From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Hurricane Memory

Medieval night with Hurricane Rita


Tonight, the very muggy weather and the threat of Hurricane Isaac is giving me déjà vu. I've never experienced the full force of a hurricane firsthand. But I did have a surreal secondhand hurricane experience, one humid night in southern Tennessee that comes to mind tonight

Keely was still in college in September 2005, and she was a member of  SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), a medieval reenactment group. Her group was attending a reenactment near Columbia, Tennessee, so Isaac and I went along. We arrived late on Friday night in torrential rain, and decided to sleep in a motel instead of setting up our tent in the downpour.

On Saturday, the sun was shining. We drove out to the site, found Keely's group, set up our tent, put on our medieval garb, and had a very hot, humid day of medieval entertainment and activity.  That night, we enjoyed a nice medieval meal with several courses. That ended the official activities, so Isaac and I wandered back to our tent and settled in for the night.

Hurricane Rita, September, 2005
It was still very humid as we lay down to sleep. There was a reason for all that humidity: Hurricane Rita was hitting the Gulf Coast that night. But steamy or not, the weather was friendly in our curious camp in the woods. At midnight, dozens of people in medieval clothing were still gathered around the embers of bonfires, talking and laughing and enjoying homemade wine and mead.

I couldn't sleep, so I turned on my little radio and put on my headset. The emergency broadcast of a Mississippi radio station was coming in clearly, and I listened to it for the rest of the night. Tornadoes, high water, toppled trees, downed electric lines, impassable roads, emergency vehicles-- I participated in a long, dangerous night on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, as I tossed and turned and dozed in my tent. The hurricane in my ears that night was the closest thing to a real hurricane that I've ever experienced.

At daylight, the radio waves became faint, and static overrode the voices.  I turned off my radio and got up from my air mattress, tired and sticky. The camp was quiet at last, except for the twitter of birds and a few loud snores.

We packed our tent and headed back to Kentucky. Somewhere between Columbia and Nashville, we stopped at a Waffle House and had an exceptionally good breakfast. I mentioned that Waffle House breakfast to Isaac a few weeks ago and he remembers it, too.

Oh yeah, definitely surreal.

I do not mean to speak lightly of the dangerous, very real hurricane that people faced that night. As I remember the terrible storm I heard described on the radio, my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of Hurricane Isaac. Please be careful.

Related:
Hurricane Ike in Christian County, KY

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hank and Jimmy

My brother's cattle dogs



Jimmy is a Border Collie. He's the younger of my brother's two cattle dogs. Both dogs are intensely attached to my brother, and they aren't friendly with strangers. They consider it their duty to protect their people --it's a characteristic of their breed.

I really felt honored when Jimmie let me pet him on the last day of my recent visit to my brother's ranch in Kansas. Hank, the older dog, would not make friends with me. When I took the photo below, Hank knew I was looking at him with my camera, so he carefully ignored me.


I think Hank is also a full-blooded Border Collie, but I could be wrong. A cow kicked Hank a few years ago and broke his leg. After several surgeries, his bad leg still bothers him. He can't run as fast or jump as well as he used to, but he still likes to help.


Hank and Jimmy love to go for an adventure. Here they are in the back of the truck. When my brother goes to the pastures to check his cows, they ride in the back of the 4-wheeler.

As soon as they enter the pasture, Jimmy jumps out and runs. Pretty soon, my brother asks Hank if he wants to run too, and he usually does. The dogs run in front of the 4-wheeler and smell all the important places along the trail. Many sites need pee from both dogs. They also check certain clumps of bushes for rabbits and deer every day. A good chase is remembered forever.


One evening while I was there, we found the neighbor's bull in the pasture with my brother's cows. The dogs saw him immediately and knew that he did not belong there. Here's Jimmy, heading the bull down the road to another pasture.

My brother commented that this bull seemed accustomed to being driven by dogs, because he didn't fight Jimmy much. Still, the bull didn't really want to leave the cows. My brother put the 4-wheeler between the bull and the dog a few times when the bull put down his head and charged at Jimmy. It made me nervous.


Here we go over the hill and across the pasture with the bull. When we got to the corner of the pasture, one of my brother's bulls spotted the stray and headed toward us. The situation could have turned ugly, but my brother got the gate open while the dogs held the red bull, and we got the red bull through the gate and into the corral before the black bull arrived. They bellowed fiercely, but two fences were separating them.

I admired and respected the nerve of the cattle dogs, and I said so to my brother. Oh, he said, things like that are what the dogs live for.

A ride around the pasture fences revealed no broken wires, so the stray bull's method of entry into my brother's pasture remained a mystery. We had seen him on the road earlier in the day. My brother speculated that the bull might have walked across or jumped across the cattle guard. (Some cattle learn to do that.) Or someone might have put him in the pasture to get him off the road. The poorly-kept fences around the bull's home pasture are teaching him to be "breechy" --that is, good at (and fond of) going over, under, around, and through fences.

