Monthly Archives: July 2011

Whatever Happened to Mayberry?

I live in a cookie-cutter house in a cookie-cutter suburb of Austin, Texas. As I was mindlessly getting ready for work this morning, with Good Morning America droning in the background, I started wondering about what it would be like to live in small-town America.

When I left for work this morning, I noticed our young neighbor who lives his life in a house just yards away. I know nothing about him – not even his name. He refused to meet my gaze, never smiled or even looked my way at all. I observed his untended and dying landscape and sadly realized that I had not seen his wife in months. City life – with all its supposed sophistication, excitement and busyness – somehow seems to numb a person’s ability to relate and care about others. However, well-meaning – there are never enough hours in a day. What happened to the friendliness, and the feeling of knowing one’s neighbors and in turn being known by them? These traits seem to be part of a world which is rapidly fading away.

This feeling was reiterated as I made my way to the freeway (feeling like part of an ant colony on a mission – or better yet a frantic rat caught in a trap). Every car held one lonely occupant – lost in their own desperate thoughts – gearing up to face another day of corporate America. Now please understand, I know that “every day life” whether city or small town – both now and then – was and is difficult. However, sometimes as I am facing another day – I am transported back in time – to a place of quiet, tree-lined streets, with neat and well-tended frame houses, whose doors are never locked, and a pie is always cooling in the kitchen – where life appeared to be just a little bit simpler and where “everybody knew your name.”

My husband grew up in the small west Texas town of Brownwood. Although I, as a city girl, have had a hard time relating at times, I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing the many stories of living life in small town America. Stories which include Eddie and Jimmy King – two brothers who owned the small neighborhood grocery store – King’s Grocery. My husband was employed there as a grocery stocker and a bag boy. Not only was he expected to bag the groceries with a smile – he was expected to walk them home AND unpack them too! Milk, sugar, eggs and lives were shared freely with each other – much time was made for family and friends – hardships and burdens were borne together. The men worked hard and long making a living and the women worked long and hard tending to their families. And of course, everyone knew when the man across the street had one too many drinks the night before at the local bar. I’m told that he regularly bashed his car through the garage door – leaving the evidence for all to see!

It seems that everything was blabbed in the newspapers back then!

Below is a short list of what I’ve learned from my small town American family and friends.  Let me know if any other things come to your mind!   

  • Parents still discipline their children in small town America. Instead of caving into peer pressure (and/or exhaustion) and plopping their kids in front of the TV or newest game system – small town kids are expected to pitch in on the farm, ranch or perform other chores around the house. Small town families still spend a good deal of time and attention to teaching their kids proper values, respect and manners – “yes sir,” “no ma’am” and “thank you – please.” In small town America most teenagers hold a job and work for the things they have. What could us city folk learn from that example?

  • In small town America – folks still take care of their elderly – in fact, not only do they take care of them – they respect and value their wisdom and life experiences too!


  • I’ve observed that in small town America you are included in everything. Maybe this is because there are fewer people – and so everyone is needed to pitch in?! It seems that you are invited to every imaginable charitable cause, church function and family reunion. No one is ever left out of anything!

  • God and country are still first in small town America – enough said.

The kindness and hospitality of small town America (and especially small town TEXAS) is real – it is genuine. Small town folks DO care about their neighbors. You can be assured that there is always someone watching your back. Neighbors will gladly watch over your house, your yard, your truck, your livestock and will even smack your kids around if they need it.  They know when you are out-of-town and they know when you return. As my friend Susan told me – she once received a call from her mother’s neighbor who had grown concerned because Susan’s mother hadn’t checked the mail at her regular time that day. City folks may sneer at that and call it nosey – some just call it being neighborly.

So I’ll leave you with this southern greeting from my friend Susan – a native of Alabama – “How’s yo momma and them?”


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Ride ’em Cowboy

Recently my husband and I read Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry for the very first time.  Westerns aren’t usually our thing – so we were skeptical.  However, as it turned out – we both LOVED the book.  After reading Lonesome Dove (and all the companion books) we hightailed it over to the video store and found the CD which contained the entire mini-series (remember that?!) and spent one lazy afternoon watching the series.  I was reminded that often when we read books and watch movies of that time period – the people are so mischaracterized that we lose sight of the fact that these were real people, real places and real experiences – they were our family. 

In re-reading through some of our Atwood family materials, I came across a letter that was written by Thomas Atwood to his son Russell Columbus Atwood on 12 May, 1882.  Thomas was apparently on a cattle drive somewhere near Roswell, New Mexico.  In 1882 Roswell was part of Lincoln County, New Mexico.  (It is now part of Chavez County.)  Lincoln County is what western legends are made of – Billy the Kid roamed the hills and the Lincoln County War took place there (four years prior to the writing of Thomas’ letter).  My husband and I traveled to Lincoln County while in New Mexico a few years back.  We were without a doubt transported back to a time and place that can only now be found in books and movies. 

