Why did they leave Paradise?

I grew up in the middle of Kansas. It is often said that Kansas is flat as a pancake. Not so!

Western Kansas is flat as a pancake. That has been proven by a scientific survey, at least according to a TV show about food facts. In that survey they compared the surfaces of Kansas and those of pancakes; and their conclusion, Kansas is flatter than a pancake.

Where I grew up in the middle of Kansas, we had some rolling hills, not many, but they were there. You could still see for miles on end. My wife used to tease me about this when we visited my folks. She would say what good does it to do to have a huge picture window when all you can see is “nothing.”

Just a few miles west of where I grew up is Coronado Heights, where Coronado himself gave up his search for the gold and returned to Mexico. I could see Coronado Heights from my home, so you see the idea that there is nothing to see out the picture window is just not true. Most of the area surrounding Coronado Heights is rolling prairies where some of my ancestors settled. As the rivers meandered through them changing course over time, many canyons developed. Not as deep and gorgeous as the Grand Canyon out west, but take it from experience, you could get very lost in those canyons if you were not careful. I know, because I have done so.

Just a little farther east you have the flint hills. Now those are true hills, beautiful in their own right, but not as the hills back east, where my ancestors lived.

My wife grew up in southeast Kansas. Mining country, strip-mining that is, but again, not like the hills back east. More like flat to slightly hilly. To be fair, there are plenty of hills following the routes of the rivers, but my take on southeast Kansas is that it is still relatively flat. A large portion of the hills in that area is man-made, left over from the strip mining activity. When they are raw, they are ugly. Left alone, over the years, nature has a way of retaking the land and healing it. Then you have beautiful lakes (where the mining pits were) with tree-covered hills lining them created from the remains dug out of the pits. As college students, we used to go swimming in the “strip pits.” Some are gorgeous and some very secluded. Now many of them were converted into a state park.

Over the years my wife and I have lived in Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, and Illinois.

Kansas and Illinois have large sections of “flat,” but also have quite a bit of “hills” to offset the plains. There are some rather unique places hidden away in both states that defy the word “flat,” like waterfalls etc., but you have to search for them, which we loved to do. One of my grown daughters used to comment that the only hills in Illinois are the hills created by the interstate when they made overpasses over other roads. That idea may be a little extreme, but Illinois does have some flat areas to rival Kansas.

Missouri has the “Ozark Mountains,” which are true mountains, worn down over time. Very rugged, rocky, and amazingly beautiful. My wife and I loved roaming around in the Ozarks.

Colorado is a state of contrasts. You have the flat desserts on the eastern side, the gorgeous “Rockies” in the middle, and the plateaus and mesas on the western side. We lived in Colorado for six months and my job took us all over Colorado. Even when I was off duty, we traveled as far as possible up in the mountains and along the eastern edge of the mountains from north to south. We loved that area. So much to see, and beautiful, but for me living in a suburb on the eastern sided of Denver, there was something that was just not right in my opinion. I had a hard time figuring out what it was until we moved back to Missouri. Then I knew. Everything on the eastern side of Denver was dessert and all the “greenery” in the highway medians and the city parkways etc. was totally artificial, highly manicured, and maintained by irrigation. In Missouri, all the undergrowth and brush along the sides of the roads, as well as the large variety of trees and vines is what I was missing. I’ll take the ruggedness of Missouri  any day over the artificialness of Colorado.

So back to my title, “Why did they leave Paradise?”

My wife and I had the opportunity to travel back east when we took our daughter to western New York for college. On one of our trips, we scheduled extra time to research out where my ancestors lived, which was at Catawba, West Virginia. We also spend some time researching the area where her ancestors lived, which was just north of Butler, Pennsylvania. In both cases, we fell in love with the areas. As we traveled the areas, and in both cases walked the actual land where they lived, we both came away with a sense of awe about the majesty of the land they lived on. It was my wife who made the statement “Why did they leave Paradise?”

