Posted on July 16, 2010 - by Nadia
July 15, 2010
Sumner wrap up
Been here three days trying to verify Josie’s existence here, to get a sense of the place and its surround, the get a feel for EJ Whit. Vicki Connor at the Ryan House and the Heritage Quest Research Library on Main Street have been very helpful.
SUMNER — Almost at the end of the reel. Almost at my wit’s end. I found her: Josie. Josie! I almost yelled my relief out loud.
For two full days I’d wandered through the year that brought the summer of 1890 to the summer of ’91. On the big screen microfilm, The Local Matters section of the Sumner Herald – the only section that really mattered to me – read like a year-long 19th century Twitter feed:
Seed potatoes hard to come by.
Weather for walking alone with the moon.
By way of a mild suggestion we would respectfully call attention to the present condition of the walk in front of Ryan’s hall.
The Sumner baseball club will play a match game with the Puyallup club on the latter’s grounds tomorrow, (Saturday) morning Bet on the Sumners as success is sure unless energy fails.
A.M. Rousseau returned Tuesday night from a two weeks’ visit to friends at Tenino. During his absence he devoted his time to hunting, fishing and getting sunburnt.
Never mind that the man she would marry, who would become, among other things, my great grandfather, was present on almost every page. Elmer John White founded the Sumner Herald in 1889. He owned half of it, served as editor to his partner’s publisher, and wrote columns under the pen name Eli, and some people called him that, though he generally went about daily life by his initials, EJ.
He is a funny guy who urges temperance. Any topic that gets too heated deserves to be taken with “sugar and lemon.” He is well liked. Well enough to run far ahead of the rest of the Democratic ticket in his 1890 bid for the state house, but not well enough liked to to actually win, as Republicans swept Pierce County, as they were wont to do back then.
I enjoyed getting to know EJ in Sumner, but I’ve always known more about him. In the life that lies ahead of him, he keeps writing in his distinctive down-home, third-person style and is noticed and written about, so it’s fairly easy to feel like I know him. It’s her about whom I know so little. Every confirmation of a fact is a bit of grout that holds the fragile tower I’ve been building together. Every correction knocks a clinker to the ground and puts the enterprise on stronger footing.
So it was that I yelped a little when my eyes, red from scanning the blurry print, picked up her name for the first time, printed in the February 27, 1891 edition:
Miss Josie Keys arrived from Carrizoo, Indian Territory, Tuesday on a visit to her sister, Mrs. AM Rousseau. She was accompanied by her cousin, Jesse Rector of Trinidad, Colorado. Miss Keys will remain several months.
Ah ha! So, she travelled in the winter after all. I’d always assumed she left in the summer, for the round trip to Clayton in the winter took at least a week and why would anyone do that in the winter for a pleasure trip? And although she was alone as she waved goodbye to her family at the depot, she wasn’t alone for long since this cousin joined her in Colorado. And that means the route they took was almost certainly north, through Colorado, rather than the popular California route, and that most likely put them on the Union Pacific Overland Express. I suspected as much.
So it was that I wrap up my three days in Sumner with the small success of actually seeing Josie here. There were many of the usual frustrations with primary research: I longed to see the census records of 1890, but they, as every frustrated genealogist knows, were destroyed. The whole national census for that year, lost. And I fell short of locating records of the land they lived on or their marriage record. These things I’ll keep pursuing from afar.
I did touch the land that kept her here for long enough to forge the foundation of her new life. How utterly unlike the Oklahoma panhandle it is at first blush. How lush and emerald to Oklahoma’s dusty sage, how novel to have water running above the surface of a river bottom’s soil, rather than six inches below as in the dry Cimmaron.
But there are similarities, too. Both places are built in river bottoms prone to flooding, where the long views come only to those who earn them.
I rode along the Stuck River as it merges with the Puyallup River, both draining the silty green waters from Rainier to the sea. A month and a half ago I had walked the course of the Cimarron, seeking the shade of the cottonwoods that could reach the invisible river.
I climbed the steep hills to the bluffs to the northwest of Sumner, bluffs choked with berry bushes and vines and lit by an unblinking view of remarkable Rainier.
In Oklahoma I had climbed Black Mesa, the highest point in the state, which wraps around Kenton and embraced the Keys homestead in its abrupt edging of the valley.The view from there, too, had been eternal, taking in four states, including the very eastern most edge of the Rockies, visible as halos of snow in distant New Mexico.
Sumner is suburban, but edged by its agricultural past and I was almost overwhelmed by the smell of jam as I pedaled past a sweeping strawberry field, and marveled at the density of rhubarb when it’s grown in acres instead of a back corner of the yard. In Kenton, the smell of sage and antelope and dust provided the backdrop against which the sweetest of winds could carry the taste of water as it gushes out from below the squeeking, turning windmills.
These are the places that shaped the way Josie would lead her life. These are the landscapes that made her a hunter, a mountain climber, a mother, wife, friend and adventurer. None of them are available in microfilm.
Bon voyage, to my most loyal readers
Have a great trip, Mom and Dad. May the wind be at your back and the galley stove well gimbled. Talk to you when you get home.