I will below share some excerpts (as they were written) of the letter with you, and I think you will agree, they are a fascinating glimpse into the “cowboy” days of old:

Dear son, I take the present opertunity of writing you a few lines to let you know that we are well and hope that these few lines may reach you in dew time and find you all well. I have no knews of much interest to write to you.

We traveled up to Colorado City* aming to cross the plaines by the ritaway long the rail-road but got stuck bad account of the sand on that rout that we turned our cos to yello horse canyon,** then to Fort Sumner on the pecos and now we are 80 miles down the river but off from the river west of it some 10 miles, in the best country that I have saw, there is 4 streams here that runs in to the pecos. the land is tolerable good and lyse wise for erigating. timber is scare but enough for to burn. We are in sight of the White Mountains*** but we are 80 miels from Fort Stanton, the Capatain Mountains**** is in sight where the white oak minds is in here near, for account of the mines there, there is a great many sheep going from here to Texas. We met about 2000, hit tis supposed that there will bee one hundred thousen drove from hear this season. they are worth from $1.75 to $2. per head.

* Colorado City is the county seat of Mitchell County, Texas. Located in west Texas – it’s 2000 population was only 9,698. I can only imagine how desolate it was in 1882! The county was named for Asa and Eli Mitchell, two early settlers and soldiers of the Texas Revolution.

** If Thomas means “Yellow House Canyon,” then this is near Lubbock, Texas – which is on the great plains of Texas as he mentions in his letter. The Battle of Yellow House Canyon was a battle between a tribe of Comanches and Apaches and a group of bison hunters that occurred in March of 1877, near present-day Lubbock. It was the final battle of the Buffalo Hunters War, and was the last major fight between whites and native Americans on the High Plains of Texas.

*** These are the Sierra Blanca mountains – located in Lincoln and Otero Counties of south central New Mexico.

****The small town of Capitan, on the southwestern side of the mountain range, is the location of Smoky Bear Historical Park, which memorializes the famous bear that was rescued from the Capitan Gap Fire in the Capitan Mountains.

The letter continues:

hear stock is hiar here then tha are there in Texas, horses is worth from $75 to $100-25, cattle is worth about $15 per head. beef is worth from 7 to 8 cens per pound, bacon 18 cents per pound. Corn is worth from 3 to 5 cents per pound. Dink* saw dick mais in this little town yesterday, wee looked for him up here at camp tonight. he is working for Chisam** about 5 miles below here. wee have traveled in company with 3 men from Colorado City crost the ____ and are with them yet but tahr are going down into thee Warlon Mountain Country looking for stock to ranch and wee shall seprate hear, the principle man in the crowd waws a man by the name of Holaway. Wee saw plenty of buffalows, wee had plenty to eat. Holaway kil 2 of them, bob, that was with us shot 4 times at them but killed nothin.

*”Dink” is Thomas Atwood’s son Joseph Ashford Atwood.

**This is probably Jesse Chisholm – a man who built several trading posts in what is now western Oklahoma and for whom the famous Chisholm Cattle Trail was named.

And so – Thomas closes his letter – “son, I’ll have to close for the want of spase. remain your father as ever. Thomas Atwood to R. C. Atwood

And this is the last that we ever hear of Thomas Atwood. We know from his tombstone that he died that same year at the age of 58 – some family say that he died in May – the very month that the letter was written. Did he have an accident and die on the trail? Did he return to Round Rock and fall ill? These questions may never be answered.

According to a written history left by one of his grandsons, Thomas died on the Carrington Ranch – minutes from our home (present day Bohls Place in Pflugerville, Texas). Thomas is laid to rest in the Round Rock Cemetery. Somehow, it feels as if my husband and his ggg-grandfather Atwood are inexplicably connected. This historical cemetery and the legendary Chisholm Trail are within minutes of my husband’s business and our home. In fact, his business is situated on a street named Chisholm Trial – just up the road from the “round rock” where the cowboys drove their cattle through Brushy Creek. You can still see the wagon ruts in the creek bed and sometimes when you close your eyes and let your mind wander you can still see the dust and the dirt and you can hear the cattle calling, the jingle of the spurs and the songs of the cowboys.



Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Atwood, Times and Places


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Making Progress

As some of you may have noticed – I’ve been a little quiet on the blogging front lately. It has been about a month since I launched our family history website at – which is powered by The Next Generation of Sitebuilding developed by Darrin Lythgo. If I may say so – the man is a genius! While the learning curve has been extremely steep for me – I am doing things with the website that I never thought possible. TNG has a great support network. All I have to do is get online with a question and within minutes I have ten emails from other users with advice and help on how to accomplish it. I could never recommend it enough.

