What does genealogy have to do with inner peace? In my case, a great deal. It has to do with the Rogue Valley, my Osage ancestry, the Osage Reign of Terror and a current best seller, "Killers of the Flower Moon." I am writing this in May, the month the Osage call the Killer of Little Flowers Moon because frost came so often at this time of year, killing young flowers.
My story starts on the Osage reservation. Like so many native tribes, Osage territory was shrunk from a territory that originally covered most of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, to banishment in the corner of northeast Oklahoma in the late 19th Century. The tribe, which had been consigned to a Kansas reservation, was given the option of buying some non-productive land from the Cherokee tribe. The land became Osage County. In a bizarre twist of fate, in the early 20th Century, oil was discovered under the land. The Osages, who had managed to buy mineral rights with the land, soon became the richest people in the world as they benefited from oil leases and royalties. The money was apportioned to the 2,229 living members of the tribe who were born before 1907. Their shares of the mineral rights were called “headrights,” which were to be inherited by their descendants in perpetuity.
My grandmother was one of the original headright owners. In the early decades of the new century, she enjoyed the wealth shared by all headright owners. But there was a dark side to this sudden wealth, explored in depth in "Killers of the Flower Moon." Sensing an opportunity to acquire some of this wealth, unscrupulous men married Osage women, killed their new wives through a variety of methods, including shooting, poisoning and blowing up an entire house with the occupants inside.
The headrights of men were also stolen by their white “guardians.” The government had set up a guardianship system, since the Indians supposedly did not know how to manage their vast wealth. However, the guardians were invariably corrupt. In fact it turns out most of the local institutions, from bankers and lawyers to law enforcement, were part of a grand scheme to defraud the Indians.
The resulting Reign of Terror began in the early 1920s. At that time, my great-grandfather, Clarence Trumbly, lived with his extended family on his family’s allotted land just over the border in southern Kansas. My grandmother had married a Scotsman named Thomas McAdam when she was 16. My mother, Betty Jane McAdam, was born in 1922. When she was 2 or 3 years old, Clarence moved the family to Grants Pass, Oregon. I never heard family lore that said the reason for the move was the Reign of Terror, but I can’t imagine that that was not a major factor since hundreds of Osages were being murdered.
Clarence bought land in the Applegate Valley and a theater in Grants Pass where my Mom said she used to see movies for free since her grandpa owned the theater. She grew up in Grants Pass, graduating from Grants Pass High School. Her mother, grandfather and other relations are buried in the Grants Pass cemetery with grave plates bearing their names.
When my mother was 16, she was working in a store when my father, Raymond Spalding, saw her and, as he told me, “When I saw that beautiful woman, I said, ‘I’m going to marry her!'” They married about 1942 and settled in Ashland, where my Dad and his father, Elmer Spalding, owned a lumber mill called Sugar Pine Lumber Company. My Dad wrote a short biography where he mentioned that his mill stood at the corner of Ashland Street and Tolman Creek Road, the current site of Bi-Mart and Shop'n Kart. When I was 2 or 3 years old, my Dad sold the mill and moved his family to Eureka, California, where I grew up. I eventually graduated from UCLA, married, had a son, and then moved my family to New Mexico where my wife and I had two more children before we divorced.
She left New Mexico, but I stayed, wandering in the desert, for 40 years! In 1987, I met my current husband, Terry Brown, in Albuquerque. In 2008 we bought a home in Talent, moving in 2009. When we shopped at Shop'n Kart and BiMart, it felt strange to walk on the cement floor of these two stores — a floor my Dad poured when he built the mill in the late 1940s! But that’s another story of the Spalding family who ran lumber mills in the valley for several generations.
My maternal ancestry stems from the Osage Reign of Terror, without which I might not have been born, and likely not in Ashland. My mother lived on her headright income inherited from her mother, and me from my mother — which today represents a portion of my income — a mere fraction of what once provided lavish lifestyles for the Osage of Oklahoma. After a 60-year absence, I had returned to my own ancestral land of Oregon.
How can we know who we are if we don’t know our roots? Only when we know our lineage can we place ourselves in historic time and recognize where we are and where we belong. This kind of family understanding can help to assuage our self-centered sense of isolation, thereby bringing us greater peace.
Julian Spalding is a Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant© with CYCLES OF LIFE (www.cyclesoflife.biz). He is an enrolled member of the Osage tribe of Oklahoma. Spalding publishes poetry & essays at julianspalding.wordpress.com.