Monday, September 30, 2013

Miscellaneous Fall

I love these days of waking up to a nose that feels a bit frosty because the window above the headboard is cracked open and yet I am toasty warm in the covers. Walking out to the meet the bus with the oldest daughter and breathing in that crisp fall air is intoxicating. I find that it clears out the brain and we have some interesting discussions while waiting on the bus.

Yesterday I preserved another batch of pickled banana peppers and onions. I had already put the canner away for the season but excess called again and so I brought it back out. I also have a trunk load of butternut squash that I am going to do something with. I still have a half dozen or so bags of squash from last year in our freezer but since that probably won't last a whole year, I want to preserve more. Besides, those bags of squash are Hubbard squash which are the most tastiest of squash in my opinion and best for pumpkin pies and homemade pumpkin ice cream. Butternut is really good too but I just don't want to fill up my freezer anymore especially with a deer or two entering into it in another month or two. So I think I am going to try canning the butternut squash since I have a lot of quart jars left.

I recently ate an outstanding squash dish that consisted of mashed cooked squash mixed with onion, red pepper, green pepper, garlic, two eggs, plain yogurt, feta cheese, salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne with some toasted sunflower seeds on top. I threw that in a casserole dish and baked it for a half hour covered and another half hour uncovered. I'm glad I still have some leftovers. Because of this dish, I think the canned squash would go perfectly for cooking it later this winter or next year even.

As I am writing this, the guys who are installing my new woodburning fireplace insert are here. I thought about trying it myself but in the end decided to just pay the installation costs. The price for installation was very reasonable, I didn't have to be worried about insurance covering the fireplace if it was done by licensed professionals and most of all, I've just never done something like that and don't know all the tricks of the trade to do a good job. There also wasn't much information available for doing it yourself on the web. I'm not disappointed. It gives me a chance to catch up on other things while they do in a morning what would have taken me several days I'm sure.

My honey-do list hasn't been progressing as much as I had hoped. I crossed off a few small projects and added a few more projects like the ladder bookshelf for my mother-in-laws room and some storage totes that I'm finishing up for my wife's office. I will do a post on those later. The big ticket items on my list will probably start in a few weeks when my brother stops by to help me out. He and I will probably spend a day bucking some of the dead trees around the house. After he leaves and the trees our now out of the way, I hope to perhaps start building a fence around the future garden area. That is going to be a lot of work. After it becomes too cold to do outside work, I have three rooms left to remodel inside which should more than keep me busy all winter long. For the next few weeks however, I am thinking of doing another woodworking project out in the garage while the weather is nice for such things. I just need to figure out what.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Supper


Some ground up fresh salmon, pankow, mayonaise, dijon mustard, parsley, green onion, shallot, salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne pepper and about fifteen minutes of prep time and you get those fried salmon cakes above. Since I learned that recipe from the show America's Test Kitchen on PBS, I have been hooked for they are by far, the best salmon cakes I have ever eaten. I made a double batch of about fourteen of them and between the four of us, we darn near polished them off. My wife made the contribution of the wedge salad you see above with homemade dressing, blue cheese and some bacon. It was delicious as well.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Bingo

When we moved to here, we had a choice that we never had before. In this town, there is a small Catholic private school that our daughter could attend through Grade 5 instead of the public school. Normally I wouldn't be too concerned about it but in this town, there is a huge part of the population who don't speak English as a first language. As a result of that and Bush's no child left behind policies, entire classes of kids get bogged down by these non-native English speaking kids who though trying their best, just have more on their plate than others and slow everyone down. As a result, the public school is not ranked very well among schools in the state. On the other hand, the small private school is among the top ranked schools in the state. Because of this, we made the commitment to send our daughter to the private school.

Fortunately, the private school doesn't charge a steep price to attend but their are consequences to that too. As a parent, we have to spend so much time during the school year doing fund raising to keep the school finances in the black and that includes working the local bingo parlor which gives the proceeds to the school. So a couple weeks ago, my first of four appearances to work the bingo games arrived.

