Joseph Hill’s Moustache

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:

Sept 1 1876 p3 col1-b

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?


O Captain! My Captain!

DeSoto Lake, once a part of the Missouri River, frozen over in February.

I first came across the name Captain James McGarry back in 2012. I knew then there was something special about this steamboat captain, but, fully delving into his story had to go on the back burner until after I finished my masters. Once I was able to delve in, just how special he and his story are quickly became clear. I am what I refer to as a “stay-at-home historian.” What that means is that I’m an independent historian, but, I am also a stay-at-home mom.  Funding is hard to come by and the records I can order depend largely on what’s left over from the family budget at the end of the month. Over the last couple of months I began to realize just how quickly I was running out of free resources or records that could be obtained with ‘left over money.’ I needed funding. I needed it soon or else all the work I’ve done would be for nothing- my research would stall.

The prospect of not being able to properly tell the Captain’s story is a source of anxiety for me. I look at his story and I see not only a noble man but a way to bring a part of history that most may not even really consider to a new audience. I see it as something that sparks someone’s imagination and makes them think, “History is actually cool.” There is a certainly a unique kind of appeal and draw to it. Along the way I developed a hunch, a feeling, whatever you want to call it that this would also be “it” for me. That this would be the story that gets noticed. Hopefully, I’m not jinxing myself by saying this, but, so far it is turning out to be just that. I was over the moon when the paper about him that I presented at the Missouri Valley History Conference received an award from my alma mater . Over the moon does not begin to describe how I feel today. I am proud to announce that I am one of five recipients of the BYU Charles Redd Center’s Independent Research and Creative Works Award. It will fund a significant portion of my research, primarily my research trip to Helena, Montana. I have also setup a GoFundMe account to help with the remainder of the costs.

As excited as I am, I am also greatly humbled. Sometimes you do not find research projects, they find you. I am thankful the story of Captain McGarry found me. Tonight when my husband and I pop a bottle of champagne in celebration we will not only toast my supporters, we will toast the Captain- may I tell his story well.

History Tips for Genealogists

As both a historian and a genealogist, I sometimes find myself caught between what feels like two very different worlds. I find myself defending historian’s views and methods to genealogists, defending genealogist’s methods and views to historians, and shaking my head at the misplaced bias that can be found on either side. It is a shame there is a divide because in my opinion each side has much to learn from one another…more on that later. For now, I have a few basic tips for genealogists who are conducting research in order to add historical context to their ancestors’ lives.

old-books-436498_1920 (3)

1) Do not limit yourself to just one book about your topic of inquiry. Each book is written by an individual with their unique interpretation of the facts who may approach the topic from say an economic perspective whereas another historian may counter the author’s arguments or focus on the social or political aspects. The more books and articles you read, the better informed you will be. There is a temptation to focus on social histories because it is felt that is what most impacted our ancestors’ lives. However, if you leave out other histories such as political and economic ones, then you are leaving out a part of the bigger picture. If you are really up for learning something new and expanding your horizons, try attending a history conference.

2) Be weary of book sale deals. I love a good deal. My local library frequently sells their old books for just a couple bucks or for as little as 50 cents.  I’m not saying do not buy books from sales like these. Just keep in mind that these are old books after all. That book you are reading may contain outdated interpretations and information. It may still be worth your time in that it can help you understand the development of the way history looks at a particular topic. Make sure to read it with a grain of salt and keep in mind how the cultural attitudes of the time in which it was written may have affected the content.

3) Question where the information came from. Check the notes and bibliography section of the book you are interested in. If there is no bibliography or notes, be highly skeptical. When it comes to dealing with people….whether you are talking to someone who is a self-proclaimed expert or someone who has M.A. or Ph.D. behind their name, ask them about what they’ve studied. Historians are a lot like genealogists- we like to talk about our research and where we find our information.  At the MVHC last week, many fellow historians approached me about my steamboat captain research wanting to know what records I used and for recommended books/articles. Just don’t be impetuous when you asking your questions.  I realize this may seem like an odd tip to some, but, I just hate it when I see someone unwittingly being fed misinformation either by a less than reputable book or person.

