Tuesday, January 31, 2012

One Mystery Is Solved. Another Remains a Mystery. Probably Forever.

I am not only a dreamer of bright ideas (okay...maybe not so bright) but I am ALSO a solver of mysteries.

A couple months ago I solved part of a puzzle that I had pondered for the past 50 years. It happened like this.

My siblings and I grew up on an Iowa farm within a mile of where the earliest settlers in our township lived in the 1850s. Ours was a bottomland farm. Across the Little Sioux River is a long ridge of hills that extends all the way down into Missouri. They're known as the Loess Hills of Western Iowa and are a wonderful geographical feature of the area. Hopefully, it is okay that I've borrowed a photo from this website. The photographer is Gary Hightshoe, ISU.

As children we spent many summer afternoons playing in the sandy shallows or diving in the murky deeps of the river. It's a wonder we didn't drown...our main mode of swimming was the "dog paddle" which we learned by sheer instinct for survival.

In the winter, when freezing temps had put a thick layer of ice on the river, we would cross the river with our dog, Rusty, trotting out ahead of us, snuffling his nose through the snow, finding hidden paths for us to follow.

We would climb to the topmost point of the hills and then follow the ridgeline southward. We were on an Adventure! Eventually we would wander back, cross the river towards home, and head to supper.

During one of those "Adventures" we came down a long slope towards a point that held a view of the river bottomlands to the west. One can stand on that point and see the hills of Nebraska some 20 miles westward. It's a wonderful vista and it was thrilling to us, even as children, to contemplate the history of this place.

It was at this spot that we discovered a white marble tombstone lying flat on the ground. We could read the words "Lydia E. Bullock, age 42". The "4" was so eroded that initially I thought Lydia had died at age 12. But upon closer inspection I read "42".

That was fifty years ago. This past year Lydia had been on my mind, nudging me to dig for information. I knew there was an 1890 history of Monona County available at the library but on a whim I checked online. Sure enough, it is available there to read.

Here are a few words from that history...

Elkanah T. Bullock came to Kennebec Township in the winter of 1855-56, and put up a cabin on the northeast quarter of section 18, into which he removed with bis family early in the following spring. Here be resided for several years but finally emigrated to Kansas, settling on Solomon's Fork. His sons, Lyman, William and Charles, entered the United States army during the late war, and finally located in Kansas.

I do some family genealogy at ancestry.com and began looking at the census data for this location during 1855 (Iowa) and 1860 (federal). Sure enough, Lydia was Elkanah's wife. Their home was very near the site where she is buried. She died probably in 1861 and the family buried her before their move southward, first to Council Bluffs, eventually to Kansas.

Coincidentally, less than a week after entering the Bullock family information at ancestry.com, her great-grandson found my data and emailed me with questions. The sum of it all is that I was able to provide him with aerial maps showing the location of his great-grandmother's gravesite. It is possible a great-great-granddaughter may be able to visit the site this summer. I, too, hope to visit the site one more time while I am still able to do a bit of "hill-climbing".

To my mind, a mystery has been solved. Lydia has been "reunited" with her family.

And the photo? I'll never solve the mystery of this one...the "celt" is a Native American artifact I picked up out of the sandy bed of the Little Sioux River in about 1957. We had been searching for fresh water clam shells which we thought very pretty due to their mother-of-pearl interior. On that day I had simply reached down into the water thinking I would come up with a clam shell and instead came up with the celt. As children we called it a tomahawk but I believe the proper name is "celt". I haven't a clue as to age. But I often wonder about the fellow who made it. And wonder. And wonder.


Debby said...

I love pondering stuff like this. If left to my own devices, I'd probably head off into the woods, and then my footsteps would slow as I began to ponder what might have happened on this exact spot, who stood here, what they were doing, etc. etc. on and on. My mind is going to wander off someday, and it will not come back. I just know it.

Kim @ Stuff could... said...

I love history like this...it is neat that you reunited her with her family. The things we do explore as kids...I wonder also

Kelly said...

This is fascinating!

Karen Ingalls said...

I was fascinated by your story and think it is wonderful that you connected this woman with her family. Life is a fascinating journey

linda said...

I felt like I was there with you! Beautiful description of a place most of us will never see. Maybe you can take the celt to an Antiques Road Show and find out more about it!

Jennifer Dougan said...

How exciting to solve the mystery of Lydia's family and to reunite them! I was quickly caught up in your story here.

Have a great week.

Jennifer Dougan

Servivorgirl said...

Wow, this story is incredible! What an amazing place you found and to have posted it and reunited family with a beloved one's resting place.

That kind of stuff just fascinates me....God's handy work,it is.

Bless you....peace

Debra said...

Wonderful story. I love finding unusual things-it's so much fun to wonder....