Saturday, April 25, 2015

Genealogy Road Trip: A Journey to the Ozarks

For a long time now, I've wanted to do two things: 1) Introduce my 4-year-old son to the fun of camping, and 2) Visit the "homeland" of sorts of my great grandpa, Tom Martin. He grew up in Baxter County, Arkansas before coming to Oklahoma as a young man. His people were pioneers of the region, and I've always wanted to go there to visit landmarks I've read about, look through local history resources for mentions of my relatives, and meet with distant cousins. So I planned a weekend trip where I would meet with several cousins (some distant, some quite close biologically-speaking), visit my ancestors' old stomping grounds, and camp out with my son while I'm there. I was very fortunate that all of this came together with very few hitches. It was a wonderful trip where I learned a lot, gained some priceless family knowledge, and got to bond with my son. Below is a summary of mine and my son Elliott's adventures.

Day 1

On Friday, most of our afternoon and evening was dedicated to driving to Mountain View, Arkansas. We got to drive through the gorgeous Ozark mountains, and drove across many rivers and streams. It's not difficult to see why these mountains were so appealing to my forebears; there's endless lush scenery, beautiful mountains and large hills, and many animals I'm not accustomed to seeing around Tulsa where I live. Finally, we arrived at the Sylamore Creek Camp, where we set up camp right next to the beautiful river. I've read all about the Sylamore Creek and its surrounding areas in "Life in the Leatherwoods" by my cousin John Quincy Wolf. (A wonderful biography of his incredible life can be read here:

Our campsite was perched just across the river from a large cliff. We found turtles and frogs; fish jumped out of the water, and large birds were flying low over the water early in the morning when we broke camp.

Day 2

We broke camp about 7 a.m. the next morning, and this was our view first thing. I really don't have the words to describe the beauty of this place.

We then headed into Mountain View, where we had an 8 a.m. appointment with Lynda Swafford at the Stone County Historical Society's Museum and Library. Lynda was extremely helpful, having gathered numerous materials for me related to my Rorie family and some of their related families. I was able to copy quite a bit of information I didn't have previously, and I couldn't be more grateful to Mrs. Swafford for he assistance. The library itself was very impressively organized, with many of the area's most prominent families having their own folders or files filled with materials directly related to them. The area's obituaries were collected in several binders, and were indexed and very easy to sift through. The museum was very fun and interesting, while the building itself is attached to Mountain View's first school building. Elliott had a great time looking at the exhibits. Thank you again to Lynda and the Stone County Historical Society for going out of your way to meet us at 8 a.m. on a busy day (the annual Folk Festival was taking place that weekend, with a parade that included a float for the historical society). 

We then headed north toward Norfork in Baxter County. We soon crossed the White River as we reached Calico Rock, Arkansas. We stopped here to admire the scenery of the White River, which was a cornerstone of pioneer life in this part of Arkansas. My Wolf, Hutcheson, and Martin families relied on this river much of their lives, and the beauty of it cannot be overstated. 

We also enjoyed a short tour of the Calico Rock Museum, where we encountered courteous, knowledgeable staff, and a fantastic restroom with awesome pictures of historic outhouses from across the nation hanging on the walls, which I found very entertaining.

Soon after, we made it to Norfork, Arkansas, the town whose surrounding areas my family called home for decades. Our first stop was the historic Jacob Wolf House. Norfork Mayor Jim Reeves was kind enough to unlock the house so that we could take a look inside the house. My understanding is that Norfork used to own the house, but it is now owned by Baxter County. At one time, it was filled with historic period furniture, and locals would dress in period garb and walk around there, but since the county has taken over, the atmosphere at the home is a more subdued. 

Regardless, the grounds are gorgeous, the house is fascinating, and you can really feel the history as you walk through. Jacob Wolf was my 4th great grand uncle. The house is one of the oldest standing structures in Arkansas, and at one point acted as the Baxter County courthouse. Multiple generations of my family lived in, visited, and stayed at this home, and walking through it really made me feel connected to them. 

Also on the grounds of the Wolf House are the old Wolf Blacksmith shop, and the cabin of Reverend John Wolf, Jacob's brother.

The spot where the house is is incredibly scenic; my videos and pictures really don't do it justice.

Our next visit was to our distant Martin family cousin, Don Blair, at his store, Riverview Emporium. It was full of really cool, unique items; I bought a couple of books and a Wolf House souvenir. Don was very knowledgeable about the family, and had lots of stories. He was able to draw me a handy map to get to Martin Springs and the other area landmarks I was looking for. 

So with Don's map in hand, we made our way to Martin Springs, the home stomping grounds where my great grandfather Tom Martin grew up. We stopped first at the Martin Cemetery, where three of my direct ancestors are buried; namely Richard C. "Dick" Martin, and his parents, Thomas D. and Susan (nee Hutcheson) Martin. Numerous other uncles, aunts, and cousins are also buried there. It is a beautiful area, that luckily wasn't heavily damaged in the severe floods that hit the area a few years ago. Please note that in the below video, I erred in labeling Annie Martin a sister of my great great grandfather, Dick Martin. She was actually Dick's sister-in-law, as she was the wife of John "Lige" Martin. I apologize for the mistake.

