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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Genealogy Adventure in Kansas

Muddy Road - maybe Axtell??
I usually write about a Shelby County subject on this blog. And I WILL again! The following is an account of my distant cousin Barb’s adventure. She has Shelby County roots but lives in the Kansas City area. Her trip to Axtell, Kansas to assist her friend (who also lives in Shelby County) is well worth the read. Barb has gone beyond the call of duty and deserves to be recognized for her incredible dedication!

Here is Barb’s story, in her own words:

Axtell, A Kansas Adventure

When I left Kansas City at about 8:30 A.M. it was raining. Not a hard driving rain, just a steady constant rain. No worries, I had a huge umbrella so that when I arrived at the cemetery, if it was still raining, I could pop the umbrella and still get the photos I wanted.
The roads and traffic were no problem. Planned to take the Kansas turnpike (I-70) to Topeka then turn north on highway 75. I always take a good book on CD when I travel because it makes the time go by quickly. So I am listening to my book and enjoying the beautiful countryside when I realize that the sign that I just passed said “Welcome to Nebraska”. This was not good. I needed Highway 36 to get to Axtell and it was in Kansas. Back to junction (just 10 miles) and on track again.

I had the Shockley Cemetery located on a map printed before I left home and it was north of Axtell. Took a slight detour through Axtell just to check it out. Tiny town (maybe 250 people) but still has some great looking old buildings on main street.
Leave Axtell heading due west until I reach Highway 99 then turn north looking for Eagle Road. Should be easy to find the cemetery since Eagle Road appears to dead end directly at the cemetery. When I turn onto Eagle Road it changes from black top to gravel. No problem, I’ve driven gravel roads loads of times. Still a steady rain. I am going only about 20 miles per hour so that I can safely gawk at the scenery.

Just over the crest of a hill the road turns a dark color. It appeared like the gravel had been recently sprayed with oil. I slow further. About 20 feet onto the dark gravel, the car feels funny, like when you are on ice and just barely sliding. I slowly stop and try and back up. No dice. It is deep black mud, can’t back up.
At the bottom of the hill is an intersection and I think I will either be able to turn around or continue on a better road. Have much difficulty reaching the bottom of the hill. Much sliding. Decide to turn north because it appears that there is more texture, hopefully gravel. No dice. The mud continues. Much difficulty keeping the car in a forward motion. Wheels spinning. Finally unable to make any forward progress. Actually can’t back up or go forward. Wheels deeply buried in mud. No cell coverage, of course, but who did I think I was going to call anyway. Still a steady rain but now the wind is picking up. Can’t move the car from center of road. It is sitting just over the crest of a hill, dead center of the road….just waiting for someone to top the hill and hit it. Lucky for me no one else can navigate the road either.

There is nothing to do but to hike back to the other road to where I last saw a house, couldn’t be more than a couple of miles. Put on boots, coat, gloves and get big umbrella. Still raining, wind blowing more. When I step out of the car my boots immediately sink above the ankles into the mud. I almost fall when I can’t pick up my foot and I have already moved forward faster than I can make my feet move.
I determine that if I scale the bank on the side of the road I could cut across a corn field and save a little time. The banks are about 4 feet high and solid mud. I grab onto a small tree to pull myself up to the field. At this point I have stopped worrying about getting my clothes muddy. I am a complete mess.

The corn stalks made it a little easier to walk. If I keep walking on them it keeps my feet from sinking into the mud.
A herd of cows had been released into the field to clean up the corn left on the ground. They stare at me (can you imagine what they must be thinking?) as I fight to remain upright, the umbrella still pushing steadily from behind.

The farm house came into view and I was much relieved. Crossing my fingers that someone was home I crossed the muddy road. When a little old man, stooped and using a walker, answered the door, my heart sank. He looked so frail that the wind would easily blow him over if he stepped outside. He asked me to come into his house, but when I looked down and saw a good three inches of mud coating my boots, I politely declined.
I explain my situation and then he calmly looks at me and asks, “What are you going to do?” Great question.

About the time I ask whether or not they have a tractor that could pull my car out of the mud, a much younger man peers around the door. He is the son of the older man. We agree to meet in the garage to discuss our options. It is still raining and the wind is blowing hard. The son locates a tractor and points it toward the car. I climb aboard and we slowly make our way down the muddy road to my car. The wheels of the tractor are kicking mud up onto us. (Wish I had a picture of the tractor, with the two of us on it, all muddy).
At the car, we can’t find a connection for the chain to the undercarriage on the rear passenger side, only on the driver’s side. The son hooks a chain onto it, I put the car in reverse and the tractor begins to pull. The idea was that I could help the wheels turn and steer with the front barely on the road. He slowly pulls the car around the corner and up the hill until it is on the gravel.

I give him all the cash in my purse, a hug, and a big thank you. Before I can get the car turned around, he is back to the barn.
I have come a long way to just head for home, so I check my map and try to find another route to the cemetery. One that is paved. It is not obvious from the map I have, so I head back to Axtell and discuss my options with the Post Mistress. She gets out her routing maps and decides that the closest I could get (staying on gravel roads) would be a couple of miles from the cemetery. It is still raining steadily. I give up on visiting the cemetery.

