People ask me “What do you do on those long 8 hour+ driving marathons with no one to talk to?”  I think, I reflect, and I listen to books on CD’s; last one being White Fang by Jack London, or I listen to music.

One of my favorites is Canciones de Mi Padre by Linda Ronstadt.  I play it over and over.  I love the songs and rhythms, I try to catch all the Spanish, and I remember the wonderful time I had when I was an exchange student in Los Mochis, Mexico.

“Hay unos ojos que si me miran

Hacen que mi alma tiemble de amor

Son unos ojos tan primorosos

Ojos mas lindos no he visto yo.”

Los Mochis is in Sinaloa on the west coast of Mexico north of Puerta Vallarta.  If you look west across the Sea of Cortes you’ll see La Paz.  Whales come there to give birth and raise their babies.

My time living there was one of the happiest of my youth.  Each day after school a bunch of us would walk to someone’s house and dance.  I love to dance and unlike my anglo peers at home, latino guys love to dance and are terrific dancers.  Since I was a “novelty”–blond, blue eyes etc., I never lacked for partners.

“Ay!” quien pudiera mirarase en ellos

“Ay!” quien pudiera besarlos mas

Cozandos siempre de sus destellos

Y no ovidarlos nunca jamas.”

Carlos was a year older than we were and went to another school.  I didn’t get to know him until later, but knew of him.  He was  very popular and highly regarded in the community; an outstanding student.  He acted as translator for the banquet held in honor of my classmate (a guy) and I.

Carlos was handsome; tall, well built, “ojos negros,” with lashes that would make a starlet weep.  He had a lovely smile and would listen very carefully when one of the visiting gringos would attempt to talk to him in Spanish and then he would respond in English to their question.

“Y todos dicen que no te quiero

Que no te adoro con frenesi

Y yo les digo que mienten, mienten

Que hasta la vida daria por ti”

I returned to my highschool in California for the last semester of my senior year.  I heard from my Spanish teacher that Carlos would be visiting at our highschool and would I show him around and make him feel welcome.  Of course, I would.  I don’t remember spending as much time with him as I should have but his host family took good care of him.  I saw him in classes and at Spanish Club events and that was about it.    Like most seniors, I was wrapped up in graduation, summer work plans, and college in the very near future.

I invited Carlos to go to the Senior Prom with me.   In those days proms were held in the gym.  There were no after-parties–at least none I knew about!  I picked him up.  He looked wonderful–jacket, white shirt and tie.   I don’t recall my prom dress but it was probably something I had made.  When we got there the gym had been trasformed into a ball room with a slowly revolving disco ball, its mirrored surface scattering bright prisms of light throughout the darkened room.  The D.J. was playing the top tunes of the time.  “Ooo ee, ooo ee, baby, won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise?”

Carlos took my right hand and folded it into his and held them tightly to his chest; his other arm encircled my waist pulling me close so that our bodies touched.  My left arm rested on his shoulder, my hand touching the base of his neck.  We began to dance.

It didn’t matter which song was playing–a fast one or a slow one–we just changed our tempo and kept moving around the floor in perfect unity.  His cheek was warm against mine; we didn’t talk, we just danced.  I have never danced with a better partner.

When the prom ended, I took him back to his host family’s home and we said good bye.  I don’t think I saw him again.    That fall I left for college.  On winter break I visited my Spanish teacher, Mrs. Acosta, and asked her if she had heard from Carlos.

“Si,” she said, “He has joined the church.”

I thought, “Those Jesuits recruited a great dancer.”  “Que lastima!”


Marfa is my turn-around point.  My search for Dad’s places as I know them is complete; now to make sense of all that I have learned.  Processing this long journey full of facts, feelings, family, and friends will take longer than the trip.  There is still much to discover.  I feel sad to bring the odyssey to conclusion though I still have many more miles to cover before reaching Seattle.  Most of what lies before me will be fun and beautiful.

Marfa has been a delightful spot to settle in if only for one day which I spent relaxing and recovering from the 11 hour drive getting here.  I chose to take the roads which ran along the Rio Grande though one rarely sees it.  Twice stopped by border patrol stations I realized that I would not be able to really get close to the river.  Marfa is not far from the Big Bend Park which I want to see on another visit.  The landscape here is very beautfiul–high plateaus–some table top–others softly rounded with low trees and vegetation.  It is not as dry as I had thought it would be.

I’m staying at the Hotel Paisano which is really lovely.  The cast from Giant stayed here.  The hotel has had its ups and downs, but is now in very good repair!

