Grandfathers Ordeal


GrandFather's Ordeal

HOME                                                                                                      STORY INDEX
ellis.jpg (10065 bytes)     My grandfather was Ellis Mandeville McPherson who was born Feb. 8, 1855, in Clinton County, Michigan. He was the fourth of eight children born to David Franklin and Sarah Scribner McPherson.
     He became blinded in his right eye when at age 5 he peered over the shoulder of his brother Wilton who was cutting something with a sharp knife. Wilton jabbed back at Ellis with the knife, angrily pushing him away. The knife went into his younger brother's eye. As a result,Ellis didn't start school until age 8 because he had trouble reading. His mother tried to teach him at home. The boy was painfully shy and withdrawn because of his handicap. Circumstances early in life can affect how a person develops as child experts know today. When Ellis was a boy, there were no special schools to help him adjust to living with one eye.  The eye went dead and he never got a glass eye.  Ellis adjusted the best way he could, but he soon dropped out of school to work "at whatever came up," which is the way his brother Lafe wrote it in later years. He said that Ellis developed a skill at carpentry despite his scarcity with vision. When the family moved to Missouri in 1868, Ellis was then 13 years old. David bought cheap land near New Chariton and built a home there. This was during an economic downtown, so farming didn't pay off. The family moved around and finally wound up in Moberly, MO, where David opened a boarding house.

      In 1875, when Ellis was 20, he got a job working in the railroad shops. He wanted to drive trains, but they weren't hiring one-eyed engineers, so he settled for carpentry duties. Later on, he met a man who wanted to send him to college to study law. But Ellis didn't think he could be a good student (because of his handicap), so he settled for something less.  This was to be the pattern of his life, unfortunately. Handicapped people weren't afforded the special kinds of assistance they are today. In the 19th century, if a man was handicapped, he had to make do for himself or else fall by the wayside. Ellis didn't fall by the wayside; he somehow endured. But he also was the victim of hard times in America, arriving at critical times in his life.

     Louise Sandfort met Ellis McPherson at a Sunday School picnic in Winfield, KS. She was only 12 at the time, but she told an older sister that, "I set my cap for him then." Ellis was a handsome young man of 24. Ten years later, the couple married in Winfield on Nov. 28,1889.

Ellis was the last of his siblings to settle down with a wife. They lived in dugouts and old cabins on the Kansas prairie before Ellis decided to make a run for free land on the Cherokee strip in Oklahoma territory.

louise.jpg (14534 bytes)
     He made his run in 1892, staking a claim near Tonkawa, OK, on one bank of the Salt Fork River. He didn't know it then, but he chose the wrong bank. The other bank contained rich soil. The one he chose was mostly sand.  But the couple had seven years to prove the land if they wanted title to it.

      It was a rough seven years. When they made the claim they had one daughter, Vera, born in 1890. Two years later, the baby was Verna, and two years after that, Osie Jean. One of the girls recalled that their mother was rolling logs down a hill for the family's cabin the day before one of them was born  Ellis tried farming but about all they could grow was watermelons and beans. To make ends meet, he got a job as a carpenter in nearby Tonkawa. Finally, they gave up on proving the land and turned it back to the chinch bugs and grasshoppers. The family moved to Tonkawa where my father, David, was born on Jan. 19,1902. Between the first three daughters and my Dad, Louise had two other sons, Eugene in 1898 and Glenn in 1900. In 1904, she gave birth to a little boy who only lived two hours. He was named Ellis. After that, the McPhersons commenced to try to make a living in the dusty, hardscrabble town of Tonkawa, which was often visited by whirling tornadoes.   At least once,  the house was blown to smithereens while the family huddled in the storm cellar. But Ellis would always find more wood and build it back. Tonkawa and other towns in northern Oklahoma sprang up over night after settlers moved in, so Ellis was kept busy putting up little houses.In 1912, the family decided to move to Carthage, MO, where Lafe had found a good place for them to live. The family finally bought a house at 603 Orner Street in Carthage. It was to shelter the McPhersons for a number of years. My Dad graduated from high school in 1921 in Carthage.Ellis kept busy with carpentering. One day, though, while sitting on his front porch entertaining the neighborhood children, somehow thought they saw something unnatural. Perhaps a neighbor, no one is sure as to who it was. But they accused Ellis of diddling with a little girl. The charges seemed to mount. Ellis never was formally charged with anything. But the accusations seemed to push him down. His wife went against him. He couldn't seem to shake the scandal. So in 1927, Ellis left home and took a horse with a wagon and went into the Ozark Mountains. He had a little business sharpening saws and doing odd jobs. Once in awhile, he would drift home and see the family, but his wife told him she didn't want him hanging around her anymore. So he left and never went back.

     Ellis headquartered in Russellville, AR, where he found a friendly woman running a boardinghouse. He did odd jobs for her for his rent. It was there he took sick and died on March 10, 1933. The woman took his horse and wagon for his final expenses, but there wasn't enough for a stone for his grave. None of his children were there to see him laid to rest. In 1996, I went to Russellville to look  for his gravesite. The caretaker pointed to a shady area, saying, "There is  where the pauper graves are." There were no markers.  Only God knows where Ellis lies.

     By all accounts, Ellis was a good father to his children. He enjoyed politics and was a mason. Somewhere along the way, he stumbled, just like he had as a child, and because of the times in which he lived, there was no one except himself to blame.

     Louise never remarried. She lived from time to time with each of her children. After her husband's death, she was said to have mourned him, wishing she had been kinder to him. She died at age 88 in Austin, Texas, in 1956.