I was told that I was to show up at five. Assuming that the games started then and not knowing much about running a bingo parlor, I showed up twenty minutes early. There were thirty people already inside and more milling around outside so I thought my suspicions were confirmed. I started asking questions to the man in charge of us volunteers but he seemed in no big hurry to teach us much. Finally after about a half hour, I asked him directly what time the game started and he told me 6:20. I guess I had showed up over an hour and a half early!

Only two of the four people scheduled showed up but we ended up doing alright. They taught us how to sell the cards which had a lot of jargon used by the buyers that we had to learn. They taught us how to run the bingo machine which had cameras, a bank of switches, timers, knobs and levers and a certain way of doing things. My biggest fear was really messing up and having to redo a game and I'm glad to say that didn't happen.

What surprised me most of the whole ordeal was the seriousness of the players. They came in with bags of supplies like someone might expect say a professional golfer to have before a tournament. They had beverages, glue sticks for adhering multiple sheets together, handfuls of daubers, pens and paper for writing down information, wipes for clearing a miss marked sheet, etc. Many had superstitions that they adhered too. One lady matched the color of dauber she used to the bingo sheets color which varied depending on the game. Another lady needed a bingo sheet with an odd number for her left hand and an even number for the right hand. One fellow had to have Cheetos before the jackpot game and was all bent out of shape when there were no Cheetos to be had. He ended up getting a bag of Doritos and as it turned out, he didn't win the game.

Although they were briefed that we were brand new to bingo, they didn't cut us any slack. If you didn't get the next ball to be called faced right into the camera to be displayed on the overhead televisions so they could get a head start marking their cards before you actually called the number, they let you know. If you weren't fast enough hustling over to their table to get them a new dauber, they let you know. One old fellow who couldn't walk very fast didn't quite make it back to his card during a bathroom break and another fellow hollered at us when we waited for him for an extra 15 seconds to get seated before starting the game. After the final game, there was a lot of loud sighs and throwing of wadded bingo sheets onto the table by many of the losing players as they made their way out the door. The entire time I was there I felt the pressures of doing the right thing like a NFL ref must during the Superbowl.

The demographics of the bingo players was one of the things that didn't surprise me. They seemed similar to those who frequent casinos. Most of the players were the old looking for a night out of their house and the balance mostly consisted of people who I would consider the down and out on their luck. There wasn't a single person that I would probably classify as a middle class working stiff. I'm not sure what that says about things. The average cost for a night of bingo if you were to play all the games was about $36 with the lowest price being $15 and the highest price $72. The pot for each winner was $41 and was based on the number of people present and the amount of money taken in. About half the winners had to split the pot with other winners. There were only 19 games played and about 70 people playing so your chances of getting your money back were pretty poor. Only one person who won the jackpot game of $400 came out ahead and the jackpot game is only won about once a month or so.

So I have at least three more times left to work bingo over the school year. I won't be as nervous the next time around and I most definitely won't get their at 4:40 anymore. I will make sure there are a bag of Cheetos left for the man who needs them to win the jackpot round and despite the complaints, I will still probably wait the 15 extra seconds for the old man to get back to his card after a bathroom break.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Living On Excess

No I'm not spending all my hard earned dollars that I mentioned in the last post. I am a frugal person and live a frugal lifestyle. I'm actually referring to garden grown produce which since we moved last year and don't have a garden one might expect it to be pretty slim pickings around here. It isn't.

Ron from the blog From Lack of a Better Plan said it best in a post from a few weeks ago. Gardens are temperamental beasts and sometimes things grow better than expected and other years they don't. People with gardens have known this for ages which is why they learn to can, pickle, freeze and otherwise preserve excesses for use when the garden isn't producing.

But eventually people  reach their breaking point and can't preserve another tomato no matter how much they would like too. They have enough tomatoes preserved to last through a very long nuclear winter or two and the thought of spending a day sweating in the kitchen canning more just doesn't sound very good. This is where I come in. I pick up those excesses that people can't use and preserve them myself.