Now I know that there were many factors that caused them to leave. Economic factors for one. The promise of good productive land for another, since the more people that were populating the area, meant there was less land for a family to call their own. And of course there were those who felt that if you could see the smoke from your neighbors chimney, then it was time to move on as the neighbors were much to close. Probably the biggest motivation to move west was the homestead act that allowed many to actually own land out west, and the lure of striking out on your own and making a “new” life for you and your family. There is no way for me to ever know the reasons that finally sent our ancestors west, but I am sure that on their journey westward, there were probably many times  that they asked themselves the question “Why did we leave Paradise?”

Looking today at the Facebook postings showing all the snow in the yards of my West Virginia cousins really did remind me of the “Paradise” my ancestors had back in West Virginia. So I would move there in a heartbeat—no not really, as I have come to like the Paradise I live in. However, I still can dream of the Paradise that my ancestors left. For those who still live in Paradise, enjoy what you have. It is gorgeous.



Farming on the Kansas Prairie is Hard Work in the 1880’s

I have heard tall tales in my life. Many of which involve the big fish that got away. But for those farmers out there, I think the following article tops them all. I found this in “The Salina Journal”, dated May 10, 1883, in a section about “Gypsum Creek Gleanings”. Gypsum Creek being the creek that flows through the town of Gypsum where most of my Swisher ancestors homesteaded.

The story goes like this:

“Fine weather for corn and small grain.

“The farmers are not done planting corn yet.

“Grass seems to make slow progress this spring from some cause of other.

“Mr. A. N. Jackson has fenced in 160 acres of pasture and wants 50 colts to pasture this summer. There is plenty of water and shade in the pasture. Mr. James Tolle has also fenced in a pasture. There is more wire fence being put up this spring that ever before, it is hard work digging post-holes on upland farms and I would advise the upland farmers to go to Nebraska for post-holes. The badgers dig holes in the sand, the wind blows the sand away and leaves the holes sticking up into the air from ten to thirty feet, you can chop them down and saw them up to any desired length, drive them into the ground and have post-holes that will last for years. Some people use them for stove pipes.”

Can any one top that tall tale?