Happy reading!


Genealogy, Introverts, and Leadership

Over the past year I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about what it means to be a good and effective leader, what it means to build and sustain a successful genealogy community, and if I have what it takes do both of these things. I am introvert, more specifically Myers-Briggs personality type INFJ. I have been a member of several genealogy organizations and a leader at two of those. I have lost count of how many times I have been told, “You just need to come out of your shell,” “You need to loosen up,” “Quit being so shy,” “Get out of your head,” and the list goes on. I’ve encountered criticisms such as these in all walks of life as have many, many, many other introverts out there. Despite my best efforts I have a tendency to internalize criticisms such as these, particularly when they are repeated, and my self-esteem can suffer from time to time as a result.

Earlier this year, I thought I’d bolster my self-esteem by empowering myself by gaining more knowledge about running an effective genealogy society.  Over the span of about four or five months I read every book and blog post that I could get my hands on about genealogy societies, leadership, running a nonprofit, and marketing. The fact that I felt the need to do so speaks to how low my self-esteem was as you see I have a Bachelors of Science in Business Administration Management that covered these fundamentals and I graduated Magna Cum Laude. I gained additional knowledge, but, it didn’t help my self-esteem much. The theme of most of these books can be summed up with the words- be a good little extrovert. Sigh. This left me wondering, can an introvert truly be a leader?

I’ve always known I was an introvert, but, I think this is the year where I have finally and fully accepted as that being okay. I will admit this acceptance was fueled by learning what my Myers-Briggs personality type was, reading about what it means, and learning others who are also an INFJ (the rarest personality type). It is nice to know there are others like me and despite what the world may try to tell us that there is nothing wrong with us. After a great deal of thinking, I’ve concluded that introverts can make some of the best leaders.

An introvert who wants to be a leader sounds a bit like an oxymoron. However, being an introvert does not mean that you do not care about the world around you,nor those in it. In my case, as an INFJ, at times I care too much to the point that I become extremely drained. My desire to see a cause I believe in succeed and impact others compels me to step into a leadership role and drives me to fiercely fight for that cause no matter what. I recognize there are things about an introvert, particularly INFJs who have rather complex personalities, that can be misunderstood. I will concede that I need to clarify somethings more when I am in a leadership role even though opening up like that to people I do not know well or in a new situation goes against my personality. But, it does bother me that I have to make these clarifications so that others will not make assumptions. Instead of hearing how I need to do things a, b, and c or change x,y, and z it’d be nice to hear for once, “You’re introvert aren’t you? That’s nifty.”

Recharging on the shore of Lake Superior. Sunrise, just me, and my camera.
Recharging on the shore of Lake Superior. Sunrise, just me, and my camera.

There are certain misperceptions about being an introvert that drive me especially nutty. First, there are ones that have to do with the dual nature of my personality type. The INFJ is an “extroverted introvert.” If I am relaxed, in a good mood, or had a couple bottles glasses of wine I can be very talkative and open. The flip side, I can be reserved, quiet, and just observe. Those who see both sides may take the latter as my being aloof or simply in a bad mood.  To make matters worse, they can see this as an invite to cheer me up and encourage me to “just relax.” And no, this does not mean that I am bipolar!!! My batteries need charged frequently and my quiet, alone time is when they recharge. If my batteries are not charged, I will act differently than I do when they are full.

I will admit to being a little shy and having a very much alive and well fear of public speaking. To be clear, these are not the only reasons for why I am quiet in group settings. I observe and process information before I speak. I am not one who likes to answer a question on the spot, I like to mull it over. If you ask me a question and expect an answer right away, my thoughts may come out jumbled. My best ideas take time to grow. As I already mentioned, I may be quiet because my battery charge is low. Or, I may be quiet because some may take it personally if I say “Being around you is draining all my energy, can you please leave or can I leave?” Not to mention that leaving in the middle of leadership meeting is frowned upon. As harsh as it sounds, it is nothing personal if I feel that way around you. This can all be misinterpreted as my being unfriendly, rude, incapable, unintelligent, or withdrawn to a fault.  There is a meme floating around with a very true and fitting sentiment that says, “Don’t underestimate me. I know more than I say, think more than I speak, and notice more than you realize.”

