Grandma’s Famous Cousin


My grandmother had cousins in the area of Branson, Missouri. One of these cousins became famous because of his role in the book, Shepherd of the Hills by Harold Bell Wright. Published in 1907, it’s a story of the lives of Ozark pioneers at the end of the 1800s. I remember pulling the book from my mother’s bookshelf to read in my teen years.
Shepherd of the Hills was made into four movies and even a television movie. For 50 years, it featured in an outdoor pageant at Branson.  How does Ruth Vining McGhee’s cousin fit into this story?

One character in the book is called Fiddlin’ Jake. Family lore says that it is based on the life of Ruth’s first cousin, Charles Augustus Vining.  His father was Erastus Charles Vining, who was the younger brother of Ruth’s father, Henry Francis Vining.

The page below, found by my 3rd cousin, Nancy Henning gives quite a detailed account of his life. It verifies his role in the book by Wright.
Picture-page 25. The History-

Another tidbit from Vining historian Karolyn Roberts gives a similar story, “He started farming, and later the railroad in 1903, and then back to farming along with different sidelines from time to time. He got his nickname of Fiddlin Jake quite early and his father had taught him to play on an old violin handed down through the generations.”

This makes me wonder about which of the ancestors had also played the violin. Was it his father Erastus Charles Vining who died in 1906? Maybe it was his grandfather James M. Vining who died in 1897. No one in the family ever mentioned those as musicians.



I was able to find some clippings that showed Fiddlin Jake playing for some folk festivals. These are from the Joplin, Missouri paper, the Joplin Globe (1949 and 1950).

Fiddlin Jake at Ozark Folk Festival -

“The above pictures show contestants “warming up” for the second annual Ozark Folk Festival to be held at Eureka Springs, Ark., October 17 through 22. At the lower right, Gussey Viney, the reputedly “Fiddlin” Jake” of Harold Bell Wright’s “Shepherd of the Hills,” and George Baize from Stone County, Missouri, are shown rehearsing for the old fiddlers’ test.”

Fiddling Jake at Folk Festival -

“Fiddling Jake” Viney and “Uncle George” Baize of the Missouri Shepherd of the Hills country play old fiddle tunes at the festival.”

Now, 70 years later, the folk festival is going strong, but the old fiddler, Jake Vining is no longer there. He died in 1951 at age 70. He’s buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Notch, Stone County, Missouri. I wonder who has that old fiddle now.

The Rumors Were Wrong


Word of mouth spread quickly in the community, even in 1905. Aaron Vining, his wife Carrie, and their 8-month-old daughter Jennie had drowned in the flooded Chetopa Creek. The family had gone to nearby Vilas to visit Aaron’s parents,  Jennie and James Vining Jr.

They were expected back on Sunday but the alarm went up when they did not arrive. The heavy rain on Sunday had made the creek very high and risky for a buggy to cross. His brother went to Aaron’s house but no one answered the door. He feared the worst had happened.

Fortunately, the rumors were mistaken, the family was safely at home in their beds and had not heard the knocking on the door. Since the creek was flooded, they had returned home by way of Chanute.

The newspapers reported on the mix-up. The Wilson County Sun of Neodesha, Kansas carried the story on Fri, Jul 07, 1905 on Page 1.

Aaron Vining family not drowned. -

The Neodesha Register featured their version of the story on that same day on page 4.

Aaron Vining family missing/found -

The family had rented the A.N. Foster farm just 6 months earlier in January 1905. Formerly the farm was called the Old Ditto Farm. They moved to the farm from Newark shortly after baby Jennie was born.

My third cousin, Nancy Henning, had this photo of the couple, her great-aunt and great-uncle. To me, Aaron is a first cousin, 2x removed.

Aaron Lee Vining, b. 1877, & wife Carrie, courtesy Ms. Nancy Henning

Aaron and Carrie Vining (I suspect this is their wedding photo, so that would make it from December 1903.)

Baby Jennie, named after her grandmother, lived to the age of 92. Here’s a photo of her as she was growing up.

Jennie Vining

Photo of Jennie Vining (courtesy of Nancy Henning)

How fortunate we are that this family did not die tragically in the flooded Chetopa Creek and instead lived long and productive lives. Ten years after this mistaken story, Aaron and Carrie had another daughter, Mary Ruth. Here’s a photo showing the whole family (thanks again to cousin Nancy for the photo).

