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Grand-dad Will's Stories -- Part II

Margrett McCorkle (+1 509.924.3482, Margrett42 at comcast dot net)

In my previous article,[1] I introduced my great-grandfather, William Marion Ewing, who I have always called Grand-dad Will. I also promised to relate some of his ancestry-illuminating stories which had an incredible influence on my life and beliefs. Memories are wonderful things in all our lives. During the time of Grand-dad Will's and my life together, I believe he was greatly enjoying the benefits of his memories. At that time he was in the autumn of his years, and I was fortunate enough to be there and be able to now pass on his stories.

This article partially delivers on my promise to pass on to you -- and my children -- Grand-dad's stories. Additional stories will appear in future articles.

William Marion 'Will' Ewing

To begin, I would like to remind readers of, and expand on, the details of the life of my great-grandfather, William Marion Ewing -- my Grand-dad Will.

Will's Childhood

William Marion Ewing -- 'Will' as he was known by friends and family -- was born February 21, 1871, in Putnam County, Missouri, the only son of John Anderson and Evaline Mary (Gardner) Ewing. Grand-dad Will's father died when Will was seven-or-eight years old. The details of his father's death were never spoken of except to allude to the fact his father had been shot when Will was just a lad.

Grand-dad Will's mother -- Evaline Mary (Gardner) Ewing -- remarried shortly after his father died. After his father's death, Will spent a great deal of time with his grandparents, John Jordon and Elizabeth Ann (Viers) Ewing, in Schuylar County, Missouri. My memory is that he spoke often of his grandparents and seldom spoke of his mother or father.

Will's childhood was filled with lots of hard work, but it was also 'centered' by a loving family. He was greatly encouraged toward education. He learned many family stories from his grandfather, who died when Grand-dad Will was seventeen, and his grandmother, who died ten years later. Will took care of his grandmother until she died in Putnam County, Missouri, in 1899.

Will's Sister

Will had a younger sister, Georgia Ann, who was born in 1877 and was barely a year old when their father died. Until recently, I knew little about my great-grandaunt other than how much Grand-dad Will cared for her. I saw her only a couple times during my childhood; I have little memory of her.

Newly discovered data have, however, answered many unknowns about this part of my family that now, as they come to light, help me better understand some previously unknown relatives, including my great-grandaunt, Georgia Ann Ewing.

When I was a child, we would often visit with a Salsbury family in (or at least near) Springfield, Missouri. We would go in late-Fall to butcher hogs and pick peaches. It was a week-end adventure and always a great enjoyment for me. I never fully knew who these people were other than very close family friends. I called them Aunt Ruby and Uncle Dutch, using the 'honorifics' that most children used for their elders in those days.

Much to my surprise, I recently discovered that they were family. Georgia Ann Ewing had married John Salsbury who was born in Missouri in 1877. Among other children, they were the parents of Darley John 'Dutch' Salsbury who was born, 1902, in Carrollton, Carroll County, Arkansas. In 1925, Dutch married Ruby Dora Beaver who was born 1905 in Newton County, Missouri. Ruby died in July 1973 in Joplin, Missouri, and Dutch had preceded her in death in 1963, also in Joplin, Missouri. Dutch and Ruby Salsbury had two sons: Henry Don Salsbury and John Darrell Salsbury.

Will's Family

At age twenty-one, Grand-dad Will married Ellen Ann Admire. She was born November 6, 1877, in Putnam County, Missouri, and was the daughter of Jesse Admire and Mary Delilah Ferguson. 'Ellie,' as she was known, was fifteen years old at the time of their marriage on October 30, 1892, in Martintown, Missouri.

Will and Ellie Ewing started their married life in Putnam County. Will was part of the first crews hired to string telephone lines through the country side.

The first child born to Will and Ellie Ewing was my grandmother Evaline Mary Ewing, born July 26, 1894, in Putnam County, Missouri. After the death of his grandmother, Elizabeth, and around 1900, Grand-dad Will and Ellie moved down to Boone County, Arkansas, where the rest of their children were born. They resided in Alpena Pass, which is said to be in Boone County or Carroll County depending on the county line at the time.

Will and Ellie's family consisted of four sons and three daughters; they also had twin daughters who died at birth. Their second child, Henry Lee Ewing, was born February 21, 1890; their third child, Anna Mae Ewing, was born September 30, 1900; their fourth child, Marion Francis'Monk' Ewing, was born in 1902 (Monk was killed in a railroad fire circa 1941/42 and left one daughter); their fifth child was William Hugh 'Bill' Ewing born March 3, 1907; their sixth child was Vinita 'Nettie' Ewing, born May 30, 1911; and their last child was John Anderson Ewing, known as 'Pat' and born April 28, 1915.

The same year their last child, Pat, was born, their oldest child, Evaline Mary (known as 'Linee') married Garland Blaine Richardson. The Richardson family had lived in Carroll County, Arkansas, since 1850, having come from Tennessee. Garland and Linee were married September 11, 1915, in Carroll County, Arkansas, and the following July their only child was born on July 18, 1916, in Alpena Pass, Arkansas. This child was my father. The marriage of Garland and Linee was short lived. The 1920 census shows Mary Evaline and her three year-old son, Garland, living with her father and mother, Will and Ellie Ewing. I do not know more details about this.