Next we trekked down Martin Springs Road to where my Martin ancestors once resided. Joe Boyd, another distant Martin cousin, and his son-in-law own most of the land around the area I was looking around in, including the Martin Springs and the Martin Springs schoolhouse. He wasn't home at first, but I walked around a bit and waited for him. He eventually came home, and he and I discussed the family and his various memories of the Martin family. He told me where my Martin family's home, called the "Mollie Martin Place" or the "Dick Martin Place" once stood. He also said he was a pallbearer at my uncle Wilson's funeral; Wilson was a brother of my great grandpa, Tom. He said he'd heard a story that as children, the Martin brothers and their friends would pull back large trees and let them go like a catapult. Once, they talked Wilson, who was the youngest, into climbing onto the tree and being slung through the air. He says Wilson went nearly 50 feet and really banged up his backside. 

He allowed me free range to explore the area around the springs. The school house is where my great grandfather attended school as a boy. It is still in great condition, and a pie supper is held there each year to raise money to take care of the Martin Cemetery. There are two old houses nearby; one belonged to a cousin named Randolph Martin, who descend from Joel C. Martin, the brother of my 3rd great grandfather Thomas D. Martin. The other old house belonged to my great great grandfather Richard C. "Dick" Martin's brother, "Bully" Joe Martin, and sister, Maggie Martin, late in their lives. Joe said that Maggie's was the first dead body he saw as a child, and he could remember her funeral. He said that "Bully" Joe had another house before this one, that was a few hundred yards behind the current one. It burned down, but parts of the chimneys and foundation are still intact. 

The Martin Spring school outhouse.

Elliott found a turtle!

Joe Boyd

Rudolph Martin home

"Bully" Joe Martin home

The Martin Spring

The above spot is where the below home used to stand; this was the home my great grandfather grew up in, and is known both as the "Mollie Martin Place" and the "Dick Martin Place".

Next, we headed to the Hutcheson Cemetery, which is a couple more miles up Martin Springs Road; we had to cross over the river twice, but luckily the waters weren't too high that day. This cemetery apparently was only re-discovered relatively recently, in just the last few years. It was very overgrown and had been completely forgotten and neglected. Luckily, once it was found, people got together and cleaned it up. There are more than 20, maybe as many as 40 field stones, but only three legible headstones. It is likely that my 3rd great grandparents, Richard C. and Nancy Wolf Hutcheson, who were parents of Susan who married Thomas D. Martin, are buried there.

At this point, we headed for Mountain Home to set up our camp for that night. We camped out at Cranfield Park, a beautiful Federal park, and set up camp right next to the lake.

Day 3

The next day, we headed for Flippin in Marion County to meet with couple more cousins. We started with Kathryn Hodges Busch. She is my great grandfather's half-1st cousin, so biologically speaking she is a close cousin as my 1st cousin 3 times removed. Her mother was Beviah "Bevie" Rorie Hodges, the half-sister of my great great grandmother, Mollie Rorie Martin. She and her husband Ernie graciously agreed to meet us in the morning, and we went over Kathryn's vast collection of photographs. She had pictures of several relatives that I had never seen before, and a good deal more of relatives that are unknown. She has a lot of "tin type" photos that are unidentified. They belonged to her mother Bevie, so they could be Rories or Normans. 

I copied many of her Rorie pictures, and several of her Normans as well. I am not a Norman myself, but I am a fan of interesting old photographs. Plus I thought some other Norman descendants might be interested in some of the photos she had. Mary Mahala Norman was the second wife of my 3rd great grandfather, William Josiah "Bill" Rorie, and the mother of my great great grandmother Mollie's four half-siblings. So Mary, or "B" as she was called, would be my step-grandmother, and her relatives my step-relatives. She sent me copies of the unidentified tin types too, and I hope to work on getting those identified. Below are the pictures that Kathryn shared with me. 

Robert Arthur Rorie Sr. - "Uncle Arthur" - Son of William Josiah Rorie and Louisa Lauvice Selph

Unknown, un-labelled picture. Most likely Norman cousins. I always enjoy old photographs featuring musicians. 

Martin Springs School

Mary Mahala "B" Norman Rorie and her daughter Beviah Rorie Hodges

Morgan Alexander Norman and Hannah Roxanne Lawson Norman, parents of Mary Mahala Norman Rorie

Morgan Alexander Norman and Hannah Roxanne Lawson Norman, parents of Mary Mahala Norman Rorie. Very similar to the picture above it, but the hand placements prove it is a different photo.

Robert "Bob" Arthur Rorie Jr. and Jean Earley Rorie, sons of Robert Arthur Rorie Sr. 

Rorie sisters. Mollie [Martin], Effie [Cox], Pearle [Clay], and Ada [Canada]. All daughters of William Josiah "Bill" Rorie.

Beviah Rorie Hodges with her nephew and niece, Gay and Ruth Rorie, children of Allie Forrest Rorie.

William Josiah "Bill" Rorie

Bill Rorie and his friend, Frank Tanner.

Bill Rorie

Frank Norman and family. Frank was an uncle of Mary Mahala Norman Rorie.