Aaron L. Vining and wife Carrie Carson with Mary Ruth and Jennie

Aaron Lee Vining, wife Carrie, daughters Jennie and Mary Ruth.

Lillian Belle Vining


My Grandmother’s Sister – Belle

ruth on left and sister belle vining
The photo shows my grandmother, Ruth Vining, in about 1918 with her older sister Belle (on the right). Belle’s full name was Lillian Belle Vining.
Belle was born on September 14, 1884, in Kansas City, Missouri. Her father, Henry, was 46 and her mother, Nancy Jane Babcock, was 33. Lillian Belle had seven brothers and eight sisters. Three of those were half-siblings from her mother’s first marriage to Burr Ashlock.
When she was 12 when her youngest sister, Ruth, was born. A month later, their father died of typhus, leaving the family on hard times.
The 1900 U.S. census shows when Belle Vining was 15 years old, the family lived in Independence, Kansas. Before that, they are in Thayer, Neodesha, and Chetopa, Kansas. I don’t know what reasons led them to move around.

Belle’s Marriages

In researching her life, I found she was married 3 times. The first time to Charles Williams, then to Orville Espie Brock, and lastly to Monte Scollins.
Charles and Belle Williams had three children; a daughter, Jesse, and sons Leonard and Francis.
belle marries windy williams

Charles “Windy” Williams and Belle Vining marry in Independence and will live in Neodesha. He is working at Gudge s confectionery store.

In my mother’s notes, she said the family thought Belle had divorced Charles Williams. After sleuthing about I found this November 1907 story.

WILSON COUNTY, Big Hill Murderers Captured.

The bandits who so brutally shot down Otis Taylor and O. J. Brown on the morning of July 16 while all were on a Frisco freight train near the Big Hill station have been caught and are now in jail at Independence. One is a negro named Charles Scott and the other a white man named Williams. The capture of these criminals is due to the vigilance of Sheriff Paxson who has been working continually on the case since the crimes were committed. Scott, the negro, has been in Independence for about six weeks. Three weeks ago this morning Paxon arrested him and he has been in jail ever since.

He has been severely “sweated” and finally divulged the name of his companion and Paxson got a line on him, Williams, nearly a month ago. He was finally run down and arrested in the Glass Mountains of Oklahoma by Paxson Saturday. Paxson rode 40 miles with him to a railroad station and came to Independence reaching there early this morning. Williams confessed the whole story to Paxson and related the details of the murder of tbe two young men who were returning from the Western Kansas harvest fields. According to Williams, he and Scott took the train at Neodesha and held up a number of harvesters on the train between. Neodesha and Oherryvale and after the train left the station here they attempted to take the money belonging to Taylor and Brown who put up a fight and Williams and Scott shot them down, alighted from the train and escaped.

They headed for Independence, passing Cherryvale below the Union Brick Plant. They look a Mo. Pacific train at Independence. Scott went to Little Rock and Williams to Oklahoma and they have been fugitives ever since until their capture as stated above.

Sheriff Paxson will receive $700 reward for the capture of these desperate men. The reward is made up as follows: $400 by the state, $200 by Labette county and $100 by the father ot Otis Taylor. Sheriff Holmes passed through Cherryvale Monday enroute to Independence to get these criminals Warrants charging each with first degree murder will be served on them and they will be given trial in the district court at Oswego. No small measure of credit is due Mr. Paxson for capturing these desperadoes. The crime was committed in Labette county but the officers of that county failed to capture the criminals, this work being done by Paxson and to him belongs the credit of capturing two desperate criminals.

The killing of Taylor and Brown in an attempt to rob them of their hard-earned. money was one of the most wanton murders ever committed in Southeastern Kansas and the penalties should, and no doubt will be, severe. – Cherryvale Republican.

We are informed that the Williams above mentioned as being one of the Big Hill murderers is “Windy” Williams, son of C. P. Williams, who some time ago ran the Frisco restaurant in Neodesha, but who, it is said, now lives at Hanna, Mo. .

