CHAPTER 1: The Welch & Hess Families of Indian Territory

A Diverse Heritage

Like many families living on the American frontier, the Welch and Hess families’ lineage and history is somewhat shrouded by the passage of time. Record keeping for frequently migrating individuals over 100 years ago is often scant. But thanks to the Dawes Rolls (, the Native American portion of the family heritage has been well preserved and is easily traceable.

Some background from WikiPedia: “The Dawes Commission went to the individual tribes to obtain the membership lists, but it took a series of attempts to gain anything near to an accurate count. In 1898, Congress passed the Curtis Act, which provided that a new roll would be taken and supersede all previous rolls. Difficulties in enumerating the population included the forced migrations of the period as well as the American Civil War.[5][6] Additionally, non-Native census takers introduced the idea of Blood Quantum, a concept previously foreign to the tribal communities.[7] Those recording this percentage of ancestry wrote down an estimation, based on physical appearance and personal opinion if the individual was present.”

Because of the Dawes Roll, Cherokee ancestry through the Welch family line is well documented and traced through several generations. Although current generations possess only a minute blood quantum of Cherokee ancestry, all are direct descendants of several historically prominent Cherokee citizens and may also choose to claim tribal membership for themselves as a result.

Thanks to modern DNA testing, it has been definitely shown that the the Welch-Hess clan descends primarily from English, Scottish, Welsh and Norwegian people groups. However, it is the Cherokee ancestry which has proven to be a blessing in many instances but problematic in others.

Adolescent Maude Welch, center, poses for a formal portrait with her younger siblings.

Maude Welch Hess

One story told to me by my mother concerns, Maude Welch Hess, who as an adult once attempted to join a new church congregation near their home in rural Adair County, Okla. 

By blood quantum, my maternal grandmother was reported to be 1/16th Cherokee ancestry. She attended a Cherokee girl’s school as a young woman but in virtually all other respects, she lived, worked, dressed, and spoke like the predominant white culture she inhabited. The Cherokee, much like the other tribes that were forcibly brought to Oklahoma by the Indian Removal Act of 1830, learned to live with one foot in white European culture while keeping another foot firmly grounded in their ancient native culture. 

Religious association appears to be where separation of these two cultures was most often strictly enforced. Whites had their own churches, Indians had theirs.

The story goes that my grandmother went forward at the close of a church service to seek membership in a local congregation. As was the custom in many Baptist churches then and now, the congregation was asked to accept prospective members into fellowship by vocal affirmation or vote. Typically, the church pastor would ask for a collective “Amen” or “Aye” from the membership, and barring any scandalous accusation or serious objection that might rarely arise, that person or family was collegially accepted into membership of the church.

On this particular occasion, as Maude Hess stood in front of the church facing members of the congregation, the minister asked for an affirming “Amen.” None was given. Not a single voice was raised in affirmation. Nothing but awkward, painful silence. My grandmother was left standing at the front of the church humiliated.

On this particular occasion, as Maude Hess stood in front of the church facing members of the congregation, the minister asked for an affirming “Amen.” None was given. Not a single voice was raised in affirmation. Nothing but awkward, painful silence. 

There may have been other reasons that were left unspoken. Maude’s husband of many years, James Hugh Hess (my maternal grandfather) — known as “Hughey” by friends and colleagues — was a well-known, if not universally well-liked, lawman in the area who was certain to have made enemies over the years. But perhaps, first and foremost, Hughey rarely, if ever, darkened the doorway of a house of worship. So, there was Maude, left all alone to face the sting of a cruel and silent rebuke from those whom she had sought friendship and community.

More about Hughey a bit later, but Maude’s personal life story is one filled with both joy, but also more than its share of heartache and tragedy. Through it all, she maintained an unwavering belief in a better life in the hereafter, thanks to her unshakeable Christian faith. It is why this physically tiny woman, mother of 11 children, grandmother to numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren, cast such an enormous shadow as the beloved matriarch of this large and diverse Oklahoma family.

Maude Gertrude Welch was born Sept. 19, 1887 in the Ballard Community, Going Snake District of the Cherokee Nation. The area, located in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains bordering Arkansas, would become part of Adair County in the newly formed state of Oklahoma in 1907.

Thomas J. Welch, father of Maude Welch Hess, shown here mounted on horseback at right.
Fannie Ann Mitchell, mother of Maude Welch Hess, pictured as a young woman.

Her father, Thomas Jefferson Welch, descended from a Cherokee chief, had prospered in Indian Territory and had built a fine two-story home on Ballard Creek. He was well-respected in the community and elected to the Territorial Legislature. He was said to have ridden to-and-from the territorial capital, Guthrie, roughly 180 miles away, on horseback.Thomas was born just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War in Cherokee County, Georgia and migrated to Indian Territory. He married Fannie Ann Mitchell, also of Cherokee descent, in 1886. 

The couple had several children together with Maude being the eldest. As was typical of large families in those days, accidents and/or illness often claimed the life of a child. This was true for the Welch family as Maude’s youngest sister Kathleen “Little Kate” Welch died of a fever at age nine in 1917 and twin baby sisters Ethel and Effie who died within a month of each other in 1904.  Unfortunately, it would not be the last personal tragedy that Maude would endure.

Maude Welch’s youngest sister Kathleen (aka “Little Kate”) died of a fever at age nine in 1917.

The Welch family was fairly prosperous by turn-of-the-century standards in Indian Territory. Maude initially attended Ballard School then later boarding school at the Cherokee Female Academy in Tahlequah (now Northeastern State University) where, by all indications, she received an excellent education and a deeper commitment to her Christian faith. 