I am an extremely creative person who has a mind that never stops and always dreams big. I start with big ideas and then work out the details. I may blurt out a big idea while others look at me like I’m nuts. I will admit some of my ideas and dreams do sound completely insane. It is usually only when the doubts of others have seeped into my mind that my way of thinking shifts from “How can do I go about this?” to “Is this even possible?” This distinction in thinking is part of what makes me who I am. Unfortunately, all too often others see me as someone who is unrealistic and does not fully comprehend what goes into the task or project at hand. I do fully understand the amount of problems to be solved, the amount of work to be done, but, I see them as a challenge not a road block. I am not one to do something to prove jerkwads like that wrong, why waste my energy on them even more is my thought, but, let’s just say there are many happy coincidences that have arisen by my doing my own thing.

It’s always surprised me that the leadership within the genealogy community is not more “introvert friendly” because the actual research aspect is very introvert friendly. I have the desire to connect with others  who share in my passion yet the thought of attending meetings or functions can be foreboding. All those people! All that energy being drained! Now couple that with the fact that I am very young by genealogist demographic standards which inevitably ends up meaning that I will draw extra attention. RUN is a thought that usually enters my mind the second I walk in, if I even make it that far.  Not much changes if it’s a Google+ meeting situation, I still think “Oh Lord, do I have to do this?” Stop for a minute to consider how much I believe what a great thing genealogy is if I am willing to put myself in what is already a draining situation and further compound that by saying I want to help. Do you really want to turn that kind of belief, desire, and commitment away? I may do things differently than an extroverted leader, I may very eagerly delegate certain tasks to someone who is an extrovert, but, why does a different way of leading mean it is a bad way of leading?

I realize this blog post is very much about me. I hope it is not taken as my patting myself on the back and taken for what it is meant to be- encouragement for those like me who want to lead and a post that helps others not like us understand us. I do not mean to point a finger at extroverts, genealogy societies, or those in leadership positions. Rather, I ask that you take a moment to think before you assume, before you criticize, ask yourself, “Am I dealing with an introvert?” Please, take the time to get to know someone before inadvertently running them off. You may loose a valuable asset if you do.


Papers and Projects

In my last post, I referenced the call for papers for the 2016 Missouri Valley History Conference. If you are unfamiliar with what this conference is about and why it’s a good idea to participate please check out my prior post on this topic.

While my family was on vacation, more specifically while my family was driving for 9 hours to Minnesota’s North Shore, I got the chance to mull over my proposals.  I’ve changed my mind about what to do several times now. At first, I thought about submitting just one proposal about my steamboat captain project. Then, I thought about submitting just one about latest Overland trail research project.  THEN, I thought why choose? Do both.  Changed my mind a few more times and I have finally made my decision- for real this time.

I am really excited about my latest Overland trail research project. I reviewed my collection of secondary sources on the Overland trail and was surprised to find that while other trail historians have discussed this topic, they did not do so in as much detail as I thought. This means that either I am opening the door once again to an overlooked aspect of the trail experience, or, that no one really cares about it. This point is something I need to think about more.

Now, the timeline for MVHC is as follows: proposals due by November 3, paper turned into moderators by the beginning of February 2016, and present the first weekend of March 2016. That all means that I’d want my research wrapped up by the end of December so I can start writing the first week of January. After surveying some of the 80 trail diaries I have on file, I realized that this is a much bigger project than I anticipated. If I want to finish my article on my other Overland trail project and enjoy the holidays, I can’t do this project within the timeframe established.  Furthermore, to do this project would mean my work on my steamboat captain project would come to a hault until after the conference.  I am shelving this project until next summer or fall.