My beloved great-grandmother Ellie died on December 3, 1921. She is buried in Alpena Cemetery, in Carroll County, Arkansas. There are many stories about her, but the one most often repeated concerns her extraordinary artistic ability. She was a portrait artist and did numerous charcoal portraits of people in her area. She was the love of Will's life, and he never quite recovered from her death. He lived out the rest of his life alone, with just his children and grandchildren and a Big Old Red Mule (the subject of several family stories which will appear in future articles).

From the time of the 1920 census until his marriage to my mother in 1935, my father -- Garland Blaine Richardson -- was raised by his grandfather. This was the only father he knew and loved. Thus his aunts and uncles were like siblings to him.

As life moved on and we were born, we spent much time visiting Grand-dad Will, who by this time lived in Casa, Arkansas, just at the foot of Petit Jean Mountain. Grand-dad Will loved the mountains. Perhaps this was in his blood, descending from James 'the Pioneer' Ewing of Pocahontas County, West Virginia. But it was where he remained, and where he wished to be buried when the time came.

That time came on July 1, 1956, when he was eighty-five years old. I was fourteen years old, but had spent the majority of those years at the knee of my beloved great-grandfather. He was my best friend and my mentor, and as I look back on all of it now, probably one of the greatest influences in my life. He was a constantly loving, sharing teacher and mentor. All I can say is: I wish every child could be as fortunate as I was to have a great-grandfather like him.

Arkansas Black Bear

Grand-dad Will often spoke of his days as a young man, and liked to tell of the trials of being a telephone lineman. If my memory serves me correctly, he did say 'telephone lineman', but he may have worked putting up electric lines also. This would have been around the 1900-1920 timeframe; pardon my ignorance here as I do not know when such lines were strung where he lived and whether the lines were new or just ones in need of repair. The terrain was brutal in some parts of the country; this would have been somewhere near or around Boone County, Arkansas. Wild animals abounded in this area; he told of getting a bobcat treed up a pole and having great fun in getting him down.

One day, as the story goes, the lineman crew had erected a pole that happened to be in the vicinity of a bear's domain. When they returned to their site one morning to get on with their job they found the pole being guarded by a black bear -- the Bear. It must have been that the Bear did not like the new pole or the men invading his living space as the Bear was trying his darnest to get rid of that pole. He clawed it, he rammed it, he shook it but the pole hung in there.

As the crew cautiously approached, the Bear became even madder. He'd charge at the men and then run back and shake the pole. No amount of shouting or throwing of rocks encouraged the Bear to move on and leave the pole. He'd stand beside the pole, shake his head back and forth and make terrible growls and snorts. This went on for the better part of the morning, and everyone was about to give up getting the Bear to move on. Then the Bear decided, on his own volition, to leave the pole. He was perhaps getting on toward his mid-day napping time, or he had finally decided there was no prospect of food from this pole. Either way, the crew got back to work and the Bear became a memory.

Bears were often part of the lives of people in that area of Arkansas. One time, the dogs were setting up quite a stir late one evening as a hungry bear had happened upon Grand-dad Will's corn crib and the veggie crib where he stored all his root vegetables. With the dogs' attempts to chase the bear and a shotgun blast up in the air, the bear was persuaded to leave the cribs for another night.

On a blackberry picking trip one summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to see a bear quite close. Blackberry picking was a great adventure, and blackberries were a favorite food. There was always the wonderfully delicious Blackberry Cobbler, so anticipated after dinner. Early one morning, soon after breakfast, we were off with our buckets and big sticks to scare away any snakes hiding in the thickets. After much walking, always uphill, we came to our blackberry thicket and set about picking the big juicy berries. As time passed, we'd move on to another spot where we would become somewhat separated but not really too far. As I was doing my share -- 'one for the bucket and one for me' -- I heard what I assumed was someone just ahead of me, pushing aside a bush. I don't remember what I said but did say something in the form of greeting as I pushed aside a large branch to see who I was speaking to. Imagine my surprise as I came face-to-face with a bear. I didn't scream. I didn't run. I was frozen to the spot and speechless. All I remember was Grand-dad Will stepping in front of me yelling and hitting the ground with a big stick, and the bear, who I believe was as surprised as I was, turning and running back into the thicket at a pretty fast pace. This pretty much concluded this blackberry picking trip as we all decided we had collected enough berries for that day. And I was very happy to put as much distance as I could between me and that bear. But, boy oh boy, did I have a story to tell that night sitting out on the porch eating Blackberry Cobbler. What was fun about this story was that it was one I could tell. And, of course, I was encouraged by Grand-dad Will to tell it as many times as people would stop to visit.

This brings me to my last story about visiting bears'. I'm sorry to say this happened shortly after my beloved Grand-dad Will passed away. Now, I don't want to sound spooky here, but we always have stories that make us go 'Hum-m-m-m?'. Grand-dad Will was very fond of ghost stories and did his share of telling them. I'm sure he would have greatly enjoyed this one.

