Civil War veterans raising what-for in the Township

Posted on August 21, 2010


I tell you, those folks who’ve been occupying my every waking moment for almost a year now are spilling over into public life in the Township as well. I must be getting close to something. The question would be, what?!?

Hang Jeff Davis from a Sour Apple Tree

On Monday I went over to the Eastport Baptist Church to hear Pastor Jerry Troyer’s presentation to the Wilkinson Homestead Historical Society. The last person I expected to run into was Anna Smith. No, not that one–the other one. The first one. Anna H. Sample Smith, who came to Eastport in 1880, a widow with six small children. Those little Smiths grew up to marry into all the other families in town, strengthening the gene pool considerably. Anna herself had some adventures in that regard, but that’s another post.

Anna’s great-granddaughter Marilyn Loy brought some photos and a family Bible to the presentation, thinking perhaps someone there might be interested. Well. I busily snapped pictures and extracted a promise to meet to make scans and do an oral history interview and meanwhile Marilyn’s cousin, Nora Metz, was paging through the Bible. “I didn’t know this existed,” she said.

Anna H. Sample Smith's Bible, passed down through her daughter Dessa to her great-granddaughter Marilyn Loy.

You see how this stuff works? Anna’s daughter Nora got the big portrait of Anna, and her certificate for making a contribution to the building of the Lincoln memorial in Springfield, Illinois and judging by her namesake, Nora Metz, a good dose of Anna’s spirit, too. Anna’s daughter Dessie got the beautiful little portraits of Anna and Eli Smith, and the family Bible. She saved things in that Bible, like clippings of obituaries and a letter I itched to read. Dessie was a tiny baby when her father Eli died. Can you imagine how she loved this portrait?

Anna H. Sample Smith and Eli Smith, c. 1865, from the Marilyn Loy collection.

Anna was a strong woman, with strong opinions. Her favorite song, says Marilyn, was Hang Jeff Davis from a Sour Apple Tree. She was an ardent supporter of President Lincoln. And she had the extraordinary courage to pick up and move to the Wild Wild North with six little children in order to make a new life.

A peach in the McPherson family tree

I meet the most interesting people just by wandering about, but I have to say Dorothy Westover is in a class by herself.  It took us a long time to get together because she’s very busy.  She lives up in Petoskey, but last Saturday she rode over to Northport to be in the Dog Parade.  (You really should go read P.J. Grath’s post about the Dog Parade.  It will open your eyes about the North Country.)  Dorothy likes to dance, and draw, and research family history.  She is a direct descendant of one of my Civil War veterans, and it should not surprise you that her ancestors are among the most intriguing of the whole restless lot. 

She wanted to see this flag I’ve been on about, and so did her niece Mary Alice.  So there we were at the Wilkinson museum, posing for a stand-’em-up-‘n’-shoot-’em-down Photo Opportunity . . .

Gerry Sell, Mary Alice McPherson and Dorothy Westover at the Wilkinson Homestead museum, Eastport, Michigan August 2010

. . . when Dorothy turned to me and asked, “Did I ever tell you the story about my husbands dying?” Well, no, I allowed as how we had missed that particular chapter in our marathon phone conversations. It was this way. Her first husband, she explained, had died from eating bad mushrooms. “Accidental poisoning” went on the death certificate. When her second husband died, the doctor observed that he had a pretty sizeable dent in his head. Hmm. Was there an explanation? There was, said Dorothy. “He wouldn’t eat his mushrooms.”  Then she laughed uproariously while a series of expressions flickered across my face.   

She brought a bag full of photos and notebooks and let me make some copies with the little camera.  From a second bag she produced a quilt.  She’s been working on it for years now, drawing separate blocks for everyone in the family.  This is the block she drew for Great-Grandpa John H. McPherson and his bride, Angie Evans.

Dorothy Westover started this quilt in the 1980s and keeps adding to it as the family grows. This was the first block, the one for John H. McPherson and Angie Evans McPherson.

John and Angie met out on the Kansas-Missouri border while the Civil War raged around them. In fact, there are few places where it raged as fiercely and bitterly. The lovebirds married in spite of the Evans family’s opposition.  Angie’s family had been in Kentucky until they up and moved to western Missouri in the late 1850s, where Jayhawkers and Bushwhackers were carrying on a guerrilla war even before the attack on Fort Sumter.  Who moves into a war zone?   Well, that is one of the mysteries I would like to solve.  A field trip to Bates County, Missouri is in my future.

Front row:John H. McPherson, Eula McPherson Swartz, Angie Evans McPherson Back row: Guy L. McPherson, Ida Hadcock McPherson, Orin John McPherson

If I could just have five minutes with those people, I would worm it all out of them, I know I would. They would tell me extraordinary stories. Then again, could I believe a word they told me? The perils of local history. I love this stuff.