Every pasture ride with the dogs ends with a race. My brother backs up to a little high spot so Hank can jump into the back of the 4-wheeler (he has the bad leg). Then Jimmie takes off like a greyhound, and my brother drives fast on the 4-wheeler behind him. Hank barks wildly with the excitement of chasing Jimmy, and Jimmy wins the race. Riding along is an exhilarating experience.

My brother says his dogs listen to everything he says and are always thinking about what he means. They don't always understand, but they always want to understand. They have large vocabularies and excellent memories. They love him, and he loves them. They love my sister-in-law too, but my brother is their favorite and, in their eyes, the esteemed leader of their pack.


I can't write about my brother's dogs without mentioning Sammi, his first cattle dog. She was a sweet, smart Australian Shepherd - Border Collie mix. She helped my brother train Hank, her successor. I showed my son this photo of Sammi's grave tonight, and I may have seen a tear in his eye. Sammi was dearly loved by my children, and she lives on forever in their memories of childhood visits to the ranch.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Corner Post

Seen at my brother's ranch in Kansas





Sunday, August 05, 2012

The Almus Hill / Almus Lentz Legend

DNA answer to a family tree question.


According to the story that was passed down in my family, our great-great grandfather Almus Lentz was born in Germany. By the time he was 8 or 9 years old, he was an orphan. He stowed away on a ship that was headed for America, but mid-voyage, shiphands discovered him and hauled him up to meet the captain. A kindly Irish couple named Hill took pity on the frightened lad and paid his passage. In America, the Hills took Almus into their home and continued to provide for him. They had no children of their own, so Almus was like a son to them, He even took their name, becoming Almus Hill and giving up his old name, Almus Lentz. This was how our family acquired the Hill name.

As I researched Almus Hill/Lentz around the internet and corresponded with other descendants, I learned that there were other versions of this legend. In one branch of the family, it was told that Almus was an out-of-wedlock child born to a Lentz girl in Ohio. To hide this birth, the wealthy Lentz family gave the newborn baby Almus to their housemaid Mary Ann Hill. They told her to take the child and raise it as her own because they never wanted to see it again. Thus, little Almus should have been a Lentz, but he became a Hill.

In another branch of the family, a similar story claimed that either the wealthy Mr. Lentz fathered a child (Almus) with a servant girl, or Almus was the son of an unmarried Lentz girl. Whatever the case, Almus lived in the Lentz home until he was 8 or 9 years old. One day, Mr. Lentz decided to free himself of this unwanted child. He gave Almus to John and Mary Ann Hill who worked for the Lentz family. The Hills were told to take the boy and leave and never to speak to anyone of this boy being a Lentz. So, Almus Lentz became Almus Hill. This version of the legend also included the adult Almus calling the Lentz family "filthy rich bastards" and saying that the Lentz family was from Austria.

In each case, these stories, told by Almus Hill to his children, were faithfully passed down through several generations to the present day.


Facts contradict the Hill/Lentz legend


Family tree researchers have never found any evidence that the Lentz stories are true. All the evidence pointed to a much less dramatic birth and childhood for Almus Hill. His parents, John Hill (1821-1849) and Mary Ann Jones (1824-1844), were married on February 26, 1843, in Trumbull County, Ohio. Almus was born on December 23, 1843. His mother Mary Ann died on June 20, 1844, of unknown causes. She was buried in Mahoning County, Ohio.

Soon after his wife's death, John Hill enlisted in the Army (4th Infantry, Company C) and was sent to Fort Scott, Kansas. When hostile relations with Mexico became war in 1846, John Hill's company was immediately sent to Mexico under the command of Zachary Taylor. In the Battle of Monterey in September, 1846, during the first day of heavy street fighting, John Hill was severely wounded. He was discharged from the Army on April 4, 1847, at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, and died on May 31, 1849. He was buried beside his wife Mary Ann in Mahoning County, Ohio.

When his father died in 1849, six-year-old Almus Hill was an orphan. We don't know who took care of him after his mother died or while his father was in the Army. We do know that Almus was living in the home of Robert and Rachel Hill of Ashland County, Ohio, in 1850. Robert Hill was Almus's uncle -- probably a great uncle. He and Rachel had just one child, a daughter who was 11 years older than Almus.

Almus grew up with Robert and Rachel in Ashland County, Ohio. He married an Ashland County girl, Lucinda Martin, and they had seven children who survived to adulthood. In the late 1870s, Almus inherited his mother Mary Ann Jones's share of Jones land in Mahoning County.

All of the facts in the above four paragraphs are supported by historic records. I'll add one comment -- Almus's role in the Robert Hill household was probably very similar to being an only child.


DNA solves the riddle


How could the documented facts about Almus Hill be so different than the faithfully remembered, faithfully retold legends about him? This question bothered me. I eventually realized that only DNA testing would ever definitively settle the Hill-or-Lentz question.

