Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Snake Stories

When our kids were little, they used to love to ask me for what they affectionately called "snake stories."  Growing up in the hills of California, and having adventurous brothers, I did have more than my fair share of snake encounters.  Once I somewhat innocently shared a few of those stories with our kids, the stories became favorites, to be retold time and again.

There was the time a large section of a large, old pepper tree fell down in our yard and we begged Dad to just leave it for awhile.  My brother and I took some sheers and chopped and hacked the smaller branches to form little rooms for our "house."  We played all week in that thing and were so sad to discover on our return home from school one day that Dad had some men haul the large section of the tree off. The dismay quickly turned to relief and horror when he told us that as they were removing the tree, the men had discovered a large rattlesnake coiled in the tree.

Despite the fact that I just hate snakes, I have loads of snake stories.  But my real purpose today is to share my grandpa's snake story.

A couple of years ago on our visit to Sanford, Colorado, my Uncle Gaylon shared a story about my Grandpa Ganus and I am so glad that he did.  Grandpa Ganus died when I was little and the stories that I know about him are few and far between.


Sanford, Colorado
Sanford, Colorado
When this incident occurred, my Grandpa, Heber Ganus, was working as a mechanic at a garage in Sanford.  This particular day, Boyd Poulson was pulling weeds down by the river, a little ways out of town when he saw a snake. Water snakes and garden snakes are a common sight there in the San Luis Valley,  so he thought it was just another harmless little garden snake and was not too concerned.  But Boyd was mistaken and he realized his error when the snake struck him on his hand.  He had been struck by a rattlesnake! Boyd was out by himself and seeing no other option, he ran three miles to Sanford.  By the time he reached town, he was woozy and his hand had become very swollen. Frantic, he couldn't think at first what to do, so he ran to the garage where Grandpa Ganus was working.  Grandpa could see how bad the situation was and he hurriedly loaded Boyd up in the car and drove as fast as he could to the nearby town of Alamosa for medical help.  Grandpa's quick action was credited for saving Boyd's life.

Grandpa Heber Monroe Ganus and Grandma Hazel (nee Mickelsen)
Grandpa Heber Monroe Ganus
and Grandma Hazel Ganus (nee Mickelsen)
It's a simple story, but it warms my heart to think that Grandpa's quick action helped to save someone's life.

Occasionally I tell my husband that maybe we need to move to the south where I can do more research and get in touch with my southern roots, but at that point he always reminds me that there is no shortage of snakes in the south.  That always does the trick and for a time, I abandon that aching to return to my roots, although I suspect it would provide me with some great new material for my snake stories.




Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014,  All rights reserved

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fall, The Best Three Days of the Year

Fall never seems to be long enough in Utah and some even joke that it is the best three days of the year.  So when I learned that The Board for Certification of Genealogist would be holding a lecture series at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City this past Saturday, for just a moment I wrestled with the idea of giving up the promise of good weather for a day spent indoors.  It wasn't really much of a wrestle though because with Judy Russell and Elizabeth Shown Mills teaching, I knew my time would be well spent.

Judy G. Russell, BCG Seminar, used by permission
Judy G. Russell
BCG Lecture Series
(Used by permission)
Both Judy and Elizabeth are masters at teaching us how to see and think as genealogists, all while weaving the stories of their subjects' lives through the use of records.  Listening to them is not only educational, but a lot of fun.

And so I got up bright and early on Saturday morning and drove down to the  Family History Library and I am so glad that I did.  As I listened to all of the speakers, I enjoyed the day immensely and am excited to once again pull out some of my difficult-to-solve genealogical problems to see if just maybe I will see and understand things that I have missed in the past.   Thank you ladies for time well spent.    


You can find Judy G. Russell on her website,  The Legal Genealogist and Elizabeth Shown Mills on her websites, Historic Pathways and Evidence Explained

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014,  All rights reserved

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Oh the places you'll go

Recently lines from the popular Dr. Seuss poem, "Oh The Places You'll Go!" have rattled through my brain:
"You're off to Great Places! Today is Your day!
Your mountain is waiting, So .....get on your way!”
Over the past month and a half, my "mountain" has been discovering Ernest and his life and in the process, Oh the places I have been!