That leaves my steamboat captain project. I am incredibly passionate and invested in this project. It has been a labor of love for several years. I first heard of this captain’s story in 2012. At the time, I was attempting to make my way as a professional genealogist. I donated a research package to a local charity event. The winner of the package was a descendant of my steamboat captain’s brother. One question she wanted me to answer was if the family was really related to him. I was able to confirm that, but, the overall goals and limitations of her project meant I could not dig fully into his story. Once I wrapped up research for her, I asked if she minded if I continue on my own and write book about him one day. Not necessary I know, but, I felt I owed that to her. She gave me her blessing.  I was also in graduate school at the time so I knew this project would be shelved until after I graduated.  Anyhow….I digress.

This steamboat captain project is a huge project. I can create several writings from blog posts, articles, books, to guides from this project. I can also create several presentations geared towards genealogy and historical organizations from it. I could probably do so now based upon what I already have. But, there is so much more I can learn about him. I think realistically my research into specifically the captain can stretch into 2017 and research into related aspects can stretch well beyond. I was hesitant to commit to presenting a paper about him because of how long the research can stretch on. What if I find out even more about him? I came to the realization that I was expecting too much of myself…it is only a 20 minute presentation. I’m not going to be reading a book, just a 10 page paper. To further convince myself that it is okay to move ahead with the paper, I made a list of different papers I can present at MVHC that are related to the captain and his line of work. I came up with 8 solid ideas, at one paper a year that is enough papers to get me to 2024!

The other hesitation I had is that it means really putting my research out there. If you read my prior post about MVHC then you know how beneficial it can be to do just that. My concern comes from the fact that aspects of my trail research and writings (blog posts and thesis) have been ripped off by someone (not anyone at MVHC or UNK). Unfortunately, while this person is dumb enough to rip off someone else’s work and to pretend to be an expert when they are not , they are smart enough to avoid doing it in a manner that gives me the slam dunk evidence I need to do much about it. I’ve also been a repeat victim of having my ideas stolen by other people, not much I can do about that either. The combination of it all is enough to make me weary of discussing my projects in detail. If you are friends with me on Facebook, you know I ramble frequently about the Captain. That is because I trust the people I am friends with now and even then I have not revealed everything I know.  While I have previously mentioned the Captain on my blog, Twitter account, and Across the Rolling Prairie Facebook page it has been brief in order to safeguard my work.

I don’t want to go on feeling like I can never talk about the areas of history in which I am well on my way to becoming an expert on nor the real contributions that I am making to the field of history. I don’t want this other person to hold me back or win. In the future, this means more detailed blog posts that I hope will truly help those who are good people. But today, I start by introducing you to my steamboat captain- James McGarry.  Now, if the person who has ripped off my work is reading this, please read the special message that I have just for you at the bottom of this post.


Captain McGarry’s story almost seems like something from a movie. In some ways it is your typical rags to riches, Irish immigrant story. The word amazing is overused, I am guilty of doing so, but his story truly is amazing. I had the opportunity to visit his grave while my family was on vacation. It was a surreal and moving experience to stand at the resting place of his earthly remains and to stand where his family stood as they mourned him.  It gave me renewed energy to push on with my research and gave me courage to not be afraid of what some unscrupulous people may do.

To the person who has ripped off my trail research and writings:

The second you slip up, we both know you will eventually, I will nail your a** to the wall. You are wrong about me.  I am not some meek, naïve, and stupid little mouse who is unaware of what you are doing and unwilling to do anything about it. I suggest you smarten up, immediately back off of my trail research and writings, and stay the hell away from my steamboat captain project.  Capiche?

Hello Fall

Image (c) 2014, Kassie L Nelson
Image (c) 2014, Kassie L Nelson

It’s finally one of my favorite months of the year.   I love everything about October- the colors, the crisp air, pumpkins, hot apple cider, Halloween…the list goes on and on! This fall is an extra exciting time for me this year.  I hate how cliché this sounds, but, it truly is a season of changes and new ventures.

A changing child care situation combined with increased opportunities at my husband work translated into the necessity and opportunity for me to leave my job at a local museum and be home with my son.  My little boy isn’t so little anymore and will be going to all day kindergarten next year. I am grateful and excited to have extra time with him!

My cutie pie.
My cutie pie.

