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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

"The Oldest Voice in the Parlor" Part II

Last Thursday morning, we went to Chicago to pick Kim up from her summer TESL trip to Croatia. It’s great to have her home and to learn more about her experience each day. To top this off, we had a family reunion with all five of my siblings here at our house over the weekend. That was fun, too. Sorry this was not posted before all the excitement started around here.

This writing project has not gone as planned. It has taken much longer to compile than I imagined. When I write about my own family, I generally write from memory and reconstruct from stories I've heard many times through the years. But this storyline is from Julie's side of the family. Much of it is new to me, and I'm finding it both fascinating but challenging to make readable prose from my research. I'm determined, however, to keep plugging away in the wee small hours of the morning.

Part I in the previous post summarized the Civil War experiences of John Wesley Neal, my wife's great-great grandfather. Part II tells how he providentially stepped into that role. And Part III introduces the heirloom that triggered this whole project.

Part II: “From Near-Miss to Just-Hitched”

Because it happened while John Wesley Neal was walking home to Missouri after all his “scratchless” battles, the following story is all the more ironic: [This first paragraph comes from page 2 of an extensive genealogy written in 1968 by Jesse Harold Neal (b.1898), a great-grandson of John’s who was himself now a grandfather 70.]

“[At the end of the Civil War,] after his discharge from the army [in July of 1865, John Wesley Neal] returned to Linn County, Missouri. As he came walking up the road, he approached two men sitting on a fence stile. One of the men…raised his musket to take aim and remarked, “Well, there is one damn Yankee that won’t get home.” The other man hit the arm of the man with the gun and ruined his aim."

The man who deflected that reckless shot had been a Captain in the Confederate Army, but the war was over and he wanted no part of further killing. His name was Tennessee Carter McNabb (so named because he was born in Carter County, Tennessee, a descendent of Scottish settlers who first came to that region in 1776 and later migrated to Missouri.). At the time of that near-miss from the fence, Carter had a nine-year-old son named Elbert Newton McNabb. (This fact becomes important in a few paragraphs.)

Two years after that deflected musket shot, John Wesley Neal married Nancy Howell (b. Dec. 10, 1851) on November 27, 1867. Three years later their first child was born. They named her Iva. John and Nancy would eventually have 13 children, but they were not reared in Missouri. John thought there was entirely too much drinking in that “wet state.” So on Election Day, November 1884, he loaded most of their worldly possessions in a covered wagon, drove to the ballot box, voted against the Democrat Grover Cleveland [who had paid a Polish imigrant $150 to take his place in the Civil War], and moved to Kansas, a "dry state."* [This picture was taken in 1893, nine years after that trip. Iva is on the far right.]

Only part of John's family was with him at first: He, his daughter Iva and his three oldest sons (along with two milk cows) made the 200 mile trip in two week's time, traveling southwest from Linn County to Kansas City and then on to Melvern (Linn County, MO, is 6 counties east and 3 counties south on this 1895 map link. The town of Waverly near Melvern is shown southwest of Kansas City. The trip may have looked something like this Mapquest link.). Oh, how I wish there was a written journal of those two weeks in that covered wagon, but parts of the story survived by being retold through the years. Iva was 14 at the time and cooked all the meals for the men along the way and in Kansas until her mother and with the rest of the family arrived by train.

Once the Neal family settled on their farm, John and Nancy never moved again. To this day, five generations later, many members of the J.W. Neal bloodline still reside within ten miles of the original family farm in Melvern. [And, in fact, my wife and I were married in 1980 at a little church in Melvern a mile or so from that farm.]

Now here’s the most amazing part of the story. You remember that Tennessee Carter McNabb fellow who spared John from a musket ball? Remember his nine-year-old son Elbert? Well, he was now a grown man, a farmer and plaster worker, and still single. He began a courtship with Iva Neal, and one year after Iva made that trip with her father in a covered wagon, full twenty years after the musket-miss, Elbert and Iva were married on October 25, 1885. Elbert was nearly twice her age, but in that day such marriages were not uncommon.

Thus, the shot Carter deflected that day in 1866 not only spared “one damn Yankee”—it spared the man who would later give his daughter's hand in marriage to his own son. There you have it: a marriage made possible by one man’s willingness to say “it’s over” of the bitter war he and his Rebel companions had lost. In all the family documents and letters I have seen, there is not one mention of any lingering tensions caused by the fact that the fathers of the bride and groom fought on opposite sides of the war. That speaks well of these two families.

Two years after Iva and Elbert McNabb were married, their daughter Mary Lorena McNabb was born, and three years after that (November 8, 1890) Carter Tennessee McNabb was born. (His name was borrowed from his grandfather with the first and second names reversed.) Four other children were born to Elbert and Iva, but it is from the line of Carter Tennessee McNabb that came seven children, among them a daughter, Iva Kathryn, and a son Daryl McNabb who is the father of Julie Ann McNabb, my wife.

(In summary, Julie's father is Daryl McNabb, whose father was Carter Tennessee McNabb, whose father was Elbert McNabb, whose father was Tennessee Carter McNabb, who is the man who saved John Wesley Neal from that musket shot after the Civil War, and the man whose eldest son Elbert married the eldest daughter of the man whose life he had saved.)

Elbert and Iva made a good life there in Melvern. Elbert continued farming but suplemented their income as a plaster craftsman. This work involved making lime plaster (not gypsum) from scratch using the limestone common to that area of Kansas. Fabrication was a dangerous chemical process, but application was not unlike applying joint compound to drywall—except perhaps that the base-coat of lime plaster on wood-lathe walls was mixed with animal hair.

By the turn of the century, there house was not quite full with four children (and two more yet to be born). In 1903, just two years after the assassination of President McKinley that put Vice President Teddy Roosevelt in the White House, Elbert and Iva purchased the heirloom that is the subject of the remaining parts of this long post.
* In case you are like my daughters and never heard of a "dry state" or "wet state," the term reflects a time when "states rights" were very real. It was states rights and not slavery in particular that began the debates leading up to the Civil War. Back then, states valued their sovereignty and wanted the federal government kept to its constitutional role. States had far more say in local laws and self-government. Wet states allowed the sale of alcohol and had bars and saloons and such, while dry states imposed their own prohibition of alcohol (long before the failed federal prohibition of the 1920's). Kansas held its "dry" status longer than any other state, and to this day, there are "dry counties" there and in many parts of the U.S..

Because my wife Julie is a "preachers daughter," I like singing along to her whenever I hear the song "Dry County Girl" by Rascal Flatts. [Julie is from Kansas not Arkansas.]


Blogger the walking man said...

I liked the genealogy but laughed at the dry state wet state portion because there are still counties like that spread all over.

Franklin county VA is mostly dry, no bars only restaurants that can't serve liquor by the drink. But they bill themselves as the moonshine capital of America.

5/8/09 5:33 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I had only heard of "dry counties" when I met Julie in Kansas.

I'll bet there is a pattern of moonshine flourishing in southern "dry counties." I guess that says something about human nature, addiction, and the appeal of forbidden things.

Here's one I didn't know. According to that website link, Wayne County (Detroit) has modified "dry county" laws that are not true of the counties around it.

I am not of the bloodline of John Wesley Neal, but I laughed to hear he voted Republican and was opposed to drinking. A man after my own heart. Ha Ha. As we know, Grover Cleveland won a close election that year and became President.

5/8/09 6:07 AM  
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