From an article published in History of Adair County, 1991, my Aunt Betty Hess Smith wrote the following: “Among the stories Maude Welch Hess used to relate was one about the many times when, as a youth, she rode sidesaddle on her horse, Steeldust, carrying 12 dozen eggs several miles through the woods from her father’s home to Baptist Mission.”

James Hugh Hess

Meanwhile, Maude Welch’s future husband, James Hugh Hess, was born on Oct. 12, 1877 in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, to John Franklin Hess and Isadora “Dora” Carson. His mother, who claimed kinship with famous (infamous?) American frontiersman Kit Carson, died in 1880. Hughey, age four, and his older sister Florentina, age five, were left motherless.

The story of Hughey’s childhood and adolescence is murky but a few significant facts are known. His father would remarry just a year later in 1881. Not longer afterward, a decision was made to relocate the family to the new state of Colorado. At this point, there are two different versions of what happened next.

As told by my mother and a few of my aunts and uncles, young Hughey, now age 8, apparently had all he could stand of his stepmother and ran away from the family while still enroute to Colorado. Another version has the family having a change of heart and returning to Oklahoma, at which point, Hughey leaves the family. In either event, what is agreed upon is that he took up residence with a friend and was essentially raised from then on by a full-blood Cherokee family. 

It is here, ironically, that James Hugh Hess, of primarily English-Scottish descent, and no known Indian ancestry, learned the customs and ways of the Cherokee people, and most importantly, learned to speak the Cherokee language fluently.

It is here, ironically, that James Hugh Hess, of primarily English-Scottish descent, and no known Indian ancestry, learned the customs and ways of the Cherokee people, and most importantly, learned to speak the Cherokee language fluently. This cross-cultural upbringing would serve him well as he embarked on a career in law enforcement in the region.

James Hugh Hess, age 29, and Maude Gertrude Welch, age 19, were married on June 19, 1907 in the town of Ballard, Indian Territory, just before Oklahoma statehood would become a reality in September of that same year. They lived in Ballard for a time before ultimately settling on a small farm in northern Adair County and starting a family. There was heartbreak almost immediately as they lost their first child at just three days old.

Those who knew Hughey best, in his role as a father or lawman, often expressed a grudging respect and/or fear of the man. He was known for a quick and fiery temper and no-nonsense approach. He could be harsh, quick to criticize and loathe to compliment or express affection to his children, particularly his sons. This would play out with tragic consequences at a later date.

James Hugh Hess, center in plaid shirt, is pictured in Watts, Okla. in the 1950s just prior to his retirement as town marshal.

He was, however, respected as a lawman who kept the peace in early day Oklahoma and dealt fairly with both the white and Cherokees citizens within his jurisdiction. 

Initially deputized in Washington County, Arkansas, Hess served as a deputy sheriff, a guard at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, and later as town marshal of Watts, Okla. for more than 30 years. He had also operated a store and post office at Ballard before moving the family to nearby Watts.

She recalled the many rifles left leaning on the front porch and gun belts slung over door knobs and chair backs while her mother dutifully catered to the hungry men.

Maude was a typical homemaker of the era, responsible for feeding the family, sewing their clothes, and with the help of her growing children, tending the family garden and livestock on their small farm. My mother recalled hearing my grandmother always being the first to arise each morning and lighting the wood stove to warm up the house and begin preparing breakfast for the large family.

She also recalled that her father, or “Papa” as she called him, once led a mounted posse to capture a local fugitive. Her mother was expected to prepare a meal for all of the armed men before they departed on their search. She recalled the many rifles left leaning on the front porch and gun belts slung over door knobs and chair backs while her mother dutifully catered to the hungry men.

Both my mother and grandmother held lifelong contempt and fear of guns and the violence they wrought. And yet, my grandfather’s vocation required that he carry a firearm every day which he placed on the bedroom dresser each night.

But Hughey did occasionally show a lighter side. My mother recalled that when Her father found something humorous he would laugh in a high-pitch chuckle. One frequent saying she often overheard him repeat close to bedtime was, “Gotta go to bed, gotta get up, gotta go to work!”

Although an effective lawman, Hughey was by all accounts could be a difficult man to please at home and could be especially harsh to his own sons. This would play out in a particularly tragic way on Independence Day, 1928, a year before my mother was born.

Tragedy Strikes

According to stories retold years later by my mother and her older siblings, Hughey and Maude’s eldest son, Clarence Hugh Hess, then age 19, had recently moved away from the family farm to work for the railroad in Kansas City. He and a friend decided to return to Oklahoma to celebrate the July Fourth holiday with the family. They hopped a train and arrived at the Hess family farm in time for the holiday festivities.

Clarence Hugh Hess

At some point during the day, Hughey engaged in a loud argument with his eldest son resulting in Clarence angrily leaving the family gathering prematurely. He decided to catch the next train leaving from nearby Siloam Springs, Ark. a few miles away. My grandmother was greatly grieved by this occurrence.

A short time later, news reached the family that there had been a terrible accident and to come immediately. Apparently, Clarence had missed the whistle stop and the departing train was already in motion when he ran alongside it and attempted to jump onto a moving railcar. He had boarded a train in this way countless times before. But this time was different.

He lost his grip, fell onto the tracks and was run over by the train’s massive steel wheels. It would have been a bloody and horrific scene. An emergency telegram was quickly relayed to the family and my grandmother made her way by horse and buggy to the scene just in time to hold her dying son in her arms and tearfully watch as his young life ebbed away. 

The cruel truth is that timely modern emergency medical attention would have likely saved his life. But in 1928 rural Oklahoma, Clarence Hugh Hess, became another young man to die in tragic circumstances.