Marfa is a big art center spurred by the Judd family who can take credit for saving the original buildings in the town.  Donald Judd, who died 15 years ago, established foundations which ensure that his home, art installations, and other properties are well cared for.  Tours are available.

Then there are the Marfa Lights.  I didn’t see them but I hear they’re a mystery unsolved by scientists try though they may.

I leave tomorrow for Albuqueque–another long haul–concluding at Congregation Albert for Kol Nidre services.  Balloons on Sunday!

New Year

I spent the Jewish new year away from home for the first time in almost 40 years.  Before the holiday began yesterday I was feeling very disjointed and out of place.  Not only was I away from home, husband, and friends, I have spent the past month traveling by myself to places from another time–my childhood and my father’s childhood–spending time with relatives and siblings and their families that I have not seen in years.

I have been processing the integration of my life before I chose Judaism and my life today.  My immersion in and mastery of Jewish life has overshadowed my natal identity and in effect extinguished the girl I was–cutting her adrift.  Taking this long trip by myself and for myself–4K miles and 30 days–has reunited me with people and places from my past and I am overjoyed with all that I have found.  I believe that the girl I lost has also been found.


Another small town–the second oldest town in Oklahoma.  Created by the intersection of the railroad tracks which still thunder through town.  High hopes here to learn somethng new.

My great grandparents came here when it was Indian Territory— probably in 1889 the year of their daughter’s birth.  An exciting time for Alice, or Allie, as she was called; one of Vinita‘s first teachers.   While there was a picture of the head master in the Eastern Trail Museum in Vinita, there was not a picture of the staff.  I have never seen a likeness of any Sherer and had hoped to do so in Vinita.  No luck!

James Lenore Sherer was a successful businessman engaged in well-drilling and other activities.  He also worked at the grain depot in Vinita and served on local community organizations despite the fact that to the best of my knowledge he was not a Cherokee.  During the early 20th Century Vinita was in Indian Territory and governed by the Cherokee nation.  White people could not have businesses in IT without Cherokee permission.

His obituary was on the front page of the Vinita Daily Chieftan 25 January 1907.  “Mr. Sherer was well known in Vinita where he has lived for some time.  He was for several years engaged in the mercantile business in Seneca.  Since coming here, however, he has  been engaged in the business of well-drilling and has drillled numerous oil wells also.”

Why was Dad so taken wth Vinita?  His mother, father, grandmother and uncle (6 years his senior) are all living there in the 1910 census.  A year later dad is born in Kansas City and a year later his father departs for Idaho never to return.

I imagine that dad and his mother returned to Vinita where his grandmother and uncle must have been living.  Perhaps he associated Vinita with family and security. Perhaps a Cherokee woman cared for him while his grandmother and mother taught school.   I think this period is the origin of his belief that he was part Cherokee.  Although I can find no evidence that there is a Cherokee family member, Dad clearly identified with the Cherokee at a very early age and never relinquished the notion that he was part Cherokee.  I would like to find that link–I don’t believe that my father intentionnally fabricated this notion.   He was a boy who needed an identity that was familiar and positive.  Somehow he was led to believe that he was Cherokee.

We all grew up with the belief that we were part Cherokee.  I don’t recall my mother ever disputing or seconding this notion.  My research has shaken our sense of who we are and where we came from.  I think that some of us clung more closely to the idea of our native American heritage than others.  I know that each of us would love to know the truth–is it possible to know the truth?  Ever?


There were three stars in Dad‘s firmament and as we grew up we were bathed in the glow they cast: Vinita, OMA, Mercedes.  We heard about those places throughout our childhood and beyond.  There was a fourth place that I learned about shortly before my father died when I overheard a difficult discussion between he and my mother.  Dad was begging her to take him to Seneca. ” No,” she said.  “But that’s where all my people are,” dad said.  He didn’t get to Seneca.

“Seneca,” I mused, “where is that?”  I didn’t recall ever hearing about Seneca and decided to find out why dad wanted so desperately to go there.  In fact, that overheard dialogue is what ultimately sent me on this journey.  Who were the people dad spoke of and why had we never known them?

Seneca is a very small town; just one main street bisected by the Lost Creek.   The original settlers in the 1830’s came from Ohio down the rivers to Arkansas and west to settle on and around Lost Creek.

One of those men was Edward Sherer.  He and his bride, Elizabeth Buzzard, her parents and two other families are the founding families of Seneca.  The Sherers had 12 children; seven survived to adulthood.  Their fourth child, John Pinckney Sherer, is my great great grandfather.