Now that I have imported all of my data with a gedcom from to TNG, I have been busy reattaching all 6,000+ photos and documents and doing general clean-up on the site. I may be very old and ancient by the time all of this is done! So far – I’ve only completed two generations of the Atwood family. You can click here to see what a fully completed page looks like.

One of my favorite TNG features (among many) is the ability to sort data. For instance, many of our Atwood family was born, married, lived and died in Callahan County, Texas. TNG allows you to sort by location – in other words – go to the “Places” tab – search the location you are interested in – and up pops a map along with all the people that were born there, married there, lived there, died there, are buried there, etc., etc. Click here to see an example of a “Places” page. This is helpful when tracking the migration of a family.

Alternatively, you could go to the “Cemetery” tab – search a certain location and up pops all of your family buried in that county sorted by cemetery. Click here to see an example of a “Cemetery” page.

There is still an inordinate amount of work to be done. To date the website contains my genealogy database and is fully searchable for your ease of use. The database presently contains information on 24,259 individuals, 6,832 separate families and 3,558 unique surnames. The data has been supplemented with over 7,000 notes and 754 pieces of media, including photos, documents, histories, military records, obituaries and much more. I attach new items on a daily basis – so go check it out often!  You can click on the “What’s New” Tab to see what’s been added.

Here’s how you can participate: If we have a family connection, I would welcome the opportunity to add your family to my ancestry database and document them with birth, marriage and death records along with their photographs or any other type of data that will help us fill in the gaps and break through brick walls.

I look forward to hearing from you!


Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Odds and Ends


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Discovering a Long-Lost Atwood Family

My husband’s mother, Bonnie Lois Atwood Setliff Curbow, died from a brain tumor at the young age of only 25 years old.  Her sudden, unexpected and tragic death changed the lives of her family forever.  Her four children were very small at the time of her death – the oldest not yet six years old.  The family pulled together each doing their part to raise the children the best that they could.  Life – as it has a tendency to do – however sad – went on.  For many years Bonnie was not discussed in the household – the memories – being too painful. 

The identity of Bonnie’s mother, Vira Lorene Grantham, father and brothers were always known to the Curbow family; however, the families had drifted apart over the many ensuing years.  Consequently, little was known about the parents and family of Bonnie.  In fact, it was some years later that I first learned that Bonnie and her brothers had been adopted by her mother’s second husband and that her biological father’s name was actually Atwood. 

Based on a few census records that were glanced at over the years – it was thought that Bonnie’s father’s name might be Winson Atwood.  And that’s all we knew!  Once contact was made with Winson’s sister, Aunt W., Mary was informed that Winson contracted Parkinson’s disease in his early years and was left paralyzed on half of his body.  He lived with his parents until going to a nursing home.  You can imagine her shock when she was told that “someone was looking for a long, lost grandfather,” and thought it might be Winson! 

Fast forward to about 2007.  My mother-in-law, Mary, is the one who started us out on this crazy genealogy journey.  Because of her tenacious “stick to it” attitude we now know the identity of Bonnie’s father AND we have gained a precious new set of west Texas relatives – cousins, and first cousins, and second cousins – and more!  I will let Mary tell you, in her own words, how she unraveled the mystery of who Bonnie’s father was:

“I am indebted to B.A., the young man I happened across on the internet late one night, who helped me get this all started; his Aunt W.A.K., and her sister-in-law, T.A., who immediately responded with information, stories, phone calls, photos, and old letters; and Beverly A.B., your mother’s cousin, who has fond memories of your mother and has kept her in her heart all these years.  Without her and her daughter D., we would not have all the valuable information we now have; and to Winson Bailey Atwood.  He was our one and only piece of the puzzle in the beginning.  Although he is long gone, I am told he would have loved this story!!  Many thanks to these wonderful people who have shared so much and in doing so, have given you a heart warming history of a part of your family you never got to know.”  Written by Mary Curbow, 2007.

When I re-read the little blurb written by Mary – I got a lump in my throat.  This was, and continues to be, truly a labor of love.  This research not only brought the Atwood family to light – it spurred on my own interest in genealogy and encouraged me to start researching my family roots.  So THANK YOU Mary for all your hard work and dedication. 

In conclusion, Bonnie’s father – was Thomas Orvil Atwood.  He was one of the boys of William Riley Atwood and Hattie Frances Havins – born in Cross Plains, Callahan County, Texas on 29 Sept. 1910.  He married Vira Lorene Grantham 11 Sept 1935.  Thomas and Vira raised their family in Callahan County, until the early 1940s when the moved to south Texas.  He was an oil field worker all his life.  The couple divorced in 1952.  Once month after the finalization of the divorce, Thomas suffered a stroke and died – tragically young – at only 42 years old.  Thomas is laid to rest in the Oplin Cemetery in Callahan County,Texas. 

Please feel free to click on any link above.  You will be redirected to our genalogy database where you can read more detail on each individual mentioned here. 


Posted by on July 13, 2011 in Atwood


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