I am pleased to announce that I have signed up to give TWO presentations at this year’s History Camp Iowa. Last year, due to an unforeseen family matter, I had to back out. I was greatly disappointed and am looking forward to this year’s that much more because of it. The 2017 History Camp Iowa will be on Saturday, November 11 at the State Historical Museum of Iowa in Des Moines.
My presentation the Prince of the Upper Missouri: Captain James McGarry will discuss his incredible life. It will include new information I have uncovered since I first presented a paper at the 2016 Missouri Valley History Conference. I am excited to share in particular the gems I uncovered on my research trip to the Montana State Historical Society.
My second presentation, We Are Now in Indian Territory, is based upon my graduate school thesis of the same name. In this presentation I will discuss the views of Overland trail emigrants’ views of Native Americans. I will compare the similarities and differences between to the different genders. How these attitudes changed over time and were impacted by outside influences will also be discussed.
This post was written in response to another recent round of my being asked the question, “Why steamboat captains?”
Last week I visited a local museum to look at a few items relating to one of my steamboat captains- David C. Haney. I got to hold his steamboat logbook from 1865, a letter he wrote in 1876, and a tintype picture of him. It was exhilarating to see his picture and read his own words written by his hand. I will admit that I had a moment or two where I geeked out a little bit. Okay, a lot a bit.
I have been drawn to history for as long as I can remember. Ironically, steamboats used to be a topic that I did not find remotely interesting. Then about five years ago, through a series of circumstances that is perhaps best described and summed up as act of serendipity, I heard the name James McGarry. He was introduced to me by a living descendant of his brother Henry. Through the process of confirming for her if she really was related to this steamboat captain or not, I realized there was an incredible story just waiting for someone to come along and tell it. For the first time, I began asking myself questions about the lives of those who worked aboard steamboats: What were their lives like? What were they like? What were their contributions to history?
At first a little thing called graduate school got in the way of my really digging into research on Captain McGarry. I have now been researching him for over three years. I feel a sense of gratitude and honor in being his biographer. It often feels like I didn’t choose this project, it choose me. I think this project is possibly one of those once in a lifetime, a historians’ dream type of things. Researching his story has greatly added to my own. I have already scratched off items on my want to do and accomplish list when I haven’t even had an article about him published yet. Researching Captain McGarry has been a challenge. I credit these challenges for strengthening my research abilities and for my overall growth as a historian.
While researching Captain McGarry, I have used a modified version of the FAN club. For those unfamiliar with this concept, the FAN club is a genealogy methodology in which you examine the friends, associates, and neighbors of your research subject to uncover more information about that subject. The use of this methodology has not only proven to yield a great deal of helpful information about McGarry, but introduced me to many other steamboatmen. Not just captains either. I am struck by the variety of their backgrounds, the unique nature of their contributions and personalities, as well as the depth of their stories. I will be a little sad when one day I must say goodbye to Captain McGarry, but I am excited to tell the others’ stories.
Those who worked the Upper Missouri river in particular have not received the attention they deserve. I hope to change that one story at a time. Below is a list of steamboatmen of the Upper Missouri for who I am endeavoring to answer the questions of What were their lives like? What were they like? What were their contributions to history?:
As it is nearly the end of February and I am just now posting my hopes and goals for 2017, perhaps I should really consider adding updating my blog on a more regular basis or daresay even on a schedule to my list? If the past two months are any indication, it will be a very busy year for me.
I recently applied for a spot at the Association of Documentary Editing’s summer institute. If I get in, it will be a great opportunity for me. Historical document editing is one area I am committing to learning more about this year. Cross your fingers for me!
Next week, I will present a paper at the Missouri Valley History Conference. This is the third year I have done so. I will be discussing the life of John Christie Barr. He was a friend of our dear Captain McGarry. I have been pulling records on John hoping to find references to Captain McGarry (applying a genealogy research practice) for about a year now. Along the way I figured out that John, or Johnny as he liked to be called, also has a great story to share.