I found the graves of JP Sherer and his wife, Mary J. Thompson Sherer adjacent to that of their son, my great grandfather, James L. Sherer and his daughter, Henri Alberta Sherer, my grandmother.  On either side of the big granite Sherer marker are two small stones–one says Papa and the other Berta.

An obelisk of white marble stands next to them.  It reads: Henry A. Jackson 1862-1887 and at the base: Our Brother.  Henri Alberta was named after her uncle who died at age 25.  I do not know the cause of his death.  He must have come with his newlywed sister, Alice, to Seneca in 1886 and died a year later.

After many hours of searching I found a small, badly carved and eroded stone which I could barely read.  I believe that it says Alice Sherer 1866-1937.  I do not know why the stone is so crude nor why Alice is not buried with her family.  I hope to get additional information from the cemetery caretakers and resolve this mystery.

So, yes, dad’s people are in Seneca.  We traveled back and forth from Missouri to California at least twice when we were kids.  We often went old Highway 66 which passes through Seneca.  Why did we never stop?

Turner Ward Knob

Turner Ward Knob at 2,560′ is the highest peak in the San Francisco mountains which along with the Boston mountains define the 47,000 miles between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians known as the Ozarks.

The French cartographers who named the towns of Versailles, Bonne Femme, and Bonne Terre and many others as well as Lake Pomme de Terre and numerous rivers gave the region it’s name “aux arc” being situated at the topmost bend of the Arkansas river.  I learned this on Wikipedia after being curious about all the French-named towns I passed driving into the Ozarks.   The courthouse in Carthage above looks a lot like a French chateau in the Loire Valley!   This is a beautiful area: green, thick stands of trees, valleys and hills and some tall mountains all punctuated by huge lakes and rivers.

I also learned that there are over 6,000 recorded caves in this region.  It is an area rich in minerals–lead in particular.  My great grandfather James Lenore Sherer was active in several lead drilling partnerships in the early 1890’s.   I also learned that many men died early, as he did at the age of 49 from TB, as a result of his work in mining.  He moved on to other vocations but the damage to his lungs was done.

The people here that I have encountered are friendly, helpful and polite.  They love to talk and seem to be unhurried and willing to engage with you no matter what you may want: “Where is Neosho Boulevard?” or “Would you mind drawing a map for me?” or “Do you think it’s going to rain much more?” or “Where would you recommend I get something to eat?”

People here in Neosho, Newton County, Missouri know that Americans–especially those of us living on the coasts, imagine that everyone here lives like the people portrayed in the recent film “Winter’s Bone.”  Yes, there are meth labs, illiteracy and poverty, but those conditions are not unique to people living in the Ozarks.   Unemployment here is at 9% which could account for the down-in-the-mouth appearance of the small towns I’ve been visiting.  One thing that is flourishing–football:  highschool, college, and pro–it’s all good!

Today I spent a lively afernoon with a woman, Bernice, who is a distant relative on the Sherer side, and her husband, Jim, and daughter, Holly.  Bernice has lived all her life in Seneca.  She and Jim will be celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary this December!  I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who could make that boast.  They were married just as WWII was about to break out.  We had a wonderful time talking about their memories of old Seneca and of their family.  It was so nice to be in a home, eat home made food, and visit!  This early home is NOT Bernice’s!


I want to write a little about my acccommodations.  I would say that the Hotel Bothwell in Sedalia ranks at the very top.  It is an historic landmark building.  It is a family owned property including a handfull of vintage properties in Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas.  It is immaculate.  The Queen cost $75 per night! And, yes, there is high speed internet!   There is a good restaurant on the property where I ate dinner.

Sedalia is not far from Springfield, Missouri.  It is a town with a lovely well preserved downtown.  I liked being there a lot!

Sedalia is the home of Scott Joplin

In general, my accommodations have been pedestrian.  If I could, I’d stay in small town hotels, but they rarely survive and one is reduced to the usual roadside inns some better than others.  I’m in one of them tonight in Neosho, Missouri.


Today was a signal day in many ways: the heavens opened and a deluge fell including claps of thunder and lightening strikes that seemed to touch the ground.  The verdant pastures and hills of mid-Missouri welcomed the cool temps and the rain but it played havoc with my schedule.  At some point I decided that hurrying along to meet some arbitrary schedule was foolish and I stopped and enjoyed the moment–in the downpour.