As I write this, I am in the midst of canning another probably 23 pints of salsa after spending yesterday canning 16 pints. Before that I froze around 80 quarts of sweet corn and canned 20 quarts of tomato sauce. In another week, I have spoken for a bunch of banana peppers and other veggies that I am planning on pickling. I also have a bag full of apples that I'm going to freeze as future pie filling that you just thaw out, pop into a crust and bake. Finally, I have a trunk load of butternut squash that I am going to make into something yet undecided. Life is good, especially when I didn't have to sweat and toil out in a garden all summer and still get the benefit of fresh veggies.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Self Sufficiency With Retirement

Becoming more self sufficient is all the rage these days judging by the thousands of blogs of people writing about the subject. I have been expecting this trend for a long time as everything seems to go in circles. Although I am nowhere near self sufficient, I do live a much simpler lifestyle than my peers which is by choice. Part of the reason is that if I don't consume as much, I am more self sufficient and what efforts I do make to become self sufficient have all that much more impact.

This all occurs in my daily life but several years back, I began to realize that it should happen in my future life as well, namely retirement. Because I'm not a big consumer, I am thus a big saver and have put money away religiously towards retirement. It used to come out of my paycheck even before taxes and now that I'm a Child Behavioral Modification Therapist or CBMT or stay-at-home-dad, it is now coming out of my wife's paycheck. We used to give this money to a financial adviser who would take a small percentage to manage the money for the rest of our lives. Before him I used to just check the boxes of my employer's 401k sponsor and almost randomly choose funds from a list of a dozen or so. The financial adviser quickly proved that he could do a lot better than I ever was choosing from limited funds and soon my retirement was growing at a much faster pace. I was happy and content though I had a sneaking suspicion that I wasn't doing enough.

A few years ago, I decided I want to learn more about saving and funding my retirement and found several self investing online forums and from them several eye opening books. Those books quickly taught me that there is another better option out there. Why not invest for my retirement myself in better ways than what I had done pre- financial adviser. After digging into the nitty gritty of my financial adviser's performance, I found that with his fees, his firm's fees, the fund he invests in's fees, that he was no where close to matching the performance of a stock index. In other words, if I could just buy all the same funds in the same ratios as the stock index, I would be much better off. After doing some digging, I learned that there are mutual funds out there that do exactly that and because there isn't much brain power associated with doing that, their management fees are a tiny fraction of what I was paying my financial adviser.

After reading through exhausting amounts of surveys and expert reviews, I learned that over 80% of financial advisers who invest money into the stock market do flat out worse than what the stock index does in any given year. Of the 20% that do better, by the time you include their fees and the fees of the various funds they invest in, another 75% of them still don't get the return you would have gotten had you just invested in the index fund yourself. of the 5% who beat the index fund, none of them have consistently beaten them over time. To sum all this up, not investing your money yourself is the same thing as going to a casino. You may win in the short term but long term the house (or in this case Wall Street) always wins.

So I decided to take matters into my own hands. This summer I met with my financial adviser and told him that he shouldn't expect to get any more of my money. He took it professionally but had the look in his eyes that told me he knew the scam was up. The first 20% of my stocks from my former employer were cashed out and I had them rolled into a self-directed individual retirement account that I control online. Five days later when the funds were in the account, I bought a large amount of shares of a fund that mirrors the S & P 500 index. My total cost due to a volume discount is 0.06% of my account balance per year that I pay them to manage the fund. Compare this to the 0.75% of my account balance per year I gave my financial adviser plus the 4% and 1% he and his company respectively got off the top before they even bought anything with my money.