At the beginning of January I created a research plan for the entire year for my Captain McGarry project. However, I have already made so many breakthroughs that I have to completely redo that research plan. At the moment, my focus is on transcribing dozens of letters from my research trip to Montana. Once I am done with those I will draw up a new research plan. That plan will include several mini research trips throughout eastern Nebraska, to Sioux City, Iowa, possibly South Dakota, and perhaps even in Missouri. My goal is to have my Captain McGarry research wrapped up by the end of the year if not by October.
I have a couple writing projects that I am going to stay mum about for the time being. Just know writing is one of my top goals for the year.
I recently updated my bio to reflect that I am once again a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and available as a genealogist for hire. This is something I have been contemplating for a while and the timing just feels right. Two of my other genealogy goals for this year are devoting more time to the Rogue Genealogist and my own family tree. I have somewhat neglected my family tree. Sometimes I am just plain research burned out by the time I can get to working on my family tree! I am looking forward to spending more time on genealogy and coming up with ideas to combat research burn out.
Well, I have avoided transcribing this painfully difficult to read letter for long enough- back to work!
It’s half past midnight as I start this post and the events of the past four days are not letting my mind nor body find peace tonight. This past Thursday I received a call from my aunt, my Grandma Rose was not expected to live another day. Friday crawled by then Saturday night I received another call, she was gone.
The passing of my grandmother was not unexpected. Ever since I had a rather vivid dream a month or two ago I expected a call from my aunt any day. In my dream, my grandmother and I were sitting at my dining room table talking about everything, anything just like before she got sick. Then towards the end she said, “Well kid, I am going to go now. I just wanted to come say goodbye.” Although it sounds mad, a big part of me believes, feels, knows that by some miracle a part of her being was able to untangle itself from the Alzheimer’s and the laws of science so that we could have one last conversation.
I feel heartbroken. I feel mad. I feel robbed.
Our relationship had a bit of unconventional start. Due to family matters, a true relationship was not able to even begin to form until I was about 15 or 16. We had some pretty big obstacles to overcome, issues to discuss, things that happened to be forgiven, all while navigating simply getting to know one another from a distance of 1,200 miles. It was at times messy, but, other than having more time together I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Despite these challenges we were able to build an incredibly strong relationship based upon second chances, forgiveness, and unconditional love. We did not give up on one another. I am proud of what we built.
The conversations we had to get there dealt with things that I don’t think many in a grandparent-grandchild relationship ever do. I got to know and appreciate her in ways I may have not otherwise. Our relationship may have not ever looked like a typical grandparent-grandchild one from the outside but that never bothered me. In a way, we had something better, something more.
Grandma Rose became someone I could always count on for emotional support. Providing emotional support for an INFJ like me is not an easy task but there she was. She always rooted for me, always believed in me. If she didn’t understand or agree with something I was doing, she’d ask me questions but then she’d support me anyway. She just wanted to know that I thought things through and wanted me to make decisions in my best interest. She wanted to know about every part of my life. She was invested completely in my happiness. She wanted to make sure I always felt her love and support.
Then one day during one of our phone calls she didn’t ask me about my dogs- something she did without fail. It happened again on our next call and was accompanied by some red flags I had seen before. I began to fear that the same disease that claimed the life of my grandfather in 2005 was starting to creep in and was going to eventually take her too. I could hear the heartbreak in her voice several months later when she finally admitted what was wrong. From there, her condition rapidly worsened as the Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s took control of her body and her mind.
Watching a loved one suffer from Alzheimer’s is not something I would wish on anyone. It means losing the person you love twice. First, as their memories, personality, and everything that made them who they are is steadily erased before your eyes leaving behind a shell of someone you once knew. Then, when their body finally gives out you have to come face to face with the reality that there will be no miracle. Their suffering is finally at end, but, they are truly gone.