Green and Elisa Norman, grandparents of Mary Mahala Norman Rorie.

Beviah Rorie Hodges on right, with friend Iva White on the left.

Robert Arthur Jr. and Jean Early Rorie, sons of Arthur Rorie.

Kathryn Hodges Busch, daughter of Beviah Rorie Hodges, with her newborn, Kathy. I neglected to get a picture of Kathryn during our visit, though I meant to. She sent me this.

This is an extremely intriguing photo labelled "Grandma Wolf" on the back. I am Wolf from my Martin side of the family, but I was unaware of a connection to either to Norman or Rorie families. I am determined to figure out who this might be.

Kathryn and Ernie were extremely nice, and put up well with Elliott's hyperactivity. I hope to visit them again in the future.

My next visit was still in Flippin. I met with A.J. Rorie  and his wife Gayla, and at the home of his sister, Ruth Rorie Jones. A.J. and Ruth are children of my uncle Allie Forrest Rorie, half-brother of Mollie Rorie Martin, making them my 1st cousins three times removed. They were also very kind and wonderful hosts, keeping Elliott entertained while we exchanging stories, information, and pictures. A.J. had more amazing pictures to share, which are below.

Absalom and Mary Snellgrove Rorie, my 4th great grandparents, parents of William Josiah "Bill" Rorie.

Ada Rorie Canada, daughter of Bill Rorie.

Ada Rorie Canada, daughter of Bill Rorie.

Allie Forrest Rorie, son of Bill Rorie.

This is an intriguing tin type photo. The two men in the front row to the right are Henry and John Rorie, two of the three "Blind Rorie Brothers" who are well known in the area. They are sons of the above Absalom and Mary Snellgrove Rorie. It is not known who the other four persons are. In my opinion, this appears to be a formal portrait. I know of no reason these four persons would be grouped together as such, unless they were siblings. I think it is possible that the other two men and two women are their brothers and sisters, but which I cannot say. It is also possible that the women are their sisters and the men are their husbands, or the men are their brothers and the women are their wives. It's difficult to say. Neither of the two men appear to be Bill Rorie as best I can tell, and neither appears to be Buddy Rorie, the eldest blind brother. They could be Hezekiah, Hugh Alec, Thomas, or Scott. I do not have pictures of those four brothers for comparison. Likewise, the women could be Martha, Becky, or Julie, but without photos to compare I cannot say definitively. Regardless, this is a fantastic photo, and it's great to have more than one of the Blind Rorie brothers.

In the middle holding the broomstick is Henry Rorie, and to the right (his left) I believe is his blind brother Buddy Rorie. I do not know who the other men are. They could be other Rorie men, but without pictures for comparison I cannot say definitively. 

Arthur Rorie, son of Bill Rorie, with his mother-in-law, Gay Earley.

Allie Forrest Rorie, taken not long before he died.

Allie Forrest Rorie

Morgan Alexander and Hannah Roxane Lawson Norman, parents of Mary Mahala Norman Rorie

An old physician's ledger owned by A.J. Rorie.

In the ledger is a bill for William Josiah Rorie, showing the expenses he paid for the birth of his son, Allie Forrest Rorie.

Opal Clay, daughter of Stacie Pearle Rorie Clay, daughter of Bill Rorie.

Stacey Pearle Rorie Clay, daughter of Bill Rorie and Louisa Selph.

Orestus Rorie, son of Bill Rorie and Mary Mahala Norman Rorie. The story goes that his father Bill was bad-tempered and forced him to ride into town for supplies on horseback in the pouring rain. Orestus became gravely ill with pneumonia. But then Bill forced him to go out and work in the yard digging, even though he was sick. After a while, he collapsed and died shortly after. He was 25 years old.

I also heard other stories about Bill Rorie's bad temper. One was that he insisted on Bevie having a cold drink of water ready for him each day when he returned from working. One time she forgot, and he abused her badly. Bill was apparently taken advantage of by his Norman in-laws. They had him co-sign on a number of loans for them, and then when the market crashed they stopped payments and Bill lost everything.

While these stories may not be flattering, I think they're interesting to note and remember regardless. They flesh out the personalities of the people who came before us, the same as pictures do, making them feel like more than just a name and some dates on our family tree.

The last stop on my trip was to see Juanita Rorie Tilton in Fayetteville. Her dad was Oscar Rorie, who was a son of Hugh Alec Rorie. While she did not have any pictures of her grandfather, she was full of interesting stories about her childhood, including when her grand uncle "Buddy" Rorie came to live with her grandfather. He was one of the three blind Rorie brothers, and she remembers wanting to follow him around and see what he did as he went throughout his day. She was very sweet, and promised that if she came up with any pictures of her grandfather she would send me one. She also gave me a couple more leads to pursue for finding pictures, so if I find any pictures of her grandfather, I'll be sure to send her some. She was really a delight to get to talk to.

This was really a wonderful trip. Meeting Don, Joe, Kathryn, A.J., and Ruth was very enlightening and interesting, and they were all such great, smart, nice people. I hope I get to see them all again, and I hope I get to take another trip like this again soon.