The Many Faces of Mining

I’m from Kansas, the middle of Kansas, wheat fields, prairie grass, cattle county, wide open spaces. Little House on the Prairie County. What do I know about mining?
My first experience with mining, although I didn’t consider it mining at the time, was the sand pits just a couple of miles from where I grew up, along the Smoky Hill River. Over the centuries, the river meandered all over the place dropping sand sediment everywhere. Later companies would “strip” the topsoil off and scoop up the sand into huge piles ready for sale to consumers for a variety of needs.
My second experience with mining was when our 8th grade class took a field trip to the salt mines. Yes–salt mines–at Hutchinson, Kansas. Maybe you thought salt came oozing up out of the ground from places like Boonslick, Missouri which Wikipedia states “The region takes its name from a salt spring or “lick” in western Howard County first settled by Nathan and Daniel Boone, sons of Daniel Boone.” Not so at Hutchinson–you literally have to go down, deep down, 650 feet underground, where salt is mined, just like coal.
I really thought no more about mining until I went to college, at Pittsburg, Kansas, in the southeastern corner of the state. There I met the love of my life. She came from a family with coal mining in their background. When I was dating my wife, we used to go swimming in the “strip pits.” I used to love those old strip mines. Many of them were maybe 100 to 150 feet wide, or so. Some were a quarter to half mile long or so, as I remember. The way mining them worked, at the shallow end the ground sloped gently downward (so the trucks could take their loads of coal out) and as you got farther into the strip mine, you might be several hundred feet below the surface. What a great place to swim (hope you had no fear of not being able to touch bottom.) Since by the time I was in college, most of the strip mines had been abandoned, the brush and trees took over the piles of tailings and the strip mines became nice little secluded “places of paradise” for a college student out on a date, although on privately owned property I‘m sure, but as a college student, who cared.
However, not all of the strip mines were abandoned. Many of them were still being actively mined. I remember driving my ’57 Chevy, with my future wife, down into those strip mines to see “Big Brutus” in operation. I wasn’t always thinking very smart as a young college student, and I still remember the time when I was at the bottom, right next to “Big Brutus” when he took a bite out of the coal vein. The whole earth shook and I was sure we were goners. Boy did I get out of that mine fast.
So just how big was “Big Brutus”? Well he was too big to move when they quit mining with him. He sat there for years and finally taken over by “Big Brutus, a non-profit Kansas corporation dedicated to the mining heritage of Southeast Kansas.” It is a well-known tourist attraction in the Pittsburg area now. Following is a quote from the museums website.
“Big Brutus put the oooohs and aaahs in the backyard of the Heartlands!!! Miles before you reach this retired giant — you can see it on the horizon south of West Mineral, Kansas. Standing beside it makes one aware of how fragile he or she is.
“The statistics give the hard cold picture —
• Bucyrus Erie model 1850B
• largest electric shovel in the world
• 16 stories tall (160 feet)
• weight 11 million pounds
• boom 150 feet long
• dipper capacity 90 cu. yds (by heaping, 150 tons
— enough to fill three railroad cars.)
• maximum speed .22 MPH
• cost $6.5 million (in 1962)”
Fast forward to another subject dear to my heart. My West Virginia roots. The area around Fairmont, WV, just a few miles from Catawba, my ancestral home, is coal mining country. I do not propose to know much about mining in West Virginia, but I have read a lot about the many mine accidents, tragic loss of life etc. Mining has definitely been costly, monetarily, environmentally, as well as lives lost and fortunes come and gone and yet it is such a vital part of our economy. Life has never been easy for a “coal miner,” in WV, or even southeast Kansas.
One of my favorite songs of all times is “Coal Miner’s Daughter” by Loretta Lynn. I think the words of her song, “Well, I was born a coal miner’s daughter In a cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler We were poor but we had love That’s the one thing that daddy made sure of,” says it all.
Now back to the original subject, the many faces of mining. Most of my adult life was lived in an around the Kansas City, MO area. Many of you may not know, but a large portion of Kansas City is built over mines. They are so big that there are whole networks of streets, businesses, railroads etc. under the city itself. I know because one year I worked as a “temp” in one underground business. When I entered the underground mine, I drove a whole mile (yes you are reading right—a whole mile) to the parking lot for the business I worked at. The temperature was always a perfect 65 degrees, and since I worked in the winter time, I never had to shovel the snow or ice off my car, and it was always warm and ready to go when I left work.
The mine I worked in was only one of many in the Kansas City area, both in Missouri and on the Kansas side. The mines are limestone rock mines. An article by Julie Buzbee on the website “Progressive Engineer Feature” states:
“The Kansas City area ranks as the leader in subsurface development with over 20 million square feet of commercial and industrial space, more than 10 percent of the total. Some 30 underground business parks populate the area, housing over 400 businesses. To give an idea of scale, SubTropolis covers 913 acres and has 6.5 miles of roads and 2.1 miles of rail corridors.”
If that doesn’t blow your mind, the underground business park I worked at, is directly under the “Worlds Of Fun” amusement park (think about that the next time you ride a roller coaster—you may be just above a mine.) But it even gets better. Park College, a privately owned college in Parkville, MO, a suburb of Kansas City, has built its campus library in one of the mines, directly below a lake. No worries about water damage, the limestone rock is too solid for that to happen.
I no longer live in the Kansas City area. I now live in Illinois, just across the river from St. Louis, in Collinsville, IL and I still find myself in coal mining country. A nearby community is called Glen Carbon, which was named to reflect its coal-mining heritage. In addition, Collinsville and much of the surrounding area, built over old coalmines with one of the ongoing associated problems being mining subsidence, is a regular occurrence.
With mining, whichever face you see, you just have to take the bad with the good. So here’s a shout out to all those who have mining in their background. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, we would not be where we are today if it were not for the hard work of the miners in our families, whichever face of mining you see.

Coming Soon-Swisher Reunion Two-Volume DVD Disc Collection

Over three thousand pages from the nineteen volume set of Jerome Bonaparte Swisher Reunion notebooks, digitized and set in a slide show format. If runJasper William Swisher Log Home in Oklahoma uninterrupted, the slide show will last over 4 ½ hours. (Pictures inserted in this blog are examples of what will be in the DVD collection.)

One DVD formatted to run as a PowerPoint slide show, and searchable by chapters (notebooks) and major subjects.

A second DVD formatted to run as a video slide show on a TV, with menu options to view sFamily Group Sheetelected chapters, or the entire collection.