If Maude and Hughey’s marriage was strained then, it reached a breaking point some years later on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

We can only imagine the anguish Maude Hess endured that day and for many days, weeks, months, and years to come. We don’t know if she ever forgave her husband for the harsh words he had leveled at her eldest son which prompted him to abruptly leave in the first place. But surely we can safely assume that it placed a tremendous strain on their relationship going forward.

A year and half later my mother Geneva Ruth Hess was born as the eleventh and youngest child of the family. She would never know her oldest brother, only stories of his life and untimely death.

As for the July Fourth holiday, the Hess family would never celebrate it again. The pomp and parades and loud firework displays likely served as a cruel annual reminder to Maude Hess of what she had lost on that terrible day.

James Hugh Hess, left, town marshal of Watts, Okla., plays dominoes with an unidentified colleague prior to his retirement in .

Sunday Dinner

If Maude and Hughey’s marriage was strained then, it reached a breaking point some years later on a sunny Sunday afternoon. My mother tells the story:

Maude and all the children had decided to walk to and from church one beautiful Sunday morning. When they arrived late back to the family farm, Hughey was waiting on the porch for them and he was not happy. 

He followed the family into the house and angrily inquired why Sunday dinner was not already prepared and waiting. Unsatisfied by Maude’s answer he struck her in the face so hard that it knocked off her eyeglasses and broke them. At this, the older boys all took hold of their father to restrain him. It likely crossed their minds to take this opportunity to vent their own frustrations at the old man who had so often belittled and harangued them.

But after my grandmother gathered herself, she called for calm among her boys and pleaded for no more violence. However, she was done with Hughey. She ordered him out of the house and not to return. Although divorce was out of the question in this time and place, they would remain separated for the rest of their lives. 

Other forces were also beginning to pull the family in multiple directions. The depth of the Great Depression saw sons go off to join the Civilian Conservation Corps to earn money for the family, or join the military when World War II erupted in 1941. Daughters would graduate from high school, marry and move away to places of greater economic opportunity like Tulsa with its robust petroleum and aviation industries.

It was a time of major upheaval and transition for America and for the Hess family.

A typical farm scene near Watts, Okla., 1914.

Prologue: An American Family

By Christopher Rush

(Note: I’ve recently decided to begin putting into writing many stories of family history told to me over the years. While this won’t have much interest beyond our immediate family, I thought it was important to preserve as many of these stories as possible as entire generations are passing on. I don’t want these important stories to die with them (or me). With this in mind, the following is a brief Prologue to set the table. I haven’t yet decided whether to release each succeeding chapter piecemeal or to publish once the entire work is finished. Anyway, here is a first taste of what is to come.)

It all happened suddenly on what would become known as “Black Monday.” The epic financial boom of the “Roaring Twenties” came to a screeching halt on that day, Oct. 28, 1929, when shares on the New York Stock Exchange collapsed in a cataclysmic bust. By mid-November of that year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had lost almost half of its value thus precipitating what would become known as the “Great Depression” and the deepest economic collapse in U.S. history.

It was into this uncertain world that my parents, Robert Frank Rush and Geneva Ruth Hess, were born. Robert, or “Bob” as he was commonly known, was born Aug. 7, 1929 in the small hard-scrabble Oklahoma town of Henryetta. A few months later, his future wife and my mother, Geneva, was born on Dec. 22, a little over 100 miles away in the Ozark Mountain foothills near the tiny rural community of Watts along the Oklahoma-Arkansas state line.

Their childhoods would be marked by one of the most chaotic and challenging periods in American history but their paths would ultimately cross because of it.

As the Depression took hold in the early 1930s — tightening credit, forcing thousands of job layoffs, home mortgage and business defaults, bank foreclosures and a deepening economic crisis for millions of Americans — Bob and Geneva happily played and grew as many children of that era did, only mildly aware of the hardship they and their families were forced to endure. 

“We didn’t know we were poor. We were in the same boat as everybody else around us,” my mother would explain decades later.

Welch and Hess cousins gather in rural Adair County, Oklahoma for a rare photograph, circa 1935-36. Geneva Rush is third from the left, front row.

Geneva, the youngest of James Hugh and Maude Welch Hess’s 11 children, helped with family chores including milking the family cow, gathering eggs from the chicken house, and helping maintain the family vegetable garden. These meager resources produced on the small family farm were then bartered among neighbors or at the local mercantile for other essential items like flour, salt, fabric, tools and implements, etc.

“We didn’t know we were poor. We were in the same boat as everybody else around us.”

Geneva Rush

Meanwhile, “Bobbie,” as he was called by his mother, was the middle child of seven brothers and sisters raised by Cecil Elsworth and Elizabeth Francis Rush in a town known for cattle ranching and a history of coal mining. As a small child, Bob was closest to his sickly older brother Garland. The two were inseparable and often plotted mischief together. Bob, even though more than two years younger, would pull his frail older brother around town in a little red wagon. It was a crushing blow when in January of 1934 Garland died suddenly. Bob withdrew and became a quiet and melancholy child. He was five years old.

As their humble childhoods progressed, a new threat emerged. A profound ecological disaster was unfolding in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado — the “Dust Bowl.” Caused by a combination of prolonged severe drought and manmade factors involving land mismanagement, some regions of the Great Plains endured harsh conditions throughout the 1930s. The magnitude of the drought and the fearsome dust storms it produced, combined with the already harsh economic climate, drove many desperate Oklahomans (or “Okies” as they were frequently referred to in a pejorative context) to abandon their farms and seek meager work opportunities in the green fields and orchards of California.

From left to right are Bill, Ina, Wanda and Robert Rush, circa 1938-1939.

In spite of the hardships, however, neither the Hess nor Rush families were tempted to uproot what they had already worked so hard to build in Oklahoma. They stayed and persevered.

