Skeletons in the Closet

I have known for a long time that most of my family (on both sides) came from the south. Most of them fought for the Confederate Army.  And I sort of took a perverse pleasure in that I came from a stock of rebels. And, I’ve always been proud, in some sort of way, that those relatives never actually owned slaves – at least so far as I’ve found.

Back in the Summer of 2015 Ben Affleck caused a bit of a crisis in the TV show “Finding Your Roots” when they found an ancestor of his was a slave owner. He tried to get the show (or at least the information about the slave owning ancestors) suppressed. At the time I thought that this was a bit silly. I mean, why worry about what your ancestor did?  What they did doesn’t describe who you are, does it?

Mr. Affleck isn’t the only one with this problem. I watched another documentary that discussed some of the issues of the relatives of Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler not too long ago and felt bad for those relatives! Their entire lives seemingly defined by what their infamous relations did.

1850 Federal Census - Slave Schedule

Recently, while working on my direct ancestors, I found some slave owners in my history in the 1850 Federal Census – Slave Schedules. On my dad’s side of the family, my 4th great grandfather (my father’s mother’s father’s mother’s mother’s father) Samuel S. Porter owned nine slaves. My 5th great grandfather on my mom’s side (my mother’s father’s mother’s father’s father’s mother’s father) William Black Jr. owned six slaves. I also found William Black’s son-in-law and my 4th great grandfather Isaac Shannon also owned eight slaves in 1860.

When I found this information, I didn’t know how to feel. Elated that I found new information as a genealogist and let down that I couldn’t be “proud” I had no slave owner ancestors.  And then these conflicting emotions hit me while I was talking about genealogy with someone at work. This someone, oh by the way, is of mixed race (half white & half African-American).  It wasn’t until after the discussion (where, yes, I did mention these slave owners) I started wondering if I put my foot into my mouth somehow.  To me, this was a historical and research discussion. But that was not likely how these things are thought about by others!

I wonder what happened to these slaves.  I know that William Black died before the Civil War. So, I can hope that his will freed them. I’ll need to travel to the county where he died and find the probate records. I couldn’t find Samuel Porter in the Slave Schedules for Porter in 1860, so I can hope he set them free.  And Isaac Shannon moved from his home in Arkansas to Texas during the middle of the Civil War (to get away from it); not sure how convenient it would have been to travel with slaves at the time – so I can hope that he set them free first. But that’s unlikely.

So… the fact that these three families were slave owners is important; but it isn’t all there is to these peoples’ lives.

William Black, for example, was a Captain of 1st Company in Major H. Rennick’s Mounted Battalion of  Kentucky Volunteers under Gen. Andrew Jackson during the Creek War of 1812 as can be seen by these sources:

Samuel Porter seemed to be a contrarian politically speaking and ended up owning about 600 acres of land. He was a devoted Baptist and an “old-line Whig” in politics.

Isaac Shannon is currently lost to me. I can’t find where or when he died. I do know that his wife and family moved back to Arkansas after the war.

Anyway… our family has the spectre of being descended from Confederates and slave owners. Does that have a bearing on who we are? Or how we act? I don’t think so; but then I don’t come from ancestors who were the slaves!

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Von Flaugh – Shotgun Accident

While randomly researching names in the online newspaper archives (when I had a subscription to newspapers.com) I found some interesting stories.  This is one of those stories…  [heh – that reminds me of the start of the old TV series Dragnet].

It turns out that weapon accidents are nothing new.  I found my great-grandfather, Von Flaugh, (my mother’s mother’s father) had an accident with a shotgun that, apparently, messed him up pretty badly.

Before we get into the details, let’s look at some basics.

portrait-flaughvon2
Von Flaugh

Von was…

  • born in March 1889 in Pagosa Springs, CO
  • lived in Pagosa Springs until 1905 when he moved to La Plata, NM
  • lived in La Plata, Aztec, and Flora Vista until 1935 when he moved to Ignacio, CO
  • died in Ignacio in September 1936

This map shows you these locations and, something I find interesting, is that he lived his entire life within 70 miles (as the crow flies) of where he was born.

Some other items of note; Von…

  • married Lucy Jeanette Johnson in March 1912
  • had my grandmother, Margaret Etta Flaugh, in January 1913
  • wounded himself in November 1913
  • had my great uncle Herbert Flaugh in May 1914
  • registered for the draft in June 1917

I bring these up because the timing of the accident is fortuitous. The accident happened after his wedding and subsequent birth of my grandmother – without whom I would not be here to write this blog!!

So, here’s the story I’ve been leading up to… this info is pretty much straight from the December 7, 1913 issue of the Albuquerque Morning Journal newspaper with a shorter version of the incident in this reproduction of an article from the December 5, 1913 issue of the Farmington Enterprise newspaper. The date on the reproduction is incorrect stating this happened in 1918; I’ve personally viewed a microfiche copy of the actual 1913 paper and found it.

At the time Von and his wife (and his parents) were living in La Plata, NM while her parents were living about 15 miles away near Aztec, NM. And, while Lucy was visiting her parents, Von went hunting rabbits [heh – now I’m thinking of Elmer Fudd].  After a while, he decided to head back to the house. Fortunately (?) he saw someone riding a wagon from Bloomfield to Aztec and asked to catch a ride (most people didn’t own automobiles back then).

He got up into the wagon and placed the shotgun on the floorboard butt down between his legs. Unfortunately, the floorboards shifted and the shotgun slid down between the boards allowing the hammer to strike and fire the weapon!

The entire shot went into his leg (tearing off an 8 inch chunk) and then entered his groin!

He was taken to Farmington General Hospital (a good 20 miles away or so) where he stayed for at least two weeks.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find when he was discharged.

He survived for another 23 years with this wound; but still died at the young age of 47 years old. By all accounts, when he died it was from complications associated with this accident. My Uncle Bob (a doctor no less and the grandson of Von) tells me that it could have been an embolic stroke or an infection that ultimately caused Von’s death.

If this happened today, he would have likely been at the hospital and in surgery within the hour via our local Air Care helicopter.  Back then… not so timely.

Twenty miles in a buggy? Ouch. Even if if they did have an automobile nearby it would have likely been a Ford Model T which could get up to 40-45mph. Now drive that Model T about 20 miles over dirt roads! I’m not sure which would be worse.  Once you get to the hospital, you’re looking at him getting medical care from doctors that have never heard of a World War (World War One won’t start for another six months or so).

So, once again, I find a story that basically tells me that I shouldn’t complain about my life when it goes nuts! The people in my past have had it much harder.  I can only wonder if our descendants (well, I have none, but my niece’s descendants) will think the same thing about us.