From now on, I am going to be completely self sufficient with my retirement. I've cut the string to Wall Street and financial advisers while still embracing investing as a means to increase wealth. If anyone who reads this wants to learn more about what and why I did what I did. I suggest the following book:

Boglehead's Guide to Investing

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

All Fired Up

To prepare for my new wood burning insert to go into the existing brick fireplace that was mutilated by the previous owners to install a cheesy electric fireplace, I wanted to get rid of the cheesy electric fireplace. I've had good luck selling things on ebay, bad luck selling things on craigslist and almost no luck selling things in the newspaper classified ads. The classified ads just don't work for things like this because you can't post a picture or a lot of words so unless it is super cheap, I rarely get any calls. On ebay, I have lots of luck because I only have to deal with the winning bid and then all I need is to verify payment and drop the item in the mail. But with a large fireplace, mailing it wasn't a really desirable option so I opted to see it on Craigslist.

Before posting it on Craigslist, I looked to see what new ones of similar caliber were going for and found them to be around $350 to $500. Not wanting to hang onto this for long, I priced it to move at $75, took a half dozen pictures and put it on Craigslist. I didn't get any emails those first few days and since Craigslist scrolls at a fast clip, my listing was soon buried under and I assumed that I wouldn't get any calls at all. But after almost two weeks went by, I got two emails asking if I still had the fireplace. I responded to both but got no more response.

Like so many, I refreshed my ad so that it gets back to the top of the list and suddenly I started getting some responses which reminds me why I hate Craigslist. The first couple people to show interest asked if I would deliver the fireplace both over a hundred miles away. I politely told both that I priced it to move and that it wasn't worth my time or gas to deliver it. I got three or four people who asked if I still had it and then never responded again when I said yes. I had two people say they were interested but only if I reduced the price. I declined both. Another person asked if I would take some more recent pictures of it. I told them that the ones I took were only two weeks old and unless he wanted to see something that wasn't in the posted pictures, I wasn't going to take anymore. No surprise I never heard anything back from them.

Finally I had someone respond back to my email saying it was still for sale. She called on a Saturday and said she was on her way out of town and wondered if she could stop by on Monday to pick it up. Because we were gone anyway, I said that was fine. She promised to give me a call Monday morning to arrange a time to pick it up. Monday morning, I got another response from a fellow who said he would take it. I told him that it was spoken for but if that didn't happen, I would let him know. He couldn't pick it up anyway until Tuesday evening and said that would be fine. I called the first lady but only got an answering machine so I left a message saying I had someone else interested in the fireplace and asking her to call me back if she was still interested. Early Monday evening she returned the call to say she was still interested but because it was so hot, she asked if she could come late in the evening, promising to give me a call before she left since she lived 20 minutes down the road. I said that would be fine but also told her that I had another person coming the following day to buy it if she didn't get it tonight.

I stayed up until ten o'clock and finally gave up on her and went to bed. She never called and in fact by early afternoon on Tuesday she had not contacted me at all. So I sent a text to the fellow who had been interested telling him I still had it if he was interested. He texted me right back saying he wanted it and would be there in a couple hours. About 30 minutes before he arrived, the lady texted me asking if I still had it. Put off with her cavalier attitude towards this sale, I told her that I had already sold it. Fortunately the fellow showed up and bought the fireplace. He was a really nice fellow and we stood in the driveway talking for nearly a half hour after the sale talking about Craigslist. He loved Craigslist but all he had done was buy from it. I told him buying was okay but selling stunk and told him all I went through trying to sell the fireplace. He also laughed when I told him about the people who asked if I could reduce the price without even asking to see it first. He said it was a steal to which I agreed. I priced it to move, not to get rich.

Finally two and a half weeks later, I finally have a vacant fireplace now ready for the wood burning insert that I bought to put in what is left of the brick work. Even though we received our first 90 plus degree days of the year this last week of August when I wrote this post, I'm excited to get things to where I can burn some wood this winter. Perhaps by the end of September when the new one gets installed, we will get a cool stretch to try it out. I plan to pour myself a tumbler of nice scotch, grab a good book and break it in properly.

Monday, September 16, 2013

South Dakota: Sioux Falls


Just a mile or so from our state's border, lies Sioux Falls, South Dakota and above is how Sioux Falls got its name. Unlike other notable falls like Great Falls, Montana that were buried under reservoirs or destroyed, Sioux Falls protected theirs with a park and preserved it. On our way back home, we pulled in here to stretch our legs for an hour or so walking around the trails. Had I a picnic basket of food with me, we would have ate supper there but alas, we didn't and so couldn't.






