandmother bought a goat. Uncle Tom also had asthma as a child, and there was no treatment. The doctor told Grandmother to keep him away from the chickens, and if he had an attack, not to pick him up, I suppose thinking that she might restrict his breathing. My mother described how her older sister physically restrained grandmother to keep her from picking Tom up during an asthma attack. 

One of my mother's uncles had a farm in the Mississippi River valley, and he had malaria, which was endemic in the area. Every year he would come down with fevers from malaria, and every year Uncle Tom would go to Hot Springs, Arkansas to sit in the baths to boil the fever out. 

Spring water, especially water rich in minerals was thought to be curative, and people came from as far away as Europe to visit natural springs. Places like Hot Springs, and Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and Sulfur, Oklahoma, were popular health resorts around the turn of the 19th century because of the springs there.

My mother had a cousin who had tuberculosis. At that time people with TB were sent to sanitoriums to keep them from spreading their infections, and many went to live in the mountains, believing that the mountain air was curative. Denver, Colorado, is still home to one of the most renowned centers for the treatment of lung disease.    

I think our family probably had it better than most because Grandmother was so careful to prevent the spread of infections, but they still suffered from a lot of illness. It must have been hard, living with the fear that every infection could be fatal, and having to tough it out when you were sick, knowing that there was no treatment.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Health on the Frontier in the Early 1800's


I'm trying to spend some time writing about the health problems on the frontier, to give you a feel for the kind of world our ancestors lived in. I haven't done research specific to health, but I have run across a few facts that give a general idea of the problems they faced. 

I've already talked about the horrendous epidemics of smallpox suffered by the Indians during the early days. Ironically, smallpox was the only infection of the time for which there was effective prevention. 

For almost every other disease, people had no defense. In many cases they didn't even understand what caused the infection, or how it spread. Even when my mother was a child, my grandmother relied on sanitation and isolation for prevention of illness, and all she had for treatment were purging, poultices and prayer.  

Let me start off by telling what I know about Indian country. When you drive through Oklahoma now, you see much open land, forests, prairie, cut across by an occasional stream. It's easy to assume that it was much the same 150 - 200 years ago, but that's not the case. I'm certainly no expert, but I've read enough to understand some of the changes that have taken place.  

The eastern part of the old Indian Territory, especially the northeast, was almost a swamp in some places. Large steamboats carrying immigrants and supplies were able to navigate from the Mississippi River well into Indian Territory on the Arkansas River in the north and on the Red River in the south, and traders were able to travel completely across the territory in canoes.  

Ft. Gibson was established in 1824, and was the U S Army's base of operations on the western frontier for 50 years. It was located at the confluence of the Verdigris, Grand, and Arkansas Rivers. Because of the heat and humidity there, the log buildings were constantly rotting and having to be rebuilt.  General Matthew Arbuckle, commander of the fort, requested permission to change to rock construction in 1931, but his request was denied.

Although Fort Gibson was built 18 feet above the water it was practically destroyed in 1833 by a flood, and there was also a cholera epidemic that year. The heat and humidity were so great that Colonel Arbuckle allowed some of the men to sleep on a hill above the fort where it was cooler.  

One of the traders making an expedition into the same area in the 1820's wrote that he had to travel by night to avoid the flies, and still they were so thick that over 100 of his horses were suffocated. 

In 1833 the army attempted an expedition deep into Indian Territory to make contact with the "wild" tribes. Halfway into the expedition over half the troops had to be sent back because of illness. A Comanche hunting party actually rescued the soldiers by leading them to a village of Wichitas, where there was plentiful food and water. On the way back to the fort, men were dying every day. The Dragoons, who made up most of the troops on the expedition, lost 163 men.  

Summer was known as the "sick season" in Indian Territory because of the prevalence of malaria, and the hospital at Fort Gibson was crowded during the summer months. Many officers took leaves of absence or resigned, and there were many desertions. One outpost, Fort Wayne, north of Fort Gibson, had to be abandoned because of malaria. I don't have accurate information about the total number stationed there, but I doubt if it was much more than 500, and the daily sick report during the summer of 1839 ranged from 120 to 160 men.  

So why are things different now? For one thing, the construction of dams and reservoirs have reduced the risk of flooding, and farming and irrigation have siphoned water from the streams and rivers, reducing the total flow. Insecticides have reduced the mosquito and fly population, and malaria has been virtually eliminated in the United States by effective treatment. Now northeastern Oklahoma is a pleasant getaway for tourists, not a miserable, treacherous Hell.

References: Advancing the Frontier, and Pioneer Days in the Early Southwest, by Grant Foreman