Guest column/Indians, turkeys and other boyhood memories
I grew up about the happiest boy in the world, raised, as aunt Catherine Cheeks once put it, “in a shoe box” — she meant tucked away each night like a valued Christmas ornament by Dad, the bravest of men, having fought in World War II, and my mother, the most loving woman ever born.
My grandmother Maggie Traubert held me on her lap, and we used her old wooden cane to hunt and fish and fight Indians.
The West was still big back then, before reality TV and what not. John Kennedy was on her wall, and my grandfather, Will Traubert, was in heaven with JFK. So, maybe, that’s how the fanciful stories I found out later were grounded in the real history written by Sidney Perley that got started each Thanksgiving.
Those who have been longing for an old-fashioned winter with pioneer deep snow and a biting north wind here in the Upper Ohio Valley for the holidays can’t help but recall with fondness hearing imaginatively crafted recounts while growing up about great-grandparents Daniel and Mary Peg Higgins coming across a large number of wild turkey tracks along a snowy part of the trail in the winters of 1796-97 in what is now Wellsburg. Grandpa Higgins was fowling in the wilderness parts of the county, thinking them to be Shawnee war braves. My guess was it was a flock of toms and jakes that had banded together to see out the winter. Recalling childhood gobler’s tales brings a tear to the eye — those tales once were told during cleanup following the best of Thanksgiving meals in the old kitchen at Yankee Street when so many of those we loved, who have now gone on to be with the angels, gathered for the last of the pumpkin pie.
The wintry weather that could be remembered might have been blended from the stories told in front of the hearth with a bake kettle and a bean pot, from a forebearer of Grandma Higgins family; perhaps her parents, Joseph and Hannah Cliffs, or Calf, believed to have lived in a bark-roofed dugout sported by poles, and to have taken part in the Phillips War during the unusually cold winter that froze the swamps in 1675-76 as a Quaker in Rhode Island, or farther north in New England.
The Quakers were especially hit hard against native people who were the children of Squanto, who sat down with the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving.
Some remembrances might be from William Gosnell and his wife, Sarah, a Maryland branch of the family calling back to life where they once heard a hen and eventually headed over to discover the feathers of the Doeg native people of Maryland. Some of these turkeys were quite large.
William Hills had the land grant for militia service that names his wife, Elizabeth. His death remains a mystery for now, perhaps a casualty of Bacon’s Rebellion. His granddaughter, Hannah Gosnel, would marry John Buckingham.
They were the parents of Benjamin Buckingham, my ancestor who gave me the credentials to be a member of the Sons of the American Revolution.
That NASA Earth Observatory notes three particularly cold intervals, one beginning about 1650, another about 1770 and the last in 1850, all separated by intervals of slight warming. All of these tales once told in the old kitchen on Yankee Street share the same theme: Very cold weather. It could be the winter that Perley wrote about that is the source of the stories.
In 1891, Perley (1858-1928) was a lawyer, writer, poet, author, editor and historian. He penned, “The old people of today think that we do not have as severe winters as they had when they were in their youth, and they certainly have good reasons for such considerations. The winter of 1747-48 was one of the memorable winters that used to be talked about by our grandfathers, when the snow whirled above deep drifts around their half-buried houses. There were about 30 snow storms, and they came storm after storm until the snow lay 4 feet deep on the level, making traveling exceedingly difficult. On the 22nd of February, snow in the woods measured four-and-one-half-feet, and on the 29th, there was no getting about except on snow shoes.”
Apparently, at the time of Perley’s writing in 1891, the general notion in New England was that of some climatic improvement (warming), compared to conditions prevailing previously in this region of North America. It sounds like today.
From the hearth of an ancestor to the warm fireplace of your home, happy Thanksgiving.
(Traubert is a resident of Wellsburg.)