Families are wonderful things. Most of us have one (or more), and however we try, we are always part of them and they part of us. And we all have family stories. Stories are, after all, most of what defines culture, and it’s the sharing of stories that constitutes the construction and maintenance of culture. Some family stories are defining; some are illuminating; some are silly but still fun; and some are just weird. And some constitute legitimate Moral Tales – stories from which meanings and lessons can be drawn (I’ll have more to say about Moral Tales in a future post.)
I’ve been doing occasional genealogical research on various parts of my families using the amazing research tools available on ancestry.com for some time now. If you’ve never tried it, I heartily recommend giving it a shot. You can do quite a lot for free, beyond that the cost is reasonable, if you’re interested in this stuff. In the course of this, I was able to confirm some dates regarding the family story concerning my great-grandfather, Joel Eveland. This one falls pretty much in the weird category, like lots of those in my family. Is it a Moral Tale?
Joel Eveland was born in Morgan Co. Ohio (southern part of the state, not far from the Ohio River and Kentucky) in 1826. He left town in the early 1840s, apparently under some sort of legal cloud. His mother was engaged in a legal battle with her late husband’s parents. It seems that she and they detested each other, and after he died, she evicted them from the family homestead, whereupon they sued her for non-support or something. He thought that it might be best to get away, and in fact out of the country seemed like a good idea. This was just before the Mexican War, and California was still part of Mexico. He seems to have gotten on a nearby river steamboat, gone down the rivers to New Orleans, sailed down to Panama, walked across the isthmus as so many did (apparently not getting sick, as so many did), and caught a boat up to California.
It’s always fun to tell someone that my great-grandfather first came to California as an illegal immigrant – from Ohio. This confuses people, until they think about the dates. Then they are surprised that I would have a great-grandfather who was that old. Well, he was – and so am I.
Anyway, flash forward to 1860. Joel is now 34, and settled in California, which is about to become a state. The Civil War is just about to crack open. Joel appears to think back on his eastern home, and decides to go back to visit. He goes again by Panama – the railroad is still many years off. He gets back to Morgan Co., and meets the lovely Jane Hyler, who is 23; apparently the families were acquainted, although she couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 when he went west. After a rather whirlwind courtship, they marry, and he sweeps her off back to California.
Cue the Civil War, a month or so later. Unfortunately, after about a year and a half in Monterey, Jane dies in childbirth – hardly unknown in those days. Joel, being a cautious sort, sits out the War safely in California. However, in 1865 the war is barely over before he hops ship for the East once again, back to Morgan Co., where who should he meet but the lovely Jemima Hyler, Jane’s younger sister. She’s now 19 or 20, and would have been about 14 at the time of her sister’s wedding. Joel is now about 40. Somehow they manage to fall in love (or whatever people did in the mid-19th century), and she agrees to marry him. This time apparently he has to go back first, because she follows him out about a year later, and they get married in California. This time it takes; they have nine children, and she outlives him. They lived most of the time up in Covelo in Mendocino Co., where he was a Justice of the Peace during the Round Valley War in 1887 (the last conflict with the Indians in California.) Here’s what they looked like, in later years:
The moral of the story, I’ve always thought, is that he was either a man of very little imagination, or that he knew what he liked and would go to extremes to get it. Either way, he must have had something pretty special about him to successively sweep off their feet two sisters, the second one when he was twice her age and for all she knew he might have murdered her elder sister away out west there. Not only that – she was persuaded to travel while still unmarried to the other side of the world, to marry a man she barely knew. A lot more adventurous than I ever was!
I suppose that Jemima might have been motivated to some degree by pity for Joel after her sister’s death, but if so, she seems to have carried the feeling rather to extremes by trotting off to the other side of the world just to console him. I wouldn’t be particularly surprised if she really wanted to get as far from southern Ohio as she could; the years of the Civil War can’t have been a whole lot of fun for an attractive girl living so close to the front lines. There were Confederate raiders operating in various parts of Ohio for much of the war. Kentucky was still a Union state, but much of it was occupied by the South during the war, and an offensive up through Cincinnati was always a possibility. A little like living in beautiful downtown Falludja today, probably!
In addition, the War had severely diminished the ranks of young unmarried men, particularly in the border states. Despite being attractive, she was getting up in years (21 and still unmarried!), and Joel – not rich, but established and well enough off to be able to afford a trip back east – probably looked like something of a find.
Well, I’ll let you decide if it’s a Moral Tale or not; if it is, draw your own meaning from it. For my part, I’m just glad things worked out, so that I’m around to tell you the tale.