Each year at the Swisher Reunion, held in alternate years in Kansas and Oklahoma, all nineteen notebooks are on display for anyone to look through. However as reunions go, there is very little time to look through the notebooks and one would be lucky to look at only one or two notebooks for a very short timJasper William Swisher and Uriah Morgan Swishere because of the many other things on the reunion agenda.

The reunion officers were concerned that the possibility existed for a major catastrophe to destroy this irreplaceable collection. The collection consists of photos, newspaper clippings, and vital statistic documents. Many, many family group sheets, descendant charts, and notes by Swisher researchers. Reunion photos, old letters, first-hand accounts of many historic events in the Swisher history, tombstone pictures as well as other items collected over the years. This collection began with the first Jerome Bonaparte Swisher Reunion held in 1922 and with additions from Swisher relatives over the many years of annual reunFirst Reunion  1922ions since then.

The reunion officers authorized me, at the Kansas Swisher Reunion in August of 2013 to digitize this collection. I will be presenting a copy of this DVD set to both the Kansas and Oklahoma Reunion officers at the Oklahoma reunion, August 17, 2014. Location of the reunion not yet been announced.

In addition, I amFirst Hand Account of the Oklahoma Strip making this two-volume set of DVD discs available for sale to anyone interested in having this collection in their own library. Cost will be minimal to cover the cost of materials and a small amount for well over one thousand hours of work on this project. Final amount and shipping costs is yet to be determined.

If you are interested in having a set, please let me know now so that I can have an idea how many to prepare and I can insure that you get an order form when available.

Later, approximately early May, I will have the final price set, and an First Page of Oklahoma Strip Accountorder form will be available for a pre-release special, with a deadline set for payment. Those that pre-order by the deadline, will receive the set at the Swisher Reunion. For those pre-ordered and are unable to attend, the DVD’s will be shipped immediately after the reunion. There will be a minimum number of sets available first come, first served at the reunion, and order forms will be available at the reunion.


Note: I wrote this article and submitted it to the Morgan Newsletter. I waited until it was published there (it came out in the March – May 2014 issue) before I published it here. Since it has been published, I am now releasing it here.

“In 1747 Jacob Prickett, Nathaniel Springer, James Chew and Zackquill Morgan came up the Monongahela River looking for a good place to start a new settlement and stopped at the mouth of Little Creek,…Nathaniel Springer located a trading camp here which was later called Newport (Catawba).”1 Thus the beginning of a very historic town that I consider “back home in West Virginia”. Catawba is approximately five miles north east of Fairmont, on the Monongahela River.

My name is Curt Swisher and I am a descendant of those early settlers in Catawba. My great-great grandfather, Jerome Bonapart Swisher, left Catawba and moved by covered wagon to Kansas in the 1870’s, but I have always considered my roots to be Catawba West Virginia.

In 1836, Jerome’s grandfather, “Jacob River Swisher, son-in-law of Colonel Zackquill Morgan, sold lots and started the village of Newport. It was the shipping center for many products from Little and Pricketts Creeks area.”1

The village name of Newport later changed to the current name of Catawba in 1885. 2 “The name ‘Catawba’ is said to have been derived from a tribe of Indians by that name that once had a camp there. Few will doubt this fact as Indian relics of all types have been found near this community.”2 According to W. L. Balderson in Fort Prickett Frontier and Marion County, this large tribe of Indians had a trail passing there which was called the “Catawba Trail and led from the South to the Iroquois of the North, who were their traditional enemies. A Macadam Indian road extended from Catawba through Hoult to the Forks of the Monongahela at Pettyjohns before the arrival of the whites.”1

Apparently Newport (Catawba) was a very successful river port in those days as some of the industries located there were sawmills and gristmills. There was even a casket company. However, probably the most important industry was shipping. There was a boat yard there that produced flat boats, and lumber from sawmills were floated down stream on the Monongahela River to Pittsburgh and beyond. Even log rafts were constructed and sent by way of river to market. “The steamboat ‘Winfield’ was built at Catawba by Jacob Morgan in 1855. Later Pig Iron was shipped from Piney Run Iron Furnace above Winfield.”1 There also was a ferry boat that traveled between Montana and Rivesville (1795) operated by Mr. Prickett. A hotel was also located there.1

“From the old 1886 ‘ATLAS of Marion & Monongalia Counties by D. J. Lake’, we find Catawba homes listed in that year as: (along the river) N. Haun, W.A. Michael, S. Harden, J. McDonald, and N. Swisher. Just across the street were these homes: E. E. Powell, Q. Haun, L. Summers, L. L. Malone, Stephen Heirs. J. L. Swisher and also a house owned by the Fast Heirs.