Ernest William Ganus and Heber Ganus
Ernest William Ganus (L)
Heber Monroe Ganus 
Initially knowing very little about my grandfather's older brother, Ernest, who died before I was born,  I expected to write a single blog post.  But one record led to another and little by little, I soon realized that it would take multiple posts to share all that was in my mind and heart.

At times I was perplexed by Ernest’s personal choices,  but seeking to understand led me to yet more discoveries. In addition to his personal trials, I followed Ernest into the newly emerging oil industry, through his service in WWI, and finally through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.  With each discovery I hoped that just maybe his life would turn a corner and that he would have a happy ending, but by all appearances, life was never easy for Ernest.  I can only hope that the bleak facts that emerged through the documents were at least occasionally balanced out by some of the simple daily joys of life.  

I read and then I read some more. I visited personal and governmental websites containing information about the era. I looked at pictures, I listened to songs written during that time period, I watched film strips, documentaries and a movie.  

Because of my desire to know more about him, I stepped into his world, a world that I had previously known little about and in the process, I received quite an education.  While the journey enlightened my mind, it also broke my heart.  In many ways,  Ernest represents many of the men and women of that era that were born into hard circumstances and fought every step of the way just to survive. 

Had I been satisfied to simply spit out the most basic facts of Ernest's life, I would have missed so much and in all reality, I would have missed Ernest.
 "The more that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."  Dr. Seuss, Oh The Places You'll Go!
Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014,  All rights reserved

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Do You Remember? Fall Leaves

Do You Remember?

The older I get, the more I love to reflect on the people and events of my past.  I wonder if you have some of the same memories I have? 

I've always loved fall.  I love the colors and the smells and the cool nights.  Do you remember how fun it was to play in the fall leaves? 

Me as a little girl raking the leaves at our home in Bakersfield, California
Growing up, we didn't have the sophisticated toys that kids have today and so we spent a lot of time playing with simple things.  I remember how much I loved it when the leaves began to fall. We would spend hours raking the leaves into huge piles and jumping into the piles. 

I also remember loving the sound of the leaves as they crunched under my shoes.  But even more than that, I loved the way the leaves crunched as my mom walked on them in her high heels and I could hardly wait until for the day I too would wear high heels. 

Do you have childhood memories of playing in the fall leaves? 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014,  All rights reserved

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ernest's Final Return to Oklahoma

The winds howled as dark clouds of dust and dirt churned and boiled across the wide open plains.  A layer of grit seemed to cover everything in site, both indoors and out. It was the "Dust Bowl" and Ernest Ganus and his family were smack in the middle of it.

Dust Bowl from Wikimedia Commons, Public DomainCrippling drought combined with over-farmed and over-grazed land resulted in dust storms throughout Oklahoma, as well as other neighboring states.  At times the dust and dirt were so thick, the sky was completely black.

In 1930, Ernest, Goldie and daughter, Louise, were living in Okmulgee, Oklahoma and according to the census, Ernest was working as a laborer on the highways.  Between the dust storms and the crippling effects of the Great Depression, I suspect his work dwindled away to little if anything at all.

Whether the mounting financial and emotional stresses played a part in their marital discord, or there were simply differences that could not be resolved, some time during the next few years, Ernest and Goldie divorced and for a time, Ernest was alone again.

Several years later, Ernest met and married Laura Etta Henson, daughter of Jeff Henson and Lucy Ann Sharp.  Then, much like the characters of John Steinbeck's novel,  The Grapes of Wrath, which depicted the plight of those fleeing the dust bowl,  Ernest and Laura joined the hundreds of thousands of dust bowl refugees and headed for California.

In 1940, forty-two year old Ernest and forty year old Laura appear on the US Federal Census living in Los Angeles, California.  Employers successfully lured desperate job seekers to come to work in the fields of California while Hollywood portrayed a land where everyone prospered and thrived in a near tropical climate.  Consequently, the impoverished headed to California with great hope for a better life.