This also means that I now have extra time to really focus on my other love- researching and writing! Currently in my work que is an article for submission to an academic journal and a paper proposal for the 2016 Missouri Valley History Conference. Both of these relate to my ground breaking thesis that fused Emigrant-Native American relations with gender studies along the Overland Trail, but, then I took it a step further by using a quantitative analysis method.  It’s a mouthful I know.

Then, of course, there’s my gigantic research project- a biography of a steamboat captain. My friends would probably tell you that it is an obsession more than anything else and they would be right! I believe it may be the most thoroughly researched biography of a steamboat captain, perhaps even of steamboat captains in general, ever endeavored. It will encompass multiple aspects of steamboat history. I expect this project to yield numerous papers for conferences, articles, a book on its applications to genealogy, several presentations, and either one very lengthy book or a short series of books. I also expect this particular project to take several years due to the amount of records I need to examine and the funding challenges an independent historian faces. In the meanwhile, expect to see more blog posts about what it is like to be “stay at home historian.”

Now off to sneak in some research!



Genealogists & Cemeteries

Last week I gave a presentation at the Nebraska State Genealogical Society 2015 Conference. I discussed my history with genealogy a bit which included my high school years. I was not the most popular person to begin with and then I added to that a hobby involving cemeteries. Well , that just pushed me closer to the line of complete and utter social exile. I remember many conversations that went something like this- “Whoa, wait- so you like go to cemeteries and stuff?”- “Yes, from time to time.”- “That’s creepy.” The word creepy can be substituted with the words weird, strange, and crazy if not that entire response replaced with “huh” and a quick retreat of the other party in the conversation. Fast forward about 15, 16 years and what do my weekend plans involve? Yep, a cemetery.

Mekemson Graves

This all got me thinking, what is it about genealogists and cemeteries? What is about cemeteries and me? Why does the concept of liking cemeteries sound strange to non-genealogists? The answer to the third question may be a bit obvious, but, I wonder if there is a bit more to it than that. There are so many stereotypes from within and outside of the genealogy community that it makes me wonder if a genealogist’s adoration of cemeteries has also been stereotyped? Is the equation of genealogist + a cemetery = fun a stereotype?

I see a lot of jokes, particularly in the form of memes, about this adoration. I chuckle when I see one. I may even share it. Although, I have never actually seen a genealogist camping out in a cemetery or skipping down the rows with glee. If I did, I would probably tell them to stop. When I see a cemetery I don’t start jumping up and down with excitement nor have I ever yelled at my husband to stop the car so I can walk through one.  Am I the oddball here? ‘Cause you know I’ve never been the oddball before….(stares at feet and whistles).


I would venture to state that I enjoy walking through cemeteries, but I am not sure if I would label it as something I do just for fun. I think going to Dave and Busters, bowling, or hiking as things I do just for fun. Perhaps the issue I struggle with is that it does not seem right to use the word fun when referring to the final resting place of so many souls. Cemeteries serve as the setting for a couple of my hobbies, but, my respect for the dead quells any desire to skip through or camp in any cemeteries (not to mention I find the latter to be truly creepy and strange even for me).  Why then am I drawn to cemeteries?

I try to visit the resting place of an ancestor whenever I can. Certainly there are many clues about our ancestors’ lives to be found in a cemetery, but that’s neither what this post is about nor my main motivation. The reason I go to cemeteries is to first and foremost to simply pay my respects. That’s also true of those who I research but am not related. After all I have uncovered, or tried to uncover, it feels a bit like an obligation to go and it deepens my connection with the departed. The feeling I get when I stand at the grave of one my ancestors is beyond description.


The other hobby I alluded to is photography. I do find photography fun. But it’s a different when I go to photograph a cemetery. I photograph cemeteries to capture the stories that are found there. Stories abound. The setting and condition of a cemetery tells a story. The actual headstones themselves tell stories of those who are buried there, who buried them, and the person who carved it. There is a beauty found within each of these stories that I feel honored to capture. In my own way, I am saying to them, “You are not forgotten.”

What is it about cemeteries and you? Do you feel the same, or is this another instance of my being an oddball or perhaps even too serious of a person? Is there a stereotype about genealogists and cemeteries, are they true? Is it wrong if they are?