Store and Post Office
Store and Post Office4

“Across the railroad tracks from south to north were: Store and Post Office, Hutchinson & Co., D. Kisner, Mrs. Armstrong, and M. Powell.

“The row of homes below the cemetery from south to north included: Mrs. S. Harris, B. Radcliffe, D.A. Harris, J.P. Kisner, C.C. Haun, and G. Summers. In that same area were C. E. Haun, Mrs. S. Kisner, S. Harden, and J. Joliff. Across the stream was the Methodist Church. Several of these properties may have been owned by the same individual.”4

Catawba Methodist Church
Catawba Methodist Church3

I wonder if some of those names are recognized by the readers as one of their direct ancestors. I know I recognize several.

Although the town of Catawba is not as large or influential, as in its early days, as the boat yard is gone, leaving just a few houses along the river, there is one institution still thriving today. That is the Catawba Methodist Church.

The Catawba Methodist Church was founded by my Great-Great-Great Grandfather, Jacob River Swisher and his wife Drusilla Morgan, daughter of Col. Zackquill Morgan in 1841 in their home.2

“In warm weather, the Rev. John Clark, pastor of the Middletown (Fairmont) circuit preached out-of-doors, standing upon a large rock by the river bank.”2 The first church was built in 1854 on the same sight of the present church building. The ground was donated by Jacob Swisher.”3 Jacob Swisher also donated the ground for the Catawba cemetery, on the hill overlooking the church. Even though I grew up in Kansas, I am very proud of my Catawba heritage.

  1. Fort Prickett Frontier and Marion County by W. L. Balderson. (This book found in Marion County Genealogical Club Library in Fairmont, West Virginia). p. 175-176.
  2. A Local History, “We Spend Our Years As A Tale That Is Told” [Winfield District] compiled by FrankSpevock, 1961 (This book found in Marion County Genealogical Club Library in Fairmont, West Virginia). p. 54-56.
  3. Newspaper article from “Times-West Virginian,” Fairmont, W. Va., Sunday, September 29, 1963
  4. Memory’s Lane, compiled by Frank Spevock, 1975, (This book found in Marion County Genealogical Club Library in Fairmont, West Virginia), p. 67-69.

Is this the David Provance who raised Jacob River Swisher?

Since I first started tracing my roots, I have always wondered who raised my Great, Great, Great, Grandfather, Jacob River Swisher. How was he orphaned, and how did he know the family that raised him. The documentation available was very little. Most of it consisted of information apparently first recorded by professional genealogist, Clifford Hoard (which I am not sure anyone has the original document he wrote). Most all Swisher researchers since, refer to his writing, and of course when something is passed on to another, multiple times, the details change somewhat, get embellished somewhat, and therefore get farther from the truth, even if the original could or could not be verified as the truth.

Below is some of the traditional facts (or supposed facts) passed on from researcher to researcher.

Jacob River Swisher, born near Winchester, Frederick County, Virginia in May 1785
His death certificate says he was born in Pennsylvania
Orphaned at a very young age Raised by a “friend” (some writings say “friend of the family”), David (some say John) ProvidenceNear Geneva or New Geneva or Providence Bottoms
His parents were John and Sarah
“At 18, Jacob was employed as a guide by the old pioneer settlers from Morgantown., WestVirginia to Winchester as they made long trips across the mountains for salt and supplies. He was a farmer and guide.” From “A Time To Laugh, A Time To Cry” by Emily Bogan Swisher

So here I am in 2014, still trying to break the wall down and find the truth. I have just found a few records that for me give a glimmer of light in the tunnel. Now I want to ask those who are reading this to chime in with their insights. I have tried over the years to pin down this David Providence in census records of Pennsylvania or Virginia, but with no success. Of course, I was never sure of the correct spelling for Providence.