As if he had not already endured his share of heartache, once again Ernest would be hit hard by loss. On the eighth of December, 1942,  Laura died of cancer, leaving Ernest once again, all alone.

By April of that year, Ernest had followed the migrant trail to Tehachapi as is evidence by his registration form for the "Old Man Draft."  On the form he indicated that his place of residence was "Kirschenmaan Camp- Tehachapi, California."

Housing for Oklahoma Refugees, California, Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress
Housing for Oklahoma Refugees, California
Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress 

Approximately 122 miles from his last known residence in Los Angeles and almost 1,500 miles from Okmulgee, Ernest "fit the mold" of the "Okie" on a quest to find employment.

Some  Oklahomans flocked to the areas near Tehachapi to look for work. The sheer number of migrant workers living in makeshift camps created growing concern among many locals. Crowding, inadequate supplies and lack of sanitation often made the camps a dangerous and unhealthy place to live and many communities took steps to close the camps.  In addition, many that had come for work became disillusioned as it became evident that those seeking work greatly exceeded the number of available jobs and that in many cases the pay could not cover even their most basic needs.  For whatever reason, Ernest did not remain in California for long, but once again, returned home to Oklahoma.

At this point the trail goes cold and I know little about the years that follow. I do know that in the early 1950's, when my grandfather, Heber Ganus,  Ernest's younger brother, was suffering from poor health and was advised to go to a lower climate,  he too returned to Oklahoma.  Although Ernest did not have much, he shared what he had and Grandpa lived with him for a short time until Grandma finished the school year as a teacher in Colorado and could join him in Oklahoma.

Ernest lived alone for the remainder of his life.  At the age of 62, suffering from emphysema and pulmonary fibrosis, he was admitted to the VA Hospital in Bonham, Texas.  According to his death certificate he died on March 3, 1956, at 5:40 in the morning of an acute heart attack.  Ernest's body was returned to Oklahoma and he was buried in the Okmulgee County Cemetery near Laura.

Ernest's final resting place was Oklahoma, the place where he had last been with his parents, the place where he had married Goldie and had been with his children, the place where he had met and married Laura, the place where brother Orson had lived for a time and a place where brother Heber had returned as his health failed.....Oklahoma was "home" and Ernest too had returned one last time.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014,  All rights reserved

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tragedy in the Roaring Twenties

It was the roaring twenties and life was changing rapidly in the United States. Women had gained the right to vote, dance clubs were the vogue and "talkies" became wildly popular.  Ernest was home from the war and he and Goldie, who had only been married six monthes when he left for basic training, were together again.  If he was like many WWI veterans, it took a little time for him to adjust and settle back into life.
17 April 1920 Cartoon by American cartoonist Dick Kennedy,

The year 1921 appeared to be the beginning of better things for Ernest as he and Goldie welcomed their first baby into their home. Goldie gave birth to Charles Franklin Ganus who was likely named for Goldie's father, Charles, and Ernest's father, (William) Franklin. Things were looking up for Ernest.

Ernest, now a family man, returned to the oil fields, but this time he took a job in a refinery working as a still man's helper. In a refinery a still is a large column where oil is heated to a high temperature in order to distill the oil to different grades.

October 28, 1922 likely began like most any other day for the Ganus family, but in the oil fields, any day has the potential for danger.  That afternoon,  as Ernest worked at the Indiahoma refinery, an agitator exploded, setting fire to three oil tanks, killing one man, burning two horses to death and according to newspaper reports, it was feared that two other men, including "E. Ganus," who had been engulfed in flames, would possibly die from their burns.  (1) The article further stated that both men were hospitalized.

Gusher Okemah Ok 1922
While the accident is reported in numerous newspapers, there is no further information about the injured men.  I find myself wondering and hoping that just maybe the initial report was slightly exaggerated.  That could have been the case  . . . but if not,  I would assume that as is typical with burns, the recovery was slow and difficult.  Ernest would certainly require recovery time and he and Goldie likely felt the strain both emotionally and physically as he healed while the medical bills mounted. Sadly, this would not be the only trial this little family would face that week.

