My father, Earl E. Pyatt, often talked about living on an Indian reservation when he was young. He always commented to us on how all they had to eat was pinto beans and creamed corn. He loved pinto beans but never really acquired a liking for creamed corn…hardly remember it ever being served at our house. My nephew was doing a report in school on Indians of the Southwest and my father sent the following information to him regarding his life there.
Excerpt from my Dad’s letter dated 8/31/2003 to Steven (his grandson) regarding life on the Navajo Indian Reservation.
“When I was about four years old my father worked for an oil drilling company and we lived in company housing on the Navajo reservation. This was in the Four Corner’s area west of Shiprock, NM along the Utah-Arizona border. I was the only kid in the oil camp and so the kids I could play with were all Navajo. They didn’t speak any English, but I did learn a few words in Navajo. I guess we used a sort of sign language and didn’t need words just to play.
I remember playing in and around their hogan and remember the smoky mesquite aroma from their clothing and inside where their mother cooked their meals. Another thing I remember was playing “stick horse” – running around after each other with a broomstick between our legs pretending it was a horse.
We lived there until I was school age and then moved to a town in New Mexico so I could go to school. Later, during World War II, I was in the New Mexico National Guard and had several friends there who were Navajo. In the combat area in the Philippines, they were in charge of telephone communications and passed information in Navajo so they would not be understood by the enemy. All the Navajo people I have known were very nice people and I enjoyed knowing them.”
Today, my husband and I were doing our usually monthly grocery shopping. One thing I had on my list was lotion. When we got to the lotion aisle, my husband said “What brand?”. “Jergens”, I said, “original scent”. He laughed and said “That’s because it reminds you of your grandmother!” So true…
My maternal grandmother, Letha Rae Stewart Stephens (1908-1994), always had a milk glass bottle of Jergen’s lotion on her dresser. She used it every day. I love the smell of that lotion. Now whenever I smell the original scent I think of her and the many summers my siblings and I spent with my grandfather and her in Mountainair, New Mexico. I think of the daily trips to the post office to check the mail…going out to the farm…fishing in the Manzano Mountains…the numerous fruit trees in the backyard…climbing around all the Indian ruins…looking for arrowheads and picking bing cherries. And most of all, the smell of my grandmother as she hugged and kissed us each night before we went to bed.
“Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.” ~ Valdimir Nabokov
No big surprises in Bill’s ancestry. From working on his genealogy it appears most of his ancestors can be traced back to immigrating from Ireland. I do have one major brick wall on his side. His paternal grandfather, William H. O’Neill. Most of the first-born son’s on that side of the family were named William. No one talks much about him…all I have heard was he was a ne’er-do-well. From census records he and his wife were living separately after their 3 children were born. I did find his death certificate…apparently he was found with broken ribs along the side of a highway-cause unknown. My husband’s father is the one who identified him…but both parents were listed as unknown. This was even a surprise to my husband…said his Dad never told him much about his grandfather. And my father-in-law passed away over 20 years ago. Am hoping this DNA analysis will result in being able to break down that brick wall!
Finally bit the bullet and had my DNA analysis done through Ancestry.com. Two things I found interesting…one, that there is no Native American blood, as was often mentioned on my father’s side. And two, I wasn’t expecting that much Irish in me! But with a married name of O’Neill – I guess that’s a good thing. Have over 600 possible matches from others in the database, ranging from 4th cousins and closer. Closest being 2nd cousin. I have already connected with a 2nd cousin 1 x removed from my Grandpa Pyatt’s brother’s family! Will take some time to sort through them. My hopes with submitting my DNA is to see if I can break thru a brick wall with my 2nd great-grandfather, Needham Stephens, on my mother’s side. Will keep you up to date on any findings!
Below is a portion of a transcript written by my maternal grandmother, Letha Rae Stewart Stephens on her memories of summer life in Mountainair, New Mexico.
“In summer large crowds attended Chautauqua meetings in town. There were big Fourth of July celebrations with a bandstand set up in the center of Broadway, which played lively music all day and evening. County Fairs at Willard were well attended. Many times after bean crops were laid by there would be a week of camping for us. It took a long day to make the trip by wagon to Red Canyon campground with lunch at Manzano Springs.”
Several years ago I posted about a family mystery that existed on the Pyatt side of my family. Click here to see my original post. The mystery concerned what happened to my Grand Aunt, Maggie Elizabeth Pyatt, who passed away at the age of 17. Over the years, I have done numerous searches on various sites in my quest to find her. No luck. Nothing. I knew, from my father’s recollection, she either moved to Chicago or Detroit. For some reason I decided to check out records available in Detroit first…good thing I did! I discovered that Michigan has all their death certificates digitalized and copies made available online. In searching their database I found Maggie’s death certificate, although her name was spelled a little differently. Her death certificate listed her as Margarette Elizabeth Piatt. After years of researching my Pyatt side of the family, I have become aware of the numerous variations in spelling of the name! What further convinced me that this was my Grand Aunt was that her parents are listed on the certificate and they matched up to my Great-grandparents. John M. Pyatt (Piatt) and Sarah Keele (Keell) both from Missouri. Below is a copy of her death certificate:
What intrigued me even more about the death certificate was the mention of an Inquest Pending, and the cause of death “Shock from being run over by automobile“. One has to remember, this was back in 1907. Commercial production of the automobile in the United States began at the beginning of the 1900’s. This had to have been an unusual case. After doing further research and finding two newspaper articles regarding this incident, it became clear the circumstances of this incident. The headlines of the paper read “SHOCK CAUSED DEATH Margaret Piatt was victim of auto. Young Woman Makes Fifth Whose Lives Have Been Sacrificed to Speeding Machines.” An inquest was scheduled and a jury empaneled to hear the evidence in the case. “Something should and can be done to stop the slaughter of persons by reckless automobilists” states the Prosecutor. On July 4, 1907, a jury heard evidence regarding the incident. Apparently a sightseeing auto was driving along the street when Margaret stepped out in front of it. She sustained “fractures of both bones of the lower right leg and that both the right and left femurs were broken, the former being a compound fracture. Death occurred due to those injuries and the shock.” One witness stated that no warning signal was given by the auto…but another witness stated that Margaret “became confused and the cause of the accident was from her own carelessness.” There was a dispute as to how fast the car was traveling with some witnesses says between six to eight mph and others saying twelve to fifteen. Therefore, according to the article, the differences confused the Coroner’s Jury and no responsibility was fixed. No further action was taken against the driver.
I am so thrilled to have been able to find this information, all online! I only wish I could have found this our before my father passed away in 2010…I am sure he would have loved to learn the true facts surrounding Maggie’s death. There is also a mention of a Mrs. Mary Archer, both on the death certificate and in the newspaper articles, who is said to be Margaret’s aunt. This name is unfamiliar to me in my research…so looks like another mystery that needs to be solved!