When I found a DNA study of 517 people named Hill, I wrote to the project administrator (a Mr. Hill, of course) with some questions. He suggested that a Hill male from my family contribute DNA for testing. Even if it did not match anyone at present, perhaps it would match someone in the future. Within the same DNA company, I also found a Lentz study.

I thought about it for a few months, and finally I asked my brother to contribute a sample. He graciously agreed, and I submitted the order. The sample kit arrived quickly. My brother swabbed the inside of his cheek as directed, and returned the kit to the company. Within a month, we had the results-- 35 out of 37 markers matched with Mr. Hill of California. This close of a match is considered significant. Odds were good that we shared a common ancestor within 10 generations.

I contacted the Mr. Hill of the matching DNA sample, and he confirmed that he is descended from William Hill, a younger brother of our John Hill. Our first common ancestor is Rogers Hill (1799-1883), the father of both John and William. Rogers is my great-great-great-great grandfather.

We had no matches with any Lentz DNA samples. In fact, our Hill DNA is of a different haplogroup than any of the Lentz samples. (The haplogroups are the main branches on the family tree of mankind.) Beyond that, when I submitted my brother's DNA results to a much larger database of Y-test results that includes results from various other DNA companies, we still didn't match with any Lentz DNA.


Will we ever know?


The picture is still incomplete. Why did Almus Hill tell these stories to his children? Why did he choose the name Lentz for his stories? Did he hear stories of this sort from someone else, or did he invent them on his own? Was there perhaps an earlier Lentz/Hill ancestor whose story Almus appropriated? We may never solve these mysteries, but we can thank the DNA for proving two things beyond a doubt:

  • Almus Hill's father was a Hill.
  • Almus Hill's father was not a Lentz.
- - - - - - - - - -
This article was written by Genevieve L. Netz and originally published as a blog post at  http://prairiebluestem.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-almus-hill-almus-lentz-legend.html . Copyright 2012 Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Permission is granted for attaching this article to Hill family trees as long as this entire notice is included. Any other use requires written permission. gnetz51@gmail.com

 Download a PDF of this article to include in your family tree files.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A Poor Corn Crop in Christian County

Effects of the drought 


A Christian County (KY) cornfield at Memorial Day
The corn crop in Christian County, KY, looked promising at the end of May when I took this photo. Farmers had planted earlier than usual due to the mild winter, and many fields were already well beyond "knee-high." Newspaper reports predicted a record-breaking year in corn production in Kentucky.

The price of corn has been kept high in recent years by the production of corn ethanol. Also, China and other densely populated countries buy corn to help feed the masses, thus driving up corn prices further.   Apparently excited by high corn prices. one of our neighbors harvested his wheat this spring before it looked ready and quickly planted corn in the stubble, (Then he accidentally burned the little corn plants with fertilizer -- which was probably both frustrating and embarrassing.)

We had a dryer-than-usual winter and spring in 2012, but if we had received a few generous rains in June, we could still have had a good corn crop. Even our neighbor's fertilizer-burned corn was looking pretty good. But we had an exceptionally hot June (day after day of 100° or more) with just a few sprinkles of rain. By the beginning of July, when the corn in Christian County should have been growing big, full ears, many fields were already dying from the drought.

USDA image for week of July 28, 2012
Now Christian County is officially in Level 2 (severe) drought. Our neighbor, who planted corn in his wheat stubble last spring, went out to his field one day in July and chopped it for silage. He's facing a hay shortage for his livestock and he probably didn't have crop insurance. I've noticed several other cornfields that have been chopped or baled. Cattle feed of any sort will probably fetch a high price this fall and winter. The grass, like the corn, has had a very bad year.

When we have a corn crop failure in Christian County, it takes millions of bushels of corn out of the market. We grew almost 11 million bushels of corn in 2011, but the crop this year will be much less than that. And the drought extends across most of the U.S. -- in fact, many areas are dryer than Christian County. The entire harvest of food in the United States this year is going to be a lot smaller.

A very dry pasture in the Missouri Ozarks, July 2012
I've read several articles about how the drought will affect grocery prices. There doesn't seem to be much agreement, so I'll stick with government figures. The USDA is projecting a 3 to 4% increase in most food prices (and something more than that in meat prices) as a direct effect of the drought this summer.

Some agricultural experts are urging the U.S. to lower its requirements (quotas) for ethanol production so that more corn will be available for food worldwide. Russia is also experiencing a drought.

The federal government is offering some emergency assistance to Kentucky farmers in drought stricken areas. Low interest emergency loans are available. Conservation Reserve Program lands may be used for hay or pasture with some restrictions and conditions. Crop insurance providers have been asked to voluntarily offer farmers an extra month before charging interest on the unpaid portion of crop insurance premiums.

The Climate Prediction Center sees little rain in the near future for Kentucky. The drought is expected to continue through October.


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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.