Not everyone would think a photo book was the perfect vehicle for telling a man's life story when they only had two photos. Ah, but that's where the creative challenge comes in and, truth be told, I had so much more to illustrate the story than traditional photos.
Meet Martin Vaught, Wayne's great-great grandfather. He was 90 in this photo taken in 1925, meaning he lived through some incredible times in Kansas history. And because he was a gifted storyteller, his stories of life as one of the early settlers of Butler County, traveling in Indian territory, the Civil War and the battles within a young county government can be found among the pages of various books and papers. Better still, they're in his own words as he either authored them himself or was the subject of an interview where he was quoted extensively. Such treasures...it's like sitting at his feet and having him tell them to you in person.
So when Coke Rewards was offering a free Shutterfly book for nominal points last month, I knew immediately the stories of his remarkable life needed to be consolidated together into one place. Illustrated by documents found through my genealogy research and Wayne's mapping class (such as his Civil War Draft Registration papers, U.S. Postmaster Appointment records, period maps, etc.), I felt I could tell a significant part of his life story even with only two photos of the man.
Here's the result. Typepad and Shutterfly didn't seem to be playing nicely together today so embedding the viewer in the post was only working on my computer. This link should work also.
In August 1859, I received a letter from a Helena, Texas postmaster saying my sister’s [Louisa] husband, Benjamin Shelden, had been murdered and his family left destitute. Taking three days provisions, I started on horseback to Helena to bring back my sister and her children. Towards evening, I would (when I could find water and a little dry brush) make coffee, eat my supper, spread out my rubber blanket for a bed, use my saddle for a pillow and spend the night. Rising early, I would get my breakfast and start on my way.
The second day, in the afternoon, I saw skulls of oxen on the road on which were written warnings to look out for the Big Osages who were savage and had attacked the travelers the night before. Late in the afternoon I saw a lone Indian approaching from the east. He stayed with me an hour or so and although he was armed with bows and arrows, was anxious to see my revolvers. I permitted him to see them but gave him no chance to get hold of them. When the sun was low, he turned and rode away.
A little later I came to a small stream where there were dry willows and camped. At dusk I chanced to look toward the east and saw a man sitting on a horse, outlined against the sky on a high ridge. I felt he was watching me and gathered more fuel and arranged my fire so it would last a long time. Being fearful of being attacked during the night, I saddled my horse, keeping out of the light of the fire, mounted and rode for two hours as fast as my horse could stand it, coming to a valley where bluestem grass grew seven feet high. I left the trail and rode into the tall grass for a long distance. Coming finally to short grass, I unsaddled my horse and holding one end of the picket rope, I slept on the ground.
The next afternoon while riding along a creek, I heard a rooster crow and because I knew then that I was approaching civilization, no sound was ever sweeter to my ears. At a turn in the road I came upon a huge two-story house. At the gate the householder, a Mr. Riley, met me and asked from where I had come. He seemed to doubt the statement that I had traveled from the Walnut Valley alone and remarked, “I am an Indian and have lived on the border all my life but I wouldn’t go from here to the Walnut alone for all of Kansas.” He assured me that I did right in eluding the Indian as he would have killed me for my pistols.
The Riley’s were educated, had papers and books and also a few slaves. Just before supper another man came to stay all night. He spoke of himself as a Cherokee. The next morning the Cherokee and I struck out on a trail, shorter by several miles than the regular road, and arrived that evening at a neat two-room log cabin occupied by a full-blood Indian who lived alone. He too had cases filled with books and was a college graduate.
The next morning I struck the Butterfield Stage Trail. I reached Red River at sundown and met a man who told me as we rode along together of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. He asked many questions and I thought him extremely inquisitive.
That night we stopped at a tavern and I was given an outside room off a porch. Retiring early, I was soon awakened by a pounding on the door. Three men entered and demanded to know from where I come. I knew they disliked Kansans so I said “llinois.” They searched my bags and pocket and examined my letters; then they told me I was not the man they sought and apologized for disturbing me.
The next day as I passed thru Sherman I saw the same bunch of men in front of a saloon and, again apologizing, they told me to go and see where they had hung the man who had murdered someone and for whom they had been searching the previous night! After that I had no more trouble and reached my destination in thirty-five days after leaving Kansas.
Footnote: He then returned to Chelsea across the same treacherous territory with his sister and her five children ages 2-13 in a covered wagon pulled by five oxen and driving 50 head of cattle and eight horses. The return trip took six weeks.
Benjamin Shelden (Vaught’s brother-in-law) was an avowed Free-state man, and as the troubles which led to the Civil War came on, he received many threats of vengeance unless he changed his views or residence. These were regarded as idle words, and Shelden remained unafraid until one bright morning in 1859. Answering a call at the door he was shot dead for standing by his beliefs.
I found the other stories as compelling as this one and after putting the book together, I felt like I knew Martin Vaught and his remarkable life...and I had a little creative adventure in the process.