A Nov. 20th article yielded a further tidbit of information. I’d wondered if the claim mentioned was the Vining frame/sod house in Woodward County, Oklahoma. A later article said he was apprehended in the Glass Mountain area.
“Windy” is married and has several children. He was living with his family on a claim in Oklahoma when arrested. The negro, Scott, is a well known Independence tough character who has had a police court record there since he was a mere lad. “Windy” got acquainted with the negro while a member of the Salvation Army at Independence. Both Williams and Scott are sure to go to the penitentiary for life.
The newspapers took an interest in the crime and kept providing more details. Here are some excerpts from a Nov. 28th article.
The confessions of both men tell of the cold-blooded crime from a criminal’s standpoint and in the language of a criminal. Not a single detail of the mur der near Cherry vale was left out They told of their start at Neodesha, when Scott proposed that they “ride the deck” of the freight. They tell of -meeting the two men on the train, of the conversation, of the hurriedly laid plot to hold them up and if need be shoot them. They tell of the quarrel and how when Williams was being hard pressed by Brown, he called for Scott , to shoot him.
To see him (Williams) in his cell and hear him talk, the average man would never dream of his having been a murderer and desperado. He has a dissipated look, but his size and attitude would not lead one to believe him a desperate man. Williams jests when the story he is telling is one of horror. He is a criminal and bears all the earmarks. Of the two confessions Williams’ seems to be the more cold-blooded.

The Evening Star Independence, Kansas 20 Nov 1907, Wed • Page 4

Williams was convicted and went to Lansing prison. After five years, his father petitioned for his release. Apparently, that was unsuccessful as he was still there in July of 1914 when he and 3 others escaped from the prison. The men made their escape by crawling through a seventy-yard tunnel into the enclosure of the women’s ward and then over the 40-foot wall with the aid of a rope and grab hook.” The article called him Charles Williams #2, so there were two men of the same name in Lansing at the same time.
I’m still searching for any information on a divorce by his wife. His date and place of death are also unknown.
By 1910, Belle is married to Orville Espie Brock and they have a son, Albert Ernest Brock, born in August. Her three children from the earlier marriage are there as well. Belle and Orville are together it seems until 1918 as she is listed as his contact on his draft registration form.
He is described as a farmer, with brown hair and eyes, tall and having a medium build. They lived in Woodward, Oklahoma.
I don’t have a photo of her second husband, Orville, but do have a picture of baby Albert.
albert brock son of belle vining
By 1930, Orville and Belle are divorced and she is married to her last husband, Frances Montgomery Scollins. They are living on a farm in Woodward, Oklahoma. The children are grown and out of the home.

Lillian Belle and Montgomery Scollins

Belle died July 25, 1960, in Wichita, Kansas at the age of 75. Monte had died 8 years earlier.


  • “Charles “Windy” Williams marries Belle Vining” – Neodesha Register, Neodesha, Kansas, Fri, Nov 07, 1902 · Page 1
  • “Big Hill Murders Captured” – Neodesha Register, Neodesha, Kansas, 22 Nov 1907, Fri • Page 1
  • “Confess Murder” – The Altamont Journal, Altamont, Kansas, 28 Nov 1907, Thu • Page 1
  • Reward Raised after Escape of 4 Men – The Leavenworth Post, Leavenworth, Kansas, 01 Aug 1914, Sat • Page 1

Independence Day 1861


My mother, Gail Lee Martin, wrote this story in 2006 for the Our Echo website. We are so lucky that she instilled in us an appreciation of our family’s heritage and that she worked so diligently to research and preserve it. I’ve added some vintage graphics and a newspaper clipping to her written account.

1861 – Our Family’s Patriotic Heritage

Have you ever wondered how the early settlers celebrated the 4th of July in Kansas for the first time after becoming a state? I traced my Mother’s family from Connecticut to Iowa, through Missouri to the Kansas territory in 1859. I always wondered how my great-grandparents, James and Almira Vining, celebrated that special occasion.

The Vining family settled on a small homestead near the Verdigris river three miles east of the tiny community of Madison Centre in April 1857. At that time the family consisted of James and his wife, Almira; their children: Henry, my grandfather, 21; Erastus, 19; Isreal, 15; Charles, 13; James Jr. 11; Franklin, 6 and their only daughter, three-year-old Jane. When Kansas became a state the four older boys had already enlisted to serve in the United States Calvary and were away fighting in the Civil War. With four sons in the service of their country, I’m sure the Vining family attended the patriotic ceremony that was held in their neighborhood that July.