I found an article on Ancestry.com that lists names in a Bible belonging to Joseph Yard Provance. One of the names was David Provance who was born August 8, 1788. This date indicates that David and Jacob were within three years age of each other.

In another article on Ancestry.com, I found a reference to the death of John William Provance.

“This is a speculative theory of the death of John William Provance. In June 1782 an expedition of Pennsylvania and Virginia militiamen under Col. William Crawford marched into Ohio to attackIndian villages on the Sandusky River. The attack failed and the militia fought a running battle back to the settlements in western Pennsylvania. Between 70 and 100 militiamen were killed orcaptured and executed by various tribes, including Col. Crawford….Other members of the   company include John and David Casto and George and Joseph Rankins. Provance Bottoms and the homestead of John William Provance was located in relatively close proximity to that of William Crawford….”

Notes on another tree in Ancestry  says “Joseph Yard Provance (son of Thomas Provance and Sarah Yard) was born 31 March 1764 in Frederick Co., Virginia, and died 16 May 1843 in New Geneva, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. He married Elizabeth Casto on 31 March 1784 in Masontown, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, daughter, daughter of David Castro Sr. and Phebe Gandy.”

I also found one more article on Ancestry and that was the will of Joseph Y. Provance, Fayette Co., PA, 1833. It states among other things, “Thirdly I will and dispose of my home farm in manner following to wit: I give and bequeath to my son David Provance seventy acres of land, on the hill where he now lives.”

According to other details in the will, it appears like Joseph had a total of 1,879 acres that he divided among his children. Those acres were in several locations.; 270 acres along the Monogahela River in Fayette County, PA; 109 acres on Dunkard Creek in Green County, PA; 500 acres in Lewis County, VA; and another 1,000 acres on Mill Creek in VA.

Also there are some orphan court documents in Pennsylvania that indicate that some of the Provance families did take in orphans, although Jacob is not mentioned in the documents I saw.

Finally from an article by Clifford HOARD, the professional genealogist mentioned at the beginning of this writing, he says:

“According to SWISHER family tradition Jacob R. SWISHER was orphaned at an early age. He wasreared by David PROVANCE who lived on Provance Bottom near New Geneva PA.

“As a young man, Jacob piloted the early settlers from Winchester VA to what is now WV. Atthat early date, around 1800 the pioneers were quite willing to pay an experienced guide to leadthem over treacherous trails through a rough mountainous region.

“There is no mystery as to how Jacob R SWISHER met Drusilla MORGAN. The old MonongahelaRiver, a stream of traffic always, was the meeting place for scores of young folks and Jacob and Drusilla met somewhere along its shore.

“In the census of 1850 Jacob R. is listed as a farmer. Farming in 1850 and for many years later was a subsistence occupation. Jacob was more than a struggling farmer. He initiated a towncalled Newport. His sale of lots for this business venture gave him an excellent monetary return.

“During the formative period of New Port there existed a boat building dock. The boatsconstructed were small in size as the steam boat was not a factor this far south on theMonongahela River. Three coopers lived in New Port between 1840 & 1880. They were: Elisha SUMMERS, and the SWISHER brothers, Morgan M, and William D. The barrels, tubs and churnsthat they fashioned were in great demand…”

To sum all of this up, I think that all of the above information indicates to me that the Provance families listed above may very well be the people who took Jacob River Swisher in as an orphan. He may very well have been raised by the David Provance listed above, in or near Provance Bottoms  near Geneva, PA.

So my question to the readers is: Have any of you come in contact with these Provance individuals in your family records or research. Can you add insights into the possibility that this information is correct.  Finally, can any of you tie Jacob River Swisher to any of these individuals? I would appreciate any comments or suggestions for further research you might have.

Birth Place of Jacob River Swisher

In my research I have been able to trace my roots back to Jacob River Swisher. From multiple sources, tradition tells me that as a young man he was employed as a guide for those traveling west over the Allegheny mountains. Continue reading Birth Place of Jacob River Swisher