Then, on Dec. 7, 1941, the U.S. was thrust into World War II when the Empire of Japan launched a surprise attack on American forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii — a “day that will live in infamy,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt told an emergency gathering of Congress the next day. War was declared against Japan and Nazi Germany and the greatest conflagration in world history would eventually touch virtually every corner of the globe with some measure of death and destruction. Closer to home, it would mean even more shortages, more sacrifices, and countless other deprivations, big and small, to be endured by already struggling families in America’s heartland.

In rural Oklahoma, young Bob Rush and Geneva Hess were unwittingly being molded and shaped by three of the greatest calamities of the 20th century — the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and now World War II — and all before the tender age of 13.

What follows are their stories of faith, sacrifice and, ultimately, success in reaching for and achieving their hard-earned portion of the American dream.

Confessions of the Uncool: Kurt, we hardly knew you

Originally published in The Daily World of Grays Harbor, Wash. on June 10, 2009

I must confess I was not a Nirvana fan while Grays Harbor native Kurt Cobain still walked this earth.

This most famous of grunge rock bands burst onto the national music scene a decade too late for me. You see, I was a child of the seventies. By the early 1990’s as the band hit the zenith of its live performing and record sales popularity, I was already thirty-something and well on my way to being a 9-5, Monday though Friday, workaholic husband and father of two living in the Midwestern suburbs. While Rolling Stone magazine and MTV were heaping praise upon Cobain’s musical genius, the rock n’ roll golden boy, I was blissfully unaware of the drama and ultimate tragedy of his abbreviated life.

On April 8, 1994, when Cobain’s body was found three days after his death — officially ruled as a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head — at his Seattle home, I barely gave the news reports any notice. I didn’t know him. I didn’t know the band or its music.

To put it simply, I was no longer hip. Any measure of “coolness” that I may have once possessed in my teens and early twenties was long gone.

The name Courtney Love, Cobain’s wife and the subject of endless tabloid fascination, barely registered with me at the time.

To an older generation, mostly over age 45 now, I suspect Cobain may have come and gone without much notice, just another rock ’n roll legend who came to a tragic end while still in the prime of life and creative abilities.

However, to those who consider themselves members of “Generation X,” the post Baby Boom generation, Cobain and Nirvana appealed and entertained mightily. He belonged to them. The proof is the almost reverent spirit in which fans, now 15 years after his death, still seek out all things Kurt — books, music, merchandise. Some even make a pilgrimage of sorts right here to his hometown to see where the young Cobain lived, walked, and developed his music in the early years. It’s a phenomenon that many of us have still not come to terms with.

But that may be changing.

Now in my late forties, and living in the middle of the very town that help mold and shape Cobain and band mate Krist Novoselic before they achieved legendary musical stardom, I feel almost like an archaeologist trying to assemble and decipher clues from a bygone era. I’m playing catch-up. I’ve scanned some of the many books and articles circulating about Cobain and his life, Nirvana and the grunge rock movement. I’ve pulled up YouTube to see and listen to the music videos — Smells Like Teen Spirit, Come as You Are, and the 1993 live performance on MTV Unplugged.

I get it.

So the question is, why is there no official recognition of Kurt Cobain — his life, his music, his stardom — here on Grays Harbor? Where is the museum or youth center or interpretive walk, or any other evidence of his life here?

If the sleepy little town of Forks can lay claim to the phenomenon that is the “Twilight” books — works of pure fiction — then why can’t (or won’t) Aberdeen lay similar claim and ownership of the very non-fictional life of Kurt Cobain?

There are a few theories floating around. One is the generational thing I alluded to before. Some folks my age and older just never got into bands like Nirvana. It wasn’t our music.
But I also suspect something else is at work here. Cobain’s brief life came to a tragic and, apparently, self-inflicted end.

He was certainly not the first musical icon to die in mysterious circumstances that were related or attributed to substance abuse — Elvis, Seattle native Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and seemingly every other rock band drummer from the 1970s. He will not be the last. For this reason, many are hesitant to fully embrace this native son whose life was marred by admitted drug abuse and whose death carries the stigma of suicide.

The community must come to terms with its own feelings about the life and death of its most famous product — the late, great Kurt Cobain.

Will his meteoric life and career, and all the untidy things that came with it, be examined, discussed openly and ultimately embraced, or will his memory be allowed to slowly fade away?

Grilled salmon, smoked salmon, baked salmon, fried… 

Originally published in The Daily World newspaper of Grays Harbor, Wash. on Sept.13, 2009

Before I visited the Pacific Northwest for the first time, I had never really eaten salmon.
Oh sure, I had ordered it from the menu at restaurants back in my native Midwest — things called salmon croquettes, or occasionally a salmon filet. It usually had a bland taste accompanied by a somewhat rubbery texture.

The thing about seafood is that it is best served in close proximity to the sea from whence it came — not vacuumed sealed, frozen and shipped 2,000 miles to be cooked by someone a lot more familiar with how to butcher a cow or pig than preparing what usually turns out to be an overpriced novelty.

Growing up as a red-blooded, red meat eating kid in America’s heartland, seafood was a rarity. For variety sake, mom would occasionally pull out a box of frozen “fish sticks” and throw these perfectly uniform squares of breaded mystery meat in the oven for 15 minutes until golden brown. These crispy pieces of curious fish flesh, once dunked and covered by a sufficient quantity of tartar sauce, went down easily enough. But then it was back to more common fare for another month or so.

The first time I dined on fresh, wild salmon here on the Washington coast, it was a revelation. “So this is what seafood is really supposed to taste like!” From that fateful moment a year ago, I knew I was hooked.

Since that time, many a kind coworker and neighbor have shared their homemade smoked salmon dip, fresh catches and recipes.

It all culminated a week or so ago, when I and my teenage son were invited to go out on a fishing charter from Westport.

