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Natural Perspectives: Digging up some family roots

June 15, 2011|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
  • Gardening connects people to the land. Here is Lou's plot of vegetables at the Huntington Beach Community Garden.
Gardening connects people to the land. Here is Lou's… (Lou Murray, HB Independent )

I have a confession to make.

I'm utterly addicted to tracing my family's roots. Vic says that kicking a heroin habit might be easier, but I have no intention of overcoming my addiction. I enjoy it too much.

I lay the blame on my mother and my Aunt Marcella. They spun fascinating tales of their Thomas grandparents going west in a covered wagon, leaving from Indiana.

One of my great-great-grandfathers, the Rev. Dr. William Joseph Thomas, lived with the Kaw Indians in Kansas. My aunt saved the letters that he wrote to his son — her grandfather Andrew Thomas — from the frontier in 1875. He wrote of the marvelous crops that could be grown on the prairies. He also reported how dishonest the Indian agents were and how they cheated the Indians.

In one letter, he boasted that he had cured an old chief when no other doctor could. He said that the chief killed a turkey and they had a high time of it. I can only imagine.

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And that's what those tales did. They sparked my imagination and made me want to learn more about those days and my ancestors who lived then.

My great-grandparents, Andrew Thomas and his wife Louisa Caroline (Hedrick) Thomas, traveled to Kansas and then the Red River country in Texas around 1880. They, too, lived among the Indians.

When my great-grandmother had a baby in camp, she was too ill to nurse him. An Indian woman saved the baby's life by feeding him mashed pumpkins. The parents named their baby boy after the woman's husband, Charley Horse. That's how I ended up with an uncle Charley. My mother swore that was a true story.

My great-grandparents didn't like what they saw on the prairies. The ground was literally white with the bones of buffalo killed a decade or so earlier. The land was too harsh and dry for them, so they returned to the tall hardwood forests and lush cornfields of Indiana.

I love those stories. But it is the era of yet an earlier generation that has caught my fancy. I never grow tired of imagining the lives of my ancestors in the early 1800s, family after family who were the first farmers on their land.

I come from a long line of people who kept moving a few more miles west to find new land to clear. From colonial times in Virginia and North Carolina to the post-Revolutionary period in Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana, these people were pioneer farmers. I don't know if it is genetics, but I'm happiest when I'm working the ground to plant my crops. The farming gene is deep in my DNA.

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