In July 1861 Madison Centre was in Madison County twenty miles south of Emporia. The Emporia News, the only newspaper in that area at that time, reported the following:

Madison Centre, Madison County
Mr. Editor: Early in the day, a number of citizens of this township assembled for the purpose of raising a Union flag, which was accomplished to the satisfaction of all present. The Declaration was then read by John J. Greenhalgh, in a loud, clear distinct tone. He did justice and honor to the memories of the great and good men who made it.” Then the news report went on to tell about the bountiful dinner everyone enjoyed. “The meal was furnished by the ladies of the community including roast mutton, roast and boiled chickens, chicken pies, cakes, tarts and other ’knicknacks’ too numerous to mention.”

How proud I am that my ancestors were there to observe the raising of the first Union flag in Madison Centre, Kansas.

Our family still celebrates July 4th with lots of good home cooked food and a few fireworks, mostly sparklers. For many years we had family picnics at Peter Pan Park in Emporia on the 4th of July. We still remember the lovely rose garden and who could forget the funny antics of the monkeys on Monkey Island?
1948 reunion clipping

In 1948, the Martin family reunion was delayed until July 18th.

My husband’s grandmother, Marie Joy, always made a big heavy crock full of “thick fruit salad” because invariably the weather was hot and we didn’t have ice available on almost every corner as we do now. Grandma Joy would use twice the amount of Jell-O that the recipe called for then added lots of fruit with bananas and marshmallows until it was almost solid. But we loved it! Since we raised our own chickens, we always had big containers of fried chicken with all the pieces including the neck, liver, heart, gizzard, and the coveted wishbone. As a special treat, we sometimes had store-bought “pork & beans.”

High flying flags always arouse my patriotism and I see them flying in so many different places. For instance, postage stamps through the years have been one way of showing patriotism for our country. I delight in sending my mail with stamps showing flags or eagles. Every year the postal department issues new designs. I recall one I especially liked. It had the flag flying briskly over the words, “I pledge allegiance …” I guess I thought flags could only fly briskly in Kansas.

Vintage Road Trip


Many of the family branches were more homebodies, but there were some rare road trips and although we have the photos, many of the details are lost to memory. Maybe by posting about them here, we’ll hear from cousins with some remnants of family stories.

McGhee – Road Trip

Jesse McGhee making tire repairs on the way home from Hole in the Rock.

Thank you, Mom, for labeling this one. Jesse McGhee with a bevy of females and a vintage car. Would this be 1920 (shorter dresses) or earlier with the girls being young enough to show their legs? It’s hard to see enough of the car to put a year on that. There’s another fellow in the background but I can’t guess who it is.


This postcard from 1912 shows that the Hole in the Rock near Baldwin, Kansas was an attraction back then. I found an article that gives the early history of the site from Santa Fe Trail days when pioneers would stop there and up to current times when it was threatened by highway development.

Vining – Road Trip

My grandmother, Ruth Vining McGhee, and some of her siblings took a road trip in the 1950s from Kansas back to their old home place. I’d seen the photos over the years but now as I work on the family history, I know where the home place was in Woodward County, Oklahoma.

I believe that they are standing by a hand-dug well and then later they stopped to see Will Roger’s memorial. They took along Ruth’s granddaughter, Susan Martin. The other people in the photos are Ruth’s brother, Albert Vining and his wife Vina (Melvina Tower). Maybe someone will give me the name of Ruth’s sister to go with these photos. Is it Lucy with them?

Here’s the old home place, but I doubt that any of the structure remained to be seen.

vining house woodward oklahoma

The sod house with a frame house attached.

I’m rummaging around for one more picture that goes with these. It shows Albert and Ruth standing by a car.

In the meantime, here’s Ruth McGhee with her sister, Lucy, for purposes of comparison with the photo above. This photo is not from the road trip but must have been another visit by Ruth to see her sister, Lucy Vining Bolte, who lived in Winfield, Kansas.

carol - my mother Ruth, with Aunt Lucy at Lucy's house.

Y is for YIKES!


Sometimes the news that I find about an ancestor makes me say, “yikes!” Accidents happen and I wish I could find follow-up stories to reassure me that the victim recovered. Here are some accidents that injured my Babcock, Vining, and Martin ancestors between 1880 and 1910 in Kansas.

This toddler, the child of Robert Babcock, received scalding burns from tipping over a teacup of hot tallow onto its face. It sounds so painful. At first, the doctor thought the child might die. I have a lot of Babcocks on my family tree and some of them lived in Thayer. Scanning down the list, I looked for someone born around 1885. So far, I haven’t been able to identify the child.