We joined long-time Daily World employee Billy Bearden aboard the Westwind at 5:30 a.m. The 50-foot boat, skippered by Bearden’s brother Rob, crossed the bar just as the morning fog began to lift. My own personal Drammamine-induced fog would not lift until much later, however. But I digress…

Serving as a deckhand this day was another salty Bearden brother, Kelly, who told us he had being going out to sea since he was just a lad back in 1964. A fourth Bearden brother, Kenny, operates a drag boat out of Westport. At one time or another, all of the Bearden brothers have worked aboard fishing boats out of Westport or Alaska over the better part of the last five decades.

Their father, Fred, immigrated to Grays Harbor from a dry and far-away land called Oklahoma many years ago. (I knew there was something I liked about these guys). Fred and his wife Peggy operated Bearden’s Pancake Shop in Westport for many years. The Bearden boys were apparently given a choice by mom and dad: They could either wipe tables and wash dishes at the family business or go find gainful employment elsewhere. So it was out to sea for all of them.

We were joined by several other early-risers ready to catch their limit of two hatchery produced cohos each, or “silvers” in the local tongue. As is typical of this better-than-average season, the fishing was excellent and the boat landed its legal limit before noon. Along the way, we saw shark, humpback whale, and jellyfish — lots and lots of jellyfish. I briefly convulsed over the railing just once before regaining my composure and dignity. (Thank goodness I ate a light breakfast.)

I now have a freezer full of salmon and a refrigerator full of salmon leftovers. I’ve eaten salmon for dinner and salmon sandwiches for lunch. There can be too much of a good thing though, so I’m going to try and pace myself.

In the meantime, with apologies to my local grocer’s frozen food section, I believe the Rush family may have eaten its last “fish stick.”

Change in the weather

Originally published May 20, 2017 in The World newspaper of Coos Bay, Oregon

It was a long, dreary winter to endure, wasn’t it?

Note: The following was my last column for The World newspaper. I had already tendered my resignation with a mutually agreed upon departure date. However, once this column appeared in print, and was picked up by a couple of media websites, I was asked to leave just a few days later. The reaction was not unexpected. I would, however, enjoy one final publishership with a wonderful family-owned company in Pendleton, Ore. a little more than a year later.

Thankfully, as spring finally wins out here on the South Coast with more frequent blue skies and blooming rhododendrons, thoughts and attitudes naturally turn more upbeat.

That is certainly true for me, anyway. 

In addition to possibly suffering from a mild case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the seemingly never-ending cold rain, I have also been wrestling with a decision that goes to the very core of the profession I have practiced for more than a quarter century.

I’m a journalist, but more specifically, a pencil-pushing newspaper journalist with ink running in my veins. It’s the career I chose and diligently prepared for through college, graduate school, and many long hours, days, and nights of hard work at small weeklies and community dailies. But, as they say, it’s really not work when it is your passion. 

The news has long been my passion. Just ask my faithful wife of 25 years. There were many evening phone calls early in my career that went something like this. 

Her: “The kids couldn’t wait any longer so we already ate dinner. When do you think you’ll finally be home?” Me: “I’m just about ready to wrap things up. Give me another 30 minutes or so.”

My wife learned very quickly to translate “or so” as meaning another hour or two.

I did learn over time to moderate my hours spent in the office and to make more time for my family. But as the career progressed, promotions often required relocation across country. As a result, our two children attended school in three different states. 

It was all for a career I loved, maybe too much.

Running a daily newspaper these day can be very challenging. Competition for readers/viewers (media consumers) has become fierce. The industry’s economic fortunes have changed for the worse. Corporate ownership by remote publicly-traded companies like Gannett, Gatehouse, McClatchy and Lee Enterprises (which owns this newspaper) has become the norm. Independent and family-owned newspapers with deep roots in the local communities they serve are disappearing from the landscape.

The autonomy of the local newspaper is being eroded little by little and replaced with centralized planning from corporate offices a thousand miles away. More and more decisions about your local newspaper – from its national news and feature content to how much you pay for your newspaper – are being determined in boardrooms far away.

Staffing and publication decisions are no longer primarily driven by local market forces, but by the need to satisfy the unrelenting demands of Wall Street shareholders. For more, see an excellent commentary here:

Amid this environment, my passion has waned. I’ve lost my edge. Perhaps it’s time for a younger generation to take up the battle.  

Effective the end of the month, I will be stepping down as publisher of The World newspaper and its affiliates in Bandon and Reedsport.

My wife and I will soon be starting up our own small business. For the first time in a very long time, I won’t be receiving a steady paycheck and benefits. We’ll be on our own. For those of you already running your own business, you know what that’s about. There’s equal parts excitement and anxiety.

It is my sincere hope, however, that The World and the newspaper industry as a whole can successfully navigate the challenging times ahead. Communities like Coos Bay, North Bend, Charleston, Bandon, Reedsport, Coquille, Myrtle Point, etc. deserve a high-quality, daily newspaper. Right now, you still have that with the incredible staff of professionals here at 350 Commercial Ave. I’ve been honored and proud to work alongside all of them for the past two years.

But in another week, I will become another news consumer just like you. I will have no more say than anybody else in how the local newspaper conducts its business. However, we newspaper readers do have a powerful voice.

If you care about the importance of local journalism and agree like I do that it is essential for good government and building a sense of pride in community, then make your voices heard. Write letters to the editor. Reach out to corporate ownership and demand that your local newspaper remain viable and accountable to the local community, not Wall Street. After all, without readers like you, newspapers like The World would cease to exist.

In the meantime, it’s my intention to remain a part of the cultural fabric here on the South Coast and contribute in some small way to its continued economic diversity. Hope to see you around town!


