Stories have always intrigued me and so has history. One August, more years ago than I care to reveal, I went to a family reunion of my maternal grandmother's family, the Lewis Family. The reunion took place at a picnic shelter within Swope Park in Kansas City, in a shaded spot along the banks of the Blue.

Stories have always intrigued me and so has history. One August, more years ago than I care to reveal, I went to a family reunion of my maternal grandmother's family, the Lewis Family. The reunion took place at a picnic shelter within Swope Park in Kansas City, in a shaded spot along the banks of the Blue.

One of the oldest members of the family present, my grandmother's uncle, Paul Lewis, the baby of his even dozen brothers and sisters, asked to see me.

I had never met him until that day but my mother led me to where Uncle Paul (my great-great uncle) sat in a lawn chair. Once there, he told my mom to leave me with him and after a brief hesitation, she did.

I was nine years old and I already found history fascinating. I listened to my Granny's stories with interest and anywhere that anyone told a tale, I was there.

Earlier that year, I had my first poem published on a Saturday morning page for children to share their creative work in my hometown paper. I think I may still have a worn copy of the piece but it dealt with St. Joseph, Missouri's pioneer heritage and the pioneers who passed through in covered wagons.

Somehow, Uncle Paul apparently knew about the poem and so he expressed an interest in meeting me.

So, as I sat down in the sun-browned grass at his feet, he told me that I was descended from those pioneers, something I hadn't known.

He had my attention.

Although I can't remember everything he told me on that day, I recall most of it. He told me and was the first to do so, that my Lewis ancestors headed out from Sangamon County, Illinois around the time of the California Gold Rush which was also a period of expansion into Oregon.

Before that, they had lived in Kentucky and earlier still in Virginia, where our ancestors served in the Revolutionary War. Like many Americans, they became part of the great westward migration, traveling further west in search of land and a better life.

They were bound to either Oregon or California when they reached St. Joe, then a big starting point for heading west by wagon train.

For some reason, the Lewis family didn't go onward but decided to stay in St. Joe. Maybe it's because my great-great grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Lewis (who would later have a son with the same name) was born in April of 1850 was on the way. I like to think perhaps the women folk, the matriarchs of the family just got stubborn and decided they didn't want to go any further. Maybe St. Joe was far enough or maybe the growing young city appealed to them.

At any rate my Lewis ancestors stayed. My great-great-great grandfather became involved in local politics and became an elected official. His son, TJ Lewis, worked as a street surveyor at one time (which is why my grandfather often teased my grandmother that her grandfather laid out the streets so if they didn't make sense, it was his fault) and later was elected Sheriff.

According to Uncle Paul, he was either Sheriff or at least part of the Sheriff's Department when outlaw Jesse James was shot at his home in St. Joseph by a man he thought to be his friend, Robert Ford. Jesse was living as Mr. Howard. at the time.

At any rate, Uncle Paul's stories fueled my love of stories and gave me a passion for family history I still have today.

And it all began with some stories at a family reunion.

 

Lee Ann Murphy is a staff writer and writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.