Another stroke of luck was finding the volunteers at the Morgan County Genealogy Society.  They are housed near the Courthouse in Versailles (say: vur sales) the county seat of Morgan County.  Finding another researcher from West Seattle working furiously on her laptop in the small offices near the courthouse was a mind bending coincidence!  The volunteers there used an index they had formulated to locate my great grandfather James William Smith’s (born 1851-died 1918) will and probate records.

James Will had about 190 acres in the northwest  quadrant of Morgan County Richland Township.  At some point the railroad (either the  Rock Island Line or the Missouri Pacific) went through his land.  He must have made some money assigning the railroads rights to his land.  At the time of his death he had $3,910.00 in cash and all the land, livestock and implements associated with farming.

Sallie Luckett Smith, his second wife, was appointed executrix and was charged with paying all the bequests and fees which equalled $2,811.50.   She got the balance remaining and the property.

To his children by his first wife, Josie Howell, Troy Deneen Smith (my father’s father (remember Mackay Idaho) and his sister, Ella Ruth Smith Floyd of Alaska he bequeathted $500 each.  To his four children with Sallie he bequeathed $1,000 each less whatever cash gifts he had already conveyed to them.  The son of one of his boys still lives on a parcel of the land today.

Josie H. and Troy D in Otterville Cemetery

I headed to Otterville next to visit the Cemetery where Troy Deneen, his mother, Josie, and his father James Will and other family members are buried.  I was very touched to see that Troy Deneen was buried with his mother.  His first wife, my father’s mother, Henri Alberta, is buried in Seneca, MO and his second wife, Augusta Paetsch, is buried in Idaho.

Versailles Courthouse

Stephens College

My dad always said his grandmother went to Stephens College.  The college was founded in 1833 in Columbia, MO not far from the state capitol of Jefferson City.   Stephens was originally a Baptist college for women.   Dad sometimes embroidered his stories but he didn’t fabricate so I believe Alice Lillian Jackson probably did attend Stephens and went on to teach school in Vinita, Oklahoma for many years.

I figure she would have attended sometime around 1883.  She was married in 1886 and teaching in Vinita shortly thereafter.  Sadly the college has no records before 1900.  I spent an enjoyable time today with the Archivist, Dr. Alan Havig, a retired history professor and looked through the existing yearbooks. It was very interesting to see the young women pictured in their long white dresses and impossibly small waists.  Their hair was usually piled on their head in masses, tendrils escaping and curling along their necks and foreheads.   Many of them were very beautiful young women; they came from as far as Colorado and Illinois but most were from Missouri.

I did find a contingent of students from Vinita, Oklahoma in the 1909 yearbook “Stephensophia” which made me wonder if my great grandmother facilitated their going to what may have been her alma mater.  I especially liked to read that May Day Clark was in attendance!

This is the original building which housed all the out-of-town students and still does–though plumbing has been installed.  The girls slept 4 to a room in bunk beds; each room had a small coal brasier which was started by an employee in the early morning so the room would be warm when the young ladies arose and dressed.  Columbia didn’t have a railroad through-line so the Katy RR had a spur from Centralia, MO that shuttled students and Columbians into town and back.  This is a beautiful campus only a few blocks from the MU campus which is also lovely.

Historic Senior Hall Stephens College

Second Time Around

Alice Lillian  (Jackson) Sherer married Louallen Russell Holt on 23 August 1913.  Each had lost their spouse.  Alice was 47 and LR 54. LR’s wife had given birth to  several children and died at 41 years of age.

Alice had a daughter, my grandmother, and a late-in-life son, James, who never knew his own father who had died in 1907 of tuberculosis.

LR was a member of a prominent family that had lived in Nodaway County Missouri for many generations.  He had a prosperous farm machinery sales business in Maryville. I don’t know how he and Alice met.

LR and Alice raised my father after his mother died in 1919.  My dad was 8 years old when she died.  LR and Alice left their lovely home in Maryville, LR’s family and friends, and his successful business and moved to Mercedes, Texas to care for my father,  They stayed there during his elementary school years.  Why they didn’t return to Maryville, and how they supported themselves in Texas, remains a mystery.  My father always spoke fondly of his “grandfather” and he adored his grandmother.

LR’s home is on Mulberry St. in Maryville.  It sits on a hill and must have had a splendid view of the valley and farm lands below long before much of the land was built up and the highway came through town.  Being at the house this afternoon was such a bitter sweet moment–I imagined this family going about the business of life: seeing friends and family, doing the laundry, putting up fruit and vegetables, discussing who was in the store and what they bought.  Then news of the death in Texas, picking up and leaving.  I wish I knew more about them.  I don’t have one single picture of any of them!