The Middle of Nowhere:

Northwest Oklahoma’s Black Mesa is not on the way to anywhere but well worth the trip

By Christopher Rush

The state of Oklahoma is not generally known for its mountain vistas, but a hidden gem tucked away in the extreme northwest corner of the Panhandle provides a top-rated hiking experience, a near-pristine southwestern landscape and some beautiful views to boot.

Black Mesa, the highest elevation point in Oklahoma, is an ancient plateau rising to a surprising height of 4,973 feet above sea level and several hundred feet above the surrounding valley floor. 

Located in the tri-state area bordering New Mexico and Colorado, Black Mesa is remote and not on the way to anywhere. It’s one reason it took the author 59 years to finally make the trek, but it was well worth the time and effort.

Not to be confused with adjacent Black Mesa State Park just a few miles to the south, the Black Mesa Nature Preserve was initially acquired by The Nature Conservancy, a global environmental nonprofit dedicated to conserving lands and waters deemed critical to wildlife and biodiversity. In 1991, TNC conveyed the property, including approximately 60 percent of the vast mesa top, to the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department with restrictions regarding development and other use. 

The mesa takes its name from a thick layer of black volcanic rock that covered the area approximately 30 million years ago. According to TNC, the area “supports 31 state rare species; 23 plants and eight animals. Here, the Rocky Mountains meet the shortgrass prairie, a unique area where many species are at the easternmost or westernmost portions of their range.”

Indeed, from the lowland portion of the trail as well as atop the mesa, hikers will likely see multiple bird species and a unique variety of semi-arid plant life. Once at the top, hikers can also view the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in New Mexico immediately to the west and Colorado just a few miles to the north.

The trail itself is 8.5 miles out-and-back with 734 feet in elevation gain, and is lightly trafficked. It is rated “moderate” by ( The trail is accessible from dawn to dusk year-round.

To get there from the tiny town of Kenton, Okla,, head east on Highway 325 for half a mile, then turn left (north) on a county road for another five miles. Road signage helps point the way. The parking lot for the trailhead and the nature preserve will be on the left. 

The trail itself is 8.5 miles out-and-back with 734 feet in elevation gain, and is lightly trafficked. It is rated “moderate” by ( The trail is accessible from dawn to dusk year-round. Dogs are permitted but must be kept on leash.

Summer temperatures in the Oklahoma Panhandle can be brutal at midday — typically in the high 90s or 100 degrees plus — but due to an unusual weather pattern of unseasonably cool temperatures accompanied by almost daily rainfall, we found ourselves in nearly ideal conditions for late June. More typically, hikers should plan on early morning treks during the summer months to avoid extreme heat.

On this day, the temperature hovered in the mid 60s with light mist and fog as we arrived at the trailhead at 10 am. After loading our day packs with plenty of water and a lunch we set out at a brisk pace — or at least what we considered brisk for a couple in their late 50s. Another younger couple ahead of us used trekking poles and set a blazing pace. We opted for slow and steady by comparison.

The well-groomed and well-marked trail initially skirts the base of the mesa through short grasses, juniper and cedar trees, and several species of semi-arid succulents, many of which were in bloom due to the recent rainfall. Mile markers and an occasional bench are located at points along the trail. Beginning with mile three, the trail begins a steep ascent through a series of switchbacks up the side of the forrested mesa wall.

Once atop the plateau, the trail opens up into high plains ecosystem of short grasses and semi-arid plants. Another mile or so of flatland hiking brings the hiker to a marble obelisk placed by the state of Oklahoma to mark the exact point of highest elevation as determined by the U.S. Geological Survey. A weather-tight metal box at the base of the monument contains some emergency first aid and a journal to sign by hikers.

Another quarter mile or so on a lightly traveled trail will lead hikers to the precipice of the mesa’s western edge overlooking the valley below. It is here that the i-phone camera comes in handy for recording the picturesque scene above and below. Here, there is no traffic noise, just the sound of the breeze and the song of the meadowlark. It’s an excellent spot to eat a meal, rest a bit and reflect on the power of nature and the surrounding geology.

By noon the sun had finally broken through the clouds and would eventually warm the air to the low 80s. It was at this moment I wish I had listened to my wife and applied sunscreen.

All told, the round-trip hike took these aging boomers nearly five hours with picnic lunch at the top and multiple water breaks along the way included. Young whippersnappers can expect a minimum of 2.5 hours on the trail at a very brisk pace, but 3 hours is more realistic. And besides, what’s the hurry?

All told, the round-trip hike took these aging boomers nearly five hours with picnic lunch at the top and multiple water breaks along the way included. Young whippersnappers can expect a minimum of 2.5 hours on the trail at a very brisk pace, but 3 hours is more realistic. And besides, what’s the hurry?

It should be noted, that whatever direction you are traveling from to visit Black Mesa, be advised that there are no services nearby – no gas stations, no restaurants, and spotty cellular reception at best. Come prepared with a full tank of gas, plenty of drinking water, snacks, sunscreen, and appropriate clothing for sudden changes in the weather.

This same lack of nearby civilization is what makes the region a coveted outdoor experience. For skywatchers, nearby Black Mesa State Park (about 15 miles southeast of the preserve) boasts some of the darkest nighttime skies on publicly accessible land in the nation. These dark skies, far from urban light pollution, draw countless astronomy enthusiasts to the area.

Black Mesa State Park is adjacent to Lake Carl Etling and offers online reservable RV campsites with water and electric hookups, tent campsites, picnic facilities, and more. For more information, logon at (

The Rush and Chapman Families in Early Day Oklahoma

By Christopher R. Rush

STONEWALL, OKLA. — On Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, our immediate family — Chris and Sheryl Rush, along with son Evan and his wife Julia, and daughter Elizabeth — took the opportunity to drive to the historic Frisco Cemetery near Stonewall in south-central Oklahoma.

