Susan Spess Shay

Still playing make believe.


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Got To Know Joe

I finished Cherokee Strip Fever, by Zola Bellis Sample, a few weeks ago. Great book. One of my favorite parts is when Charity’s husband comes home with his hand messed up.

When she sees it, she panics. “Is that a snake bite?”

I like that, probably because it’s the same way I’d react if I lived in that time and place. Turns out it wasn’t a snake bite, but a fight. He’d happened upon three bullies picking on Mr. Guffey, who was small in stature but large in spirit, and had to take up for him.

Guffey–a name I recognize from my own childhood.

When it’s all over, Mr. Guffey tells Mr. Bellis that he’s the kind of man the Guffeys would love to have for a neighbor, and in the end that’s exactly what happened. The Bellis family bought the place next to the Guffeys.

Now a confession: One of the reasons I bought her book is because my family is mentioned in it. First time I read her book and saw the name Joe Mitchell, I had to ask Dad who he was. 🙂

Zola doesn’t say much about Joe, except that her dad freighted for him.

This is Joe.

Born one hundred years before me, he buried his first wife in Missouri.

This is the first wife’s headstone. She was not quite thirty when she died.

Back in 1991, one of my dad’s cousins sent him these pictures I’m sharing today. Under this picture he’d written,

“Oak Lawn Cemetery. Her daughter and Husband buried beside her. Joe carved this stone at Mtn. Hme Ark. He and some man owned a small quarry. “

Joe carved his wife’s headstone with his own hands. The very last thing he could ever do for her, except care for and raise their three children, one of whom was my gr-grandfather.

Joe married again and moved to Oklahoma, but not necessarily in that order. I’m not sure which came first. 😉

I don’t believe he made the opening of the Cherokee Strip, but he moved to the Basin not too long afterward. He had the store Zola mentions in her book and also the post office, a cotton gin and saw mill. She has a picture of the saw mill in her book, and says G-G Granddad had a partner in the saw mill.

 This isn’t a good picture from Dad’s cousin, but it’s the cotton gin and saw mill. My two granddads are on the lower left side, standing in front of a huge log and beside several bales of cotton.

A portion of that same picture.

Can you see 1 and 2  written on the picture? #1 is above Joe, #2 above my gr-granddad.

When Joe remarried, he and his new wife had several children. In all, I think Joe fathered twelve or thirteen. Several died in childhood or soon after birth.

In one place the papers I found names, “Parley Mitchell” and “Charley Mitchell.” They’re listed on after the other as if they were twins. Charley died at one month, Parley at one year. The notation next to their names says, “Buried beside Mr. and Mrs. McCrackin in Spears cemetery.”

Aren’t the names wonderful? Charley and Parley. One of Granddad Mitchell’s half-brothers was named Okla Homer. No kidding!

The house my parents lived in when I was born stood in the same place where the store/post office/sawmill/cotton gin had been. The family always called it “Aunt Ginny’s House,” which was Joe’s second wife’s name.

Dad told me Joe traded half his land to a man in order to have that house built–two stories with several bedrooms upstairs one down, a good-sized kitchen, big dining room, and large living room.

I remember being there when my mom’s parents lived there when I was little. The staircase was enclosed and dark with a door to close it off so the wood stove kept only the lower floor warm. The stairs curved at the bottom, then shot straight to the upper floor.

The house was moved a long time ago before the lake came in, but it still stands. (Too dangerous to go into these days, but it’s still around.)

I love knowing that even though I never met Joe (he died in 1903, only 52 years old) we lived in the same house, walked the same paths, loved the same people (his son, my great granddad) and quite probably shared the same values.

 And like the letter Dad’s cousin enclosed with the pictures says, I plan to see them all in the Great By-and-By.

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