On the 29th of October 1922, the very day following the explosion,  Ernest's and Goldie's only child, Charles,  died.  I can't imagine the grief they must have felt. Was Ernest even able to help Goldie make arrangements for Charles' burial or was that a burden she carried alone? How did they afford both the cost of burial as well as Ernest's medical expenses?  How did they manage as they faced one of the most difficult tragedies any parent could face?  Surely there were many dark and difficult days in the weeks and months that followed.

The following year, while still in Okmulgee, Ernest and Goldie again welcomed a baby into their home.  This time their baby was a girl and they named her Louise.  Once again I felt hope that maybe now life would even out for Ernest, and then I remembered what the 1930's held for Oklahoma.

(1) "Explosion Kills Oil Worker and Injures Others,: (Miami),  Miama District News, 29 Oct 1922, p. 1; digital images, GenealogyBank.com, (http://www.genealogybank.com:  accessed 28 August 2014). 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014, All rights reserved

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Family Of His Own-Part 3 of Ernest's Story

Golda Buster Ganus, Okmulgee Oklahoma,
Photo inscribed:
"From Goldie Ganus
Okmulgee, Okla.
I am 18 years old"
Things were indeed heating up overseas, making the future uncertain for young and old alike.  Still living in Oklahoma, Ernest continued working in the oil fields and at some point, while in his early twenties, a young lady by the name of Goldie Buster caught his eye.

Goldie was born 12 October, 1900 in Eldon, Missouri and was the daughter of Charles Buster and Lena Shackelford.  In 1910,  she was living with her mother Lena, her step-father, Columbus Tracy and her sister Ida Buster in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

In November of 1917,  at the ripe old age of seventeen, Goldie and twenty-four year old Ernest decided to take the big leap and get married.  Ernest and Goldie began life together and finally Ernest once again had a family of his own.

As was feared, conditions in Europe continued to deteriorate and in April of 1917 the United States declared war on Germany.  Ernest was among those called to serve in what became known as the Great World War.

A mere six months after their wedding, Ernest said goodbye to his new bride and joined many others who were training at Camp Travis, near San Antonio, Texas.  According to The Office of Medical History, the men training there to become soldiers were men from Oklahoma and Texas.

In June of 1918,  Ernest's division was shipped overseas and he was assigned to Field Hospital #357, 3155 Sanitary Train, 90 Div. During WW1, men in the Sanitary Trains operated field hospitals and manned the ambulances.  Field Hospital #357 was located in France and aided in evacuation and triage of the injured.

WW 1, men in battle,
Sitting peacefully in the comfort of my own home,  it is difficult to fully comprehend all that was endured by not only the soldiers in the midst of battle, but by men such as Ernest who came to the aid of the injured.  Working in the sanitary train,  Ernest would have helped soldiers in shock, those that had been gassed and those with a variety of injuries.  Often working under extremely difficult conditions, Ernest, along with many men and women, did their part in the fight to preserve our freedom.

WW 1 Ambulance
I gained a little insight into the challenges faced by those of the 357th 90th division, while reading about them on the website The Office of Medical History.  There I read the following:
 "While dressings, splints, supplies, and service by the ambulance companies left much to be desired, only by almost superhuman effort on the part of the commanding officer of the 357th Ambulance Company, his officers and men, was it possible for them to function at all.  The roads were literally torn to pieces by shell fire and continually congested by trucks and artillery." (1)
Ernest undoubtedly witnessed things difficult for us to imagine and things his heart and mind would likely never forget. Was he among the thousands of soldiers who mentally relived those events for the remainder of his life? Did the effects of war impact his life and his relationships?

Although thousands of Americans did not return home at the close of the war, Ernest was among those who did.  On the 19th of June, 1919,  after a little more than a year overseas, Ernest was discharged and returned home to Goldie.  Although I hoped that the next chapter of his life would be more calm, the story that unfolded revealed yet more challenges.

1. U.S. Amy Medical Department, Office of Medical History, Chapter XXXII, Third Phase, pages 781-787. http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/wwi/fieldoperations/chapter32.html  Accessed 4 September, 2014.

Photos from Wikimedia Commons in Public Domain


Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014, All rights reserved