William Brown Mekemson Has His Head Chopped Off

I was born to wander; I’m convinced of this. Whatever lies over the next horizon calls to me and pulls me onward. But I am also an escapist, driven as much as drawn. Stability in time resembles a jail I become desperate to escape.

There are consequences to being a wanderer; some are good and some bad. Both have led me to think about what turned me into the person I am. Was nature or nurture the driving force?

Originally I came down on the side of nurture but a close look at my ancestors over the past three years has changed my perspective.

A long line of pioneers and adventurers populate the Mekemson and Marshall family trees. Restless urges sent members of both clans on their way to the New World in the 17th and 18th centuries and kept them moving west in the 19th and 20th.

Puritan Marshalls packed their bags and sailed off for the New World in the 1630s. The Scotch-Irish Mekemsons arrived in Pennsylvania from Ireland the 1750s. They spent the Revolutionary War years in upper Maryland and had moved on to be Kentucky by the 1790s.

The cry of gold sent both Marshalls and Mekemsons scurrying to California in the 1840s and 50s. Great, Great Grandfather George Marshall even left a pregnant wife behind in his hurry to get rich.

It’s a good thing from my perspective; otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. Margaret Marshall was pregnant with my Great Grandfather. On the way home, her husband George was killed, stripped of his gold and thrown into the Pacific.

It was tough and often deadly on the frontier.

Indians, in particular, took their toll on my wandering kin. Samuel Marshall was among the first to pay the price. He was killed in 1675 during the Great Swamp Fight of King Phillip’s War.

His demise was relatively tame in comparison to that of William Brown Mekemson. He ended up on the wrong end of a tomahawk (or several) during the Black Hawk Indian War of 1832. A 1903 book by Frank Stevens describes the event.

The Indians had attacked the night before, stealing a horse. Captain Snyder decided to pursue the Indians the next morning and caught up with them “firmly entrenched in a deep gulch, where, in a sharp hand to hand encounter, all four were killed with the loss of only one man, Private William B. Mekemson, who received two balls (bullets) in the abdomen, inflicting a mortal wound.”

Except it wasn’t immediately mortal. Mekemson was placed on a litter and transported back toward camp. Along the way he pleaded for a drink. A squad was assigned to climb down to the creek and fetch water. At that point the Indians struck again. Some 50 or so “hideously yelling, rushed poor Mekemson and chopped off his head with tomahawks…” and then rolled it down the hill. That was mortal.

Later, ancestors on the Marshall side would barely escape a similar fate in the White River Indian Massacre near early Seattle. None of these encounters were enough to discourage the family from its wandering ways, though.

Before Mother went trolling and landed Pop, he had lived in Nebraska, Washington, Iowa, Oklahoma, Colorado, Oregon and California. I’ve no doubt that lacking an anchor of three kids and a wife he would have kept on going and going, just like the Energizer Bunny. And so it has been.

Even as a little kid I felt the call. At first I explored the jungle-like graveyard next to our house but by seven I had thoroughly investigated everything it had to offer

The problem was there were definite limits on how far I could wander. Fortunately I had lax parents and lived in the pre-gang, pre-drug, pre-kidnapping, pre-almost-anything 50s of rural America. Or, at least that was our assumption.

The house was never locked unless we were going away for a week and I can’t remember my parents ever locking the car doors.

Given this sense of security, Mother could get us out of her hair and feel relatively certain that nothing terrible would happen. We were free to explore the boundaries of our world. At first this meant the Pond and the Woods… (Next blog)

(This blog is an elaboration of an earlier blog I wrote on Searching for Long Dead Mekemsons, Makemsons and Marshalls.)

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