The library is a tiny store front on the main street. It is about the size of most living rooms and not at all crowded with books. I learn later that the library is only open one day a week. How lucky for me it was the day I was in Axtell.
The librarian explains that they do not have much on genealogy, but show me the “shelf” containing high school yearbooks, recent phone books, etc. The most interesting were a couple of binders with newspaper clippings encased in plastic.

Before I had turned two pages there was information on the Smith family. I was shocked that such great info was so easy to find, relieved that I hadn’t made a trip for nothing and extremely grateful.
It was getting dark and for the first time I was concerned about the rain. Driving in daylight with rain is one thing, but it is much more of a challenge when it gets dark. So I quickly copy the articles, pay for the copies and hop in my car.

Feeling quite smug about my accomplishments for the day (getting stuck in the mud, getting pulled out of the mud and best of all – finding information about the Smith family) I was riding high.
About 45 minutes into my drive, I stop for gas and to wash a little of the mud off my car before it dries. When I reach for my credit card to pay for the gas, I realize that my purse is missing and the only cash I have is the change I keep in the car for the car wash (of which I had just used several dollars’ worth) which in now only $3.00.

Now I am in a panic. I know the library in closing very soon, that after it closes I will have no way of getting my purse and I have very little gas left.
With a couple of gallons of gas, I head back to Axell to get my purse. When I walk in the door, the librarian looks at me and says, “Are you back?” My purse is still sitting on the table, exactly where I left it. The library was to close in 5 minutes.

Feeling much relieved and thankful, I again head for Kansas City. The rain is still coming down. Visibility is poor. The large trucks stir up so much spray that when my headlights catch it, I cannot see anything. A very tense drive.
After finally arriving home and resisting the urge to go straight to bed, I spend hours cleaning mud off my boots and sneakers. It is so sticky that I swear it could be used for glue!

(Barb adds – “Just another crazy genealogy story!”)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Remembering Our World War II Shelby County Fallen Soldiers

During this week of the Fourth of July, as we celebrate our country’s birthday, it is my wish to remember some of the very special, brave Shelby County men who died in World War II.

From the Shelbyville Democrat – Thursday February 24, 1944:


Clifford DeBaun, Seaman, Dead as Result of Burns Received in Pacific Battle
The 16th name has been added to Shelby county’s list of war dead following word received by Mr. and Mrs. John DeBaun, of 623 West South St., that their son, Seaman First Class Clifford L. DeBaun, age 19, died on February 11 of multiple burns received while in performance of his duty in the Pacific Theater of war.

The War Department telegram received by Mr. and Mrs. DeBaun gave no details of his death but stated that the body of their son had been interred in Allied territory outside the continental United States until cessation of hostilities.
The young man had been in the service for one year and four months. He enlisted in the Navy on October 1, 1942 and took boot training at Great Lakes, Ill. He had been home only once since enlisting. His last letter to his parents was written on January 19.

Seaman DeBaun was born in Shelby county on November 26, 1922. He attended the local high school and was employed at the Alberts Furniture Factory at the time of his enlistment.
He is survived by the parents, two sisters, Grace and Doris, at home, and three brothers, Ray, Freddie and Ira DeBaun, all of Shelbyville. Other survivors include the aged grandfather, Henry Jacob DeBaun, two nephews and one niece.

The father and three brothers are all employed in defense work in Indianapolis.


The Shelbyville Democrat – March 2, 1944

The 17th Shelby county “killed in action” casualty for the present World War has been recorded.

Capt. Kimble Midkiff, son of Mrs. Ethel Midkiff, of 618 South Miller St., was killed in action in Italy on February 5, according to a telegram received from the War Department by the young man’s mother.
No details connected with the death were revealed in the War Department’s notification.

Captain Midkiff was 23 years of age, having been born August 3, 1920. He attended Shelbyville high school and was an outstanding member of the school’s band and orchestra. He also was a member of the 151st Infantry Band of the Former National Guard for three years. He was a member of William Hacker Chapter, Order of DeMolay, and of the First Baptist Church and choir.
The young man enlisted in the 11th Infantry Band at Fort Harrison in 1939. He went to Bermuda in 1941, where he was a life guard at Castle Harbor hotel while serving with the 89th Infantry.  Returning in September, 1941, to enter officer’s training at Fort Benning, Ga., he received his commission as a second lieutenant in December, 1841. He was sent to Ireland with the 135rh Infantry in April, 1942, and with a convoy to Algeria on November 8, 1942. He served through the Tunisian campaign and at famous “Hill 609”. He was advanced to the rank of captain in June 1943.

Captain Midkiff was wounded in Italy October 15, 1943, and received the Purple Heart. After leaving the hospital he was made adjutant of the 1st Battalion Headquarters.
Captain Midkiff’s father died in 1927 and a sister preceded him in death in 1934.

Besides the mother, he leaves two sisters, Mrs. William Ash, of this city, and Mrs. Paul V. Maxwell of Cincinnati, O., and a brother Paul Midkiff, of Tacoma, Washington. Other survivors are four nieces, three nephews and several distant relatives.