This cemetery holds the graves of a handful of Rush family ancestors, specifically the two grandfathers of Cecil Elsworth Rush Sr., my paternal grandfather. It is here in Stonewall, a tiny town south of Ada, that the Rush and Chapman family histories intersect. 

Road into the Frisco Cemetery

Frisco Cemetery

The first observation I must make is that this old cemetery is in terrible condition. I believe it is through benign neglect as there are no recent burials and many of the descendants of those buried have long moved away from the area, like our family. 

The graves are in deteriorating condition and currently, the grass has clearly not been mowed at all this year, perhaps longer. In some places, the grass and weeds are three-feet tall and completely obscure some of the smaller or ground-level headstones and markers.

After following directions from Oklahoma City on a collection of state highways and county roads we came upon the small unpaved drive leading to the Frisco Cemetery, tucked between private ranches and marked with just a small white metal sign.

Honestly, my heart sank when we drove up as I imagined it might be impossible to uncover the graves we were looking for due to the heavy brush. It was 98 degrees that day with nearly 50 percent humidity, so spending the afternoon bush-whacking with most of the family dressed in shorts and sandals was not feasible.

Fortunately, we were quickly able to locate the Chapman family plot not far from the gravel drive that circles the entire cemetery. 

Below is a brief description of our greater Rush family ancestors buried here.

Malvina A. Mapp-Woodard-Chapman

The grave of Cecil Sr.’s maternal grandmother, Malvina A. Mapp-Woodard-Chapman, is fairly tall and quite well-preserved. The top bears in large letters, “MOTHER” and the inscription reads, “At Rest – M.A. – Wife of W.A. Chapman – Born May 20, 1842 – Departed This Life Dec. 19, 1899 – Age 57 Years and 7 Mos.”

It’s a beautiful headstone and likely replaced whatever marker previously existed immediately following her death. My guess is the current marker was replaced within the past 30 years or so.

Born Malvina A. Mapp in Tallapoosa, Alabama, she initially married a man named Gray L. Woodard (some spellings have it Woodward) in 1858 at the tender age of 16. Woodard entered the Confederate Army at the outset of the Civil War and died of some unknown malady in Richmond, Virginia in 1862, leaving her a widow at age 20. There are no reported children from this union that I have been able to discover.

Clearly, at this time in history, being a young widow was a very tenuous existence. She married William Allen Chapman, himself a Confederate Civil War veteran in Nov., 1865 after the close of the war. They had at least two children together – William Henry Chapman and Sally Chapman-Rush-Driver, Cecil Sr.’s mother and who my own father called, “granny.”

William Allen Chapman

William A. Chapman was born in 1845 in Coosa County, Ala. and entered the military at age 19 near the close of the Civil War. It is not clear if he volunteered or was conscripted, but nevertheless, he was a Private in Company I, 63rd Alabama Infantry in the Confederate States Army and served for an undetermined  time as a prisoner of war (POW) at the close of hostilities.

William A. Chapman

From the research I have seen from Alabama Civil War military records, his company was populated entirely by teenagers, and mercifully, they were not thrust into action amid what was clearly a lost cause by that time.

He and his comrades were held back as a rear guard until the end of the war. It is unclear whether his company was captured, or surrendered, or simply held captive while being processed back to civilian life at the end of the war. But it drew the distinction of being a POW on his U.S. military-issue grave marker.

Like many other men at this time without inherited family wealth or property, he was listed as a farmer or farm laborer on subsequent Census reports.

William and Malvina made their home in Alabama (circa 1870) then Cooke County, Texas (circa 1880) where daughter Sally was born in 1883. Malvina passed away in 1899 while they made  their home near Stonewall in what would become Pontotoc County, Okla., leaving him a widower.

The 1900 Census lists his residence as Township 2, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory. (age 55)

The last Census in which he was included was 1910, aged 65, and listed his address in Stonewall. He died the next year at the age of 66 and is buried next to Malvina in the Frisco Cemetery.

Daughter Sally (Chapman-Rush-Driver), is buried in the Rush family plot in the Henryetta, Okla. cemetery.

At about the same time the Chapman family migrated from the South (Alabama then Texas) to the new lands opening up in Oklahoma, a midwesterner and Union Army Civil War veteran named Jesse Rush migrated with his family from Indiana/Illinois, then to Kansas, and finally to the same small town of Stonewall, Okla.

Jesse Rush

Jesse Rush was born Jan. 13, 1836 in Montgomery County, Indiana. Subsequent Census records show that a Jesse Rush lived in Elkhart, Indiana in 1850 (age 14) with his parents, and the same in 1860 (age 24) where he worked as a farmer.

He volunteered for military service at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, mustering in Chicago, Ill. It was about this time also that we was married to Louisa Anna Adams (about 1862) in Indiana at age 26.

He was assigned to Company I of the 113th Illinois Infantry at Memphis, Tenn.  and from there, most likely participated in the battle of Arkansas Post in the early stages of the war. According to Illinois military records, he most likely was not present for the more famous battle, the Siege of Vicksburg (Miss.) in which Gen. U.S. Grant won a decisive victory in the west. Approximately half the companies of the 113th (including Company I) had been dispatched to escort Confederate prisoners back to Illinois and did not rejoin their comrades until later in the war.

After another skirmish near Memphis late in the war, Jesse was honorably discharged as a private from military service on June 20, 1865 (age 29) at the cessation of hostilities.

The post-war 1870 Census listed his address as Douglas, Ill. (age 34).  He and Louisa had seven children, including Dorra Belle Rush (1875-1953) who would later marry into the Chapman family, and a son — our direct Rush family ancestor (Winnie or W.E. Rush) Cecil Sr.’s father. (More about W.E. a bit further on.)