I don’t want to remember Grandma Rose as she was these last few years. That horrible disease doesn’t deserve to steal my memories of her as it stole her memories of me. I want to remember the way she laughed, her brilliant smile, her quirky sense of humor, the calm tone of her voice, and the way she would call me “Kass” or “kid.” I want to remember how much she used to love hearing about my latest genealogy finds. I want to remember how she was so afraid of birds that with a mere a feather on a hat my aunt cornered her in antique mall where she proceeded to squeal like a little girl. I want to remember how on that same road trip she made us spend probably a good hour rearranging the car to squeeze an old pump in the back. I want to remember her as the woman in her 60s who decided to take up tap and Irish step dancing. Vibrant, loving, and unyielding.
I am pleased to announce that McGarry’s Pub of Maple Plain, Minnesota (Twin Cities area) will be holding a fundraiser for my research into the life of Captain James McGarry. The fundraiser will be held the weekend of September 17, 2016 as a part of their Half Way to St.Patrick’s Day Celebration. McGarry’s Pub is owned and operated by Bill McGarry, a descendant of the Captain’s brother Henry.
I will update this post as more details become available. In the meanwhile, please take a moment to check out their website and Facebook page. Their food looks mouthwatering! Words cannot express how grateful I am to have Bill organize this and how much support from the Captain’s living relatives means to me.
Well known. Well liked. Well respected. But, famous he certainly was not.
His memory could have very easily faded into complete obscurity. It nearly has.
He died too soon, before his life could be documented by those clinging to the romance of the steamboat era.
He died too soon, in the prime of his life with many accomplishments behind him and likely just as many, if not more, before him.
He died too soon, his passing coming as a shock to all of those who knew him.
For years his memory has teetered on the edge of obscurity, overlooked by historians but kept alive because he was loved.
Because he was loved his family grieved so profoundly that the hardest of hearts feels heavy when reading of how that grief was expressed.
Because he was loved his siblings, nephews, and nieces held dear his memory and shared his legacy with the next generation, then another, and yet another seemingly defying the effects of passing time for well over 100 years.
Because he was loved, his memory did not fade into obscurity.
So today let us not remember him for the achievements made on the river but as the man who was loved as a brother and as an uncle.
Joseph Hill is an intriguing character in the history of the Upper Missouri. He was an early settler of the region and a prominent businessman who came from an interesting background but died from a painful growth on his spine at all too young of an age. He worked side by side with some of Montana’s greatest early businessman and had connections to none other than our old friend Captain James McGarry. Joseph Hill was part owner of the steamer Benton and served as clerk for the steamer’s maiden voyage in 1875. As you may recall if you follow my blog, McGarry oversaw the building of the Benton, was part owner, and served as her captain from 1875 through 1877.
Joseph Hill also had a rather intriguing moustache. A face adorned with an impressive moustache was cause for high praise and even conducive to romance. For instance, take the May 7, 1875 edition of the New Northwest which shared the following supposed Spanish proverb “A kiss without a moustache is like an egg without salt.”
Joseph’s moustache was impressive enough to make the papers at least twice. That is, to date I have found two articles and suspect there may indeed be more. Joseph’s moustache first made the newspapers when on March 11, 1875 the Helena Weekly Herald commented “Mr. Joseph Hill…is successfully growing a Missouri moustache.” It is unclear if he had difficulty growing the said moustache, if a previous calamity had befallen it, either way the demise of his moustache in 1876 made the papers. This time in the Benton Record:
Oh what a tragedy to occur as the result of a intently reading the bible (cough, cough). We are able to glean some idea of what his moustache looked like from the details included the article. Despite the fact that the moustache was considered “young and tender,” it appears it was long since it would not grow back out until the following spring. What exactly is a Missouri moustache? I’m not sure, but, it does sound rather grand. Perhaps I can find a picture of Mr. Hill and his grand moustache when I’m out in Montana later this year.
What do you think of this article? Satire or were they serious? Perhaps a little of both? And, what of Joseph Hill’s explanation- likely or a good cover story?