Robert Babcock (which one??) 2-yr old child scalded, Erie KSRobert Babcock (which one??) 2-yr old child scalded, Erie KS Fri, Dec 2, 1887 – 1 · The Head-light (Thayer, Kansas) ·

The year before a son of William Henry Babcock was injured in a fall. That child I was able to identify as Samuel O. Babcock.
Samuel O. Babcock injures elbowSamuel O. Babcock injures elbow Fri, Feb 26, 1886 – 8 · The Head-light (Thayer, Kansas) ·

Here’s a photo of Samuel Oolery Babcock as a grown-up. My thanks to LDStater for sharing this picture on Ancestry.


I’ve found a number of runaway horses and buggy accidents. In this one, the mother and child were dragged more than a hundred yards after the buggy turned over. The name given is Mrs. Frank Shetler which would be Elnore (Nora) Vining. She’s the daughter of James M Vining Jr. and Jane/Jennie Lindsley.  Given the date here, I’m guessing the baby was Georgia Pearl Shetler who was born in 1909. Nora survived the accident and lived to age 88.

Elnore Shetler and child in buggy accidentElnore Shetler and child in buggy accident Thu, Aug 11, 1910 – 1 · Altoona Tribune (Altoona, Kansas) ·

Another buggy accident involved my first cousin, 3x removed. Henry Roach Martin “was quite badly hurt” when his team spooked, running away in the dark as he headed home from a religious meeting. Apparently, two young men were racing and that frightened his team. The accident was not fatal as H.R. Martin died about 40 years later at age 81.

H.R. Martin injured in buggy accidentH.R. Martin injured in buggy accident Thu, Oct 24, 1895 – 5 · The Emporia Weekly Gazette (Emporia, Kansas) ·

I’ve written earlier about the death of my great-grandfather, Sam McGhee, in an oilfield accident. My other great-grandfather, Alfred Joy, was fortunate to survive several serious accidents while farming.

V is for Vining Graves


A very kind person contacted the Vining family group on Facebook. For some years, she and her husband had cleaned up and decorated the graves of an unknown couple of Vinings. Before that, her parents had cared for the graves. She shared some photos that she took.

I answered, “Thank you so much for taking the photos of Nancy and Henry Vining’s graves. It means a lot to the McGhee/Vining/Martin family to know about our ancestor’s graves. We only have a few photos of Nancy, but none of Henry. We didn’t even know where their graves were.”

Henry Vining’s Civil War file (left) and Nancy Babcock Vining (right)

She told us that there were a lot of Babcocks in Harrison Cemetery. She commented, “I think the Civil War flag holder on Henry’s grave is very special. Not sure I have seen another one like it.”

Then she brought up a concern

Diana Osburn McPhail – Those two stones are very small and, quite frankly, that little country cemetery is not maintained well. Jack and I take tools there every year and reclaim the two stones and a few others from weeds, Bermuda grass, and even a large vine that in spite of brush killer will not die. If it were not for us, the stones would have disappeared years ago. We are in our early 70’s so someday we will be on the other side of the grass ourselves. Your family might want to consider pooling money and putting an upright headstone, maybe even with dates on it, to mark the graves. Just a suggestion.

I am pretty sure that within a couple of years the stones will disappear under grass when we are no longer around. Actually, when we arrived at the cemetery last week there was a large dead cedar tree limb laying over the stones. I had taken loppers with me so I cut off enough small branches so I could get to the stones, clean them, and add the flowers so I could take nice photos for all of you.

Virginia Allain – Whew, hadn’t thought about that issue. I’ll discuss it with my sisters and cousins. Thanks! 

Also in the Harrison Cemetery is Diana’s great-grandparents. She showed me photos of their grave. Yep, her great-grandmother was Sarah Elizabeth Babcock, so guess we are very, very distant cousins.

Now, we have to figure out how and who can fix the graves. My sisters, Karen and Cindy, and I are willing to chip in some money but I’m 1,500 miles away. Another person shared that they placed some large paving stones under their gravestone to raise it up above the grass.

Location of the Harrison Cemetery:

From Highway 169 in Thayer, Kansas go West on Watermelon Road (north end of town). Travel 5 miles to Wichita Road. The Cemetery and Chapel are on the Northeast Corner of the intersection. It is located in rural Wilson County, Kansas, not quite halfway between Thayer (Neosho County) and Altoona (Wilson County).   The directions are from Find-A-Grave.

Before and After the Clean-Up in 2017

The photos below show how badly the grass and dirt get over the graves. Then the after-clean-up photos are next to the before photos.