Thursday, February 22, 2007

Family Stories

Inspired by LaDawn at

I love my great Grandpa Joel Gatewood. I’ve never met him; he died 36 years before I was born, but he lives on in the stories that come to me like gifts from those who did know him.

The most famous family legend about him is that he fought for the North during the Great War of the Rebellion (American Civil War). Great Grandpa Joel was born in Illinois. After the War, he married Great Grandma Almina (Zorn) and found his way to Decatur, Nebraska some time around 1870, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. He farmed for awhile; had a stallion named Pruitt that I assume he bred for stud fees and he piloted the Decatur Ferry across the Missouri River for many years.

One day, he went into town and got his hair cut and his long, white beard shaved off. He went home, knocked on the front door and asked if the lady of the house had any work she could hire him to do. She replied that no, she didn’t. He thanked her politely and turned to leave. As he strode away, no doubt chuckling to himself, Great Grandma recognized his gait, realized who he was and yelled to him. “I don’t like you that way! Let it grow back!” I’ve never seen a photo of him without his beard.

Joel and Almina had 11 children, among them my Grandpa; TW Gatewood. Grandpa married Agnes Connealy in 1904 and they settled down to farm near Decatur, raising registered Duroc breeding stock hogs. They had five children, one died in infancy. My Dad, John Eddie was born to them in 1912. My Aunt Grace tells me that they held a hog auction twice a year and Grandma would fix a big noon meal for the family and the auctioneers. After dinner, they brought out their guitars, fiddles and whatever other portable instrument they had and sang for a few hours. Aunt Grace hated to go to school on those days because she knew she’d miss out on the singing.

The family lost everything in a house fire, I think in the 1930s? They lived the remainder of that winter in the chicken house. In the 40s, Grandpa went to work as a Thoroughbred race horse trainer. One of the women he worked for gave him a horse named Merry Bid and said, “If he ever wins anything, you can give me $100.00.” Well, Merry Bid did indeed win, more than once and that was the start of his stables. Grandpa & Grandma traveled the racing circuit with their horses and when they got to the next event, Grandma cleaned out the back of the stock truck and that’s where they lived until it was time to move again. They traveled to Florida, Chicago, Phoenix, Denver, South Sioux City, NE, St. Joseph, Missouri, Columbus, NE and Grandpa is listed among the founders of the Aksarben race track (now gone) in Omaha. My older brothers and cousins traveled with them as grooms, but I was born too late to get in on that privilege. I would have LOVED it. Dad trained for him for awhile and some of my favorite childhood memories are of visits to the race track to watch Grandpa’s horses run. Grandma tried to teach me how to pick a winner by reading a racing form, and I remember asking her a question that just about made her bust a gut laughing. I don’t remember what I asked her, but that was the end of my racing form lessons.

In the late 1960s, Grandpa was nearly killed by a horse in an accident – he got a rope wrapped around his hand was dragged, breaking his pelvis. He was given Last Rites by a Priest at the hospital in St. Joe, but fortunately for all of us, he recovered. He was a very faithful Catholic after that incident and attended Mass and Confession whenever he could. He remained faithful to his love for horses and horseracing, but he and Grandma eventually gave up the vagabond lifestyle and settled into an apartment in Lyons, NE. One day, in 1971, he got up around 4 AM to get ready to go to the Columbus races. Grandma heard him fall in bathroom, where he died suddenly of a heart attack. Mom went over there as soon as Grandma called and saw Grandpa where he’d fallen. She said he was lying on his side with his hand under his head, with a very peaceful look on his face.

I’ll stop here with my family stories for now. I’ll move on to the following generations next time.


LaDawn said...

These are fabulous stories, so rich in detail. You will be glad to have captured these for future generations. And I'll be you had fun telling the stories. Didn't it bring a smile to your face?

Mary Connealy said...

I love this, Janell. I write a letter to Marybelle every week. I'm going to send this to her.
Uh......that might be copyright infringement.
Sois it okay? I won't profit from it...MUCH!