At some point after that, the family moved to Kanas (circa 1875) and resided there for some time. We have both Census records, as well a veteran organization records (Grand Army of the Republic) listing Jesse’s membership. His vocation was listed as farmer or farm laborer.

It should be noted that there also exists records for a “Jesse C. Rush,” from Elkhart, Indiana, but as near as I can research, these are NOT the same men, even though some recent family trees have confused/intertwined the two. In all the of the records I have come across, our ancestor Jesse Rush never uses a middle initial – not in the Census, not in military records, not in his membership rolls of the GAR, not the Family Bible ancestry page, not his grave stone, nor any other known source. 

After showing multiple residences in Kansas through the 1870s and 1880s, the first official record of the Jesse Rush family in Oklahoma occurs in the Census of 1900 — at Township 2, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory. He would have been 64 years old.

It is unclear through my research so far when Louisa (sometime shown as Louisiana, or Lucy, and several other derivations on various documents) died, but she is not listed among the family members in Oklahoma. I will continue to research her fate (when she died, where she is buried, etc.)  

We do know, however, that Jesse and some of his children (Dora B. and W.E.) were also present in Oklahoma at the turn of the 20th century and remained for at least a decade in which they would have had ample time to become acquainted with the Chapman family.

The last Census taken prior to his death in 1910 shows Jesse’s residence in Stonewall and has having remarried. He died shortly thereafter on Oct. 5, 1910 at the age of 74.

Two Families Intersect

I find it fascinating that two families  – one from the South and one from the upper Midwest – intersect in the tiny town of Stonewall, Okla. prior to statehood and are responsible for several generations of descendants. Even though Jesse Rush and William A. Chapman came from different parts of the country, and served on opposing sides of the Civil War, their children — W.E. Rush and Sally Chapman — were married and started their own family from which many of us share our common ancestry.

I’d like to think that these two aging farmers and Civil War vets of modest means shared a smoke and conversation on one or the other’s front porch more than once.

It appears both of these families were of very modest means and made their living working with their hands and the sweat of their brow.

This brings me back to what would have been my 2x great Aunt, Dora Belle Rush-Chapman. She was widowed at a fairly young age (still doing research) and according to records, is responsible for ordering the government-issued grave marker for her Civil War veteran father, Jesse Rush. His lone marker stands approximately 20 yards in back of the Chapman plot.

Ironically, Dora B. Chapman’s own grave is a poured concrete slab with crudely etched markings bearing her name and date of death — a clear sign of very humble economic status. I am continuing research into this matter and how her unusual grave marker came to be.

Being a widow prior to the advent of Social Security and most of the other modern financial safety nets we take for granted today, meant that unless she remarried, she would have been entirely dependent on her own work and/or other family members to get by. In fact, she is listed among the household members of her eldest brother, Albert Rush, on at least one Census.

For more information about Stonewall, read

The Mysterious Death of W. E. “Winnie” Rush

There is precious little known about Cecil E. Rush Sr’s. father, W. E. Rush. From a research standpoint, the man is an enigma. Scant records exist that would provide clues as to his adult life and his mysterious death. There is a birth record for Oct. 4, 1880 in Kansas and a marriage license for his marriage to Sally Chapman (Oct. 4, 1900) in Carter, Okla.

Beyond that, I have found no records of his death or burial, or anything that would indicate the date or cause of his death, or even where he is buried.

There are a couple of potential explanations for this.

The first account that I have heard via relatives involves him working for the railroad company and falling sick and dying, then being hastily buried somewhere in the vicinity of Mounds, Okla. If he were buried near the tracks and his grave was only temporarily marked with a stake or wooden cross, or some other such crude marker, then it stands to reason that it would deteriorate and the precise location would be lost to time and weather. What is troubling is that there seems to be nothing of an official county record, newspaper obituary, or any other common source that would even provide a date of death.

As unsatisfying as that very plausible explanation may be, there is another possibility that is more troubling.

Late in life, during a conversation about the Rush family heritage, my mother (the late Geneva Rush) told me that my father (the late Robert F. Rush) had confided to her shortly after their marriage that the family held onto a dark secret. 

Strikebusters (hired thugs) used clubs, hammers and other instruments to beat workers and break up a protest/demonstration. In the process, this grandfather was struck in the head. The resulting injury and the associated excrutiating pain being more than he could bear, he eventually took his own life.

It was this: That my father’s grandfather (I am assuming this story refers to W.E. Rush, but it could alternately refer to Barney T. Fox, father of my paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Fox Rush) took his own life. The story goes that this grandfather was employed by the railroad but participated in a strike or labor dispute of some kind that turned violent. Strikebusters (hired thugs) used clubs, hammers and other instruments to beat workers and break up a protest/demonstration. In the process, this grandfather was struck in the head. The resulting injury and the associated excrutiating pain being more than he could bear, he eventually took his own life.

At this time a century ago, suicide held even more stigma than it does today with major social and religious implications. It would have been considered a dark family secret and only spoken of in hushed tones, if ever at all.

I only heard this story related by my mother within the last decade or so of her life, but it certainly may shed some light on why there is scant records of W.E. Rush’s demise, or that of Barney Fox. I intend to keep digging to determine which of these men was the subject of this story. Records for the lives of both men are scant.

If any family member has additional information, or a different explanation, I would certainly welcome it as I am currently up against the proverbial “stonewall” in discovering any new details about these ancestors.


NOTE: I am actively researching this family and would welcome the opportunity to share any records I have with any other family members.  This is not intended as a definitive history, but rather a work in progress. I can best be contacted via e-mail at