Grand-dad Will liked bears, and we all knew he did. After he passed on, his youngest son lived in his house for a while. Every morning, as John would arise and go about fixing his breakfast, there would come a knock on the back-kitchen door. The first time this happened, just imagine his shock when the door was opened and there to greet him was a bear. Out of fear or desperation, John fed his left over breakfast to the bear. Much to John's surprise, the bear must have liked his cooking as this soon became an almost everyday event. About the time breakfast was done there would be a knock on the back door and there would be the bear, looking for his handout. As John tells it, the bear became quite fond of his breakfast biscuits and gravy. And Grand-dad Will's most favorite thing for breakfast was biscuits and gravy.

Lots of folks will find this tale hard to believe, but it happened just as I have related it. I like to believe Grand-dad Will gave us one more 'bear story'. He often told stories about how American Indians believed that their ancestors often came back after death in the form of local animals: a bear, a mountain lion, an eagle or hawk, any one of a number of animals. When I would ask him what animal he'd come back as, he'd always tell me it would be the Arkansas Black Bear. Did he?

Santa Claus

It was the winter of 1947, Christmas. I remember it so very well.

My Aunt Anna, Uncle Andy and I had planned to spend Christmas that year in Arkansas with my Grand-dad Will. Spending Christmas in Arkansas at Grand-dad's was so very special to me. Perhaps it was my age and my awareness of what Christmas was about that I had this wonderful belief, this glorious feeling, that my beloved great-grandfather was, without any doubt in my youthful mind and heart, the true and real Santa Claus.

After all, he had snow white hair and a long white beard, his eyes were as blue as the sky and he made the most wonderful toys: carved animals, wagons and bow and arrows, dolls, and doll houses with furniture, and wooden solders. In my thinking there was nothing he could not do or make. So there I was, all of five-years old and smugly knowing my Grand-dad Will was Santa.

The first thing on arrival at Grand-dad's place after the long trip from Oklahoma to Casa, Arkansas, was always a hurried trip to the house down the path, known to us of that generation as the 'out house'. No one really ever enjoyed these trips, and especially a five-year old, but it was just part of living. I always had to have someone come along on these trips as I needed help to get up there on the adult seat.

This particular visit during the winter of 1947 was no exception. Grand-dad Will, as usual, was watching for us and met us as we drove up the driveway. After many hugs and kisses, I was anxious to get down that path and was tugging at my Grand-dad Will to come along. He was hesitating and told me to run on along and he'd be right behind me, which of course I proceeded to do. As I opened the door, however, my urgency was quickly halted when I saw what had been done.

Grand-dad Will had, during the time between our late summer visit and our winter visit, altered the seating bench of the outhouse to incorporate a small lower seat. Just a perfect fit for this five-year old, who was beginning to feel quite grown up. Oh what a surprise it was and how very special I felt. The love I had for this gentle man could never be measured.

I ran back up the path and into the house that was warm from the wood-burning pot-bellied stove that stood in the corner of the living room. Over in the other corner, in front of the window, was the tree, already cut and standing all alone and ready to be decorated by my five year-old hands. After supper, and while drinking hot chocolate and eating candy canes, we decorated this wonderful tree.

It being a long day and sitting in the lap of my Grand-dad Will, I'd listen to everyone get caught up on the latest news of family members, etc., and I'd find my eyes too heavy to stay awake and would feel myself being carried up the stairs and placed in that big feather bed with, as the saying goes 'visions of what was to come on Christmas day'.

Christmas morning: opening presents; a wonderful breakfast; warm and snug with the ones we love. Life gets no better. Those are my memories with my Grand-dad Will as Santa Claus. This Christmas brought the usual dolls and color books, but the gift most remembered was a wagon. Made by Grand-dad Will, it was this small replica of a buckboard wagon with all the bells and whistles of the real thing. As I came downstairs that Christmas morning, there it sat under the tree. The most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was a treasured item until unforeseen events cost me my home in Oklahoma, and it was lost to me forever.

So here we were, my last winter before I started school after turning six the summer of 1948 and knowing I was the luckiest girl in all the world as my Grand-dad Will was Santa Claus. I never told anyone I thought this; it was my own secret knowledge. I was very secure with just knowing this to be true.

As we all know, we learn a lot in school besides the a-b-c's. The following Fall, as I began my first-grade year, I began to learn things that created a very big disappointment for me. A very devastating revelation was to learn that my Grand-dad Will could not be Santa Claus. He had been with me all of my Christmas Eves, so he could not have lived at the North Pole with elves and reindeer. Grand-dad Will did not own a sleigh nor could Old Red fly.

But children are very resilient, and I soon realized that maybe it was a good thing that Grand-dad Will was not the real Santa Claus. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I did not really want to share him with every child in the world. He was mine and mine alone, and that was a really good feeling.


[1] McCorkle, Margrett. Grand-dad Will's Stories, J. Clan Ewing, Vol. 14, No. 2 (May 2008), pp. 27-29.