The ducks weren't scared of going over the falls.


I noticed a lot of markings that the rocks along the falls had been quarried at some point. The dynamite holes drilled into them are unmistakable. However it was only on our way back to the car that my wife saw a sign that explained they why. What you see is on top of a nearby hill and is a prison. To get all those rocks to build that prison, they sent prisoners to the falls to quarry rocks and build their new home. I bet those prisoners that quarried those rocks stayed on the straight and narrow after being released. Perhaps we should do other great works similar to this with today's prisoners.

Friday, September 13, 2013

South Dakota: Badlands


After uploading these four pictures and sitting on this post for awhile, I still can think of little to say about them. They pretty much speak for themselves. They are pictures of the famous Badlands of South Dakota. The smallest part of the park and the most scenic can be visited by driving a loop road off the nearby interstate adding perhaps an hour to your commute. The vast majority of the park is hidden south and in not visited nearly as much. Because we were needing to get home before school started for my oldest daughter, we took the shorter scenic loop off the interstate.


The place is gorgeous and the last time I was here I spent part of a day hiking in it. I saw nary a soul and had the time of my life sitting looking out into the Badlands. Just me and the prairie dogs.


This time however, it was killing hot and my three guests were worn out from the day before so I mostly just hiked to the various overlooks near the road or took really short hikes, took the obligatory pictures and drove on. Next time, I need to come in the spring and do some more hiking again.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

South Dakota: Needles Highway


I'm happy to say that not everything in the Black Hills have changed in the last 30 years. One of the highlights of that trip three decades ago was driving down the Needles highway and so I made sure that was the way we took back to our hotel after leaving Crazy Horse Memorial. It is classic rugged country and a beautiful drive.


Along the route are at least six tunnels carved into rock that you must pass through that limits the size of vehicle that you can take on the highway. I was a full size conversion van with the extra little headroom thing on the top sneak through this tunnel with just a few inches to spare on the three sides not in contact with the road. He had to inch through this tunnel just to avoid the van from swaying enough to hit the rocks. I also saw full sized pickups that had to fold in their mirrors to get through this point.


This is the needle that give the highway its name.


All throughout the area are vertical rock formations sticking up here and there just inviting you to jump out and climb on them which we did every now and then.


As I drove (not while I was taking this picture of course), I had to go slow so I could take in the sights which were all around, including the rear view mirrors.


This is my second trip to this area and as I was staring off at scenes like the ones above and below, I realized that I didn't know much about the area. I know it was at the bottom of a gigantic inland sea at one point and that many of our country's prized fossils come from the area but I didn't know much contemporary history. I also have two 4th great grandfathers who lived for a couple decades each and are buried in the state. So I decided to buy a coupe books on the area. One is a history of some of the more notorious people who have lived in the area and another is a fairly well known book about the Great Westward Expansion told from the Indian perspective facing east.


Below is my parting shot if you may that shows Mt. Rushmore off in the distance. The most popular entrance for the Needles highway is right near the Mt. Rushmore memorial. In order to minimize the traffic going in my direction, I opted to go to the Crazy Horse Memorial and get on the other end of the highway heading into the traffic instead of with it. The rewards were great because we very rarely saw a car in front or behind us heading the same direction allowing us to drive a leisurely pace and not feel as if we were ruining someone else's vacation. We also had time to stop in the middle of the road and take pictures like the one below.


Monday, September 9, 2013

South Dakota: Crazy Horse (The Artist)


In my last post, I mentioned that the sculpture of the Crazy Horse Memorial, Korczak Ziolkowski was not only a talented sculpture of large scale monuments but was a talented artist in his own right and evidently spent his evenings relaxing by carving smaller chunks of stone and wood. They were very impressive and I took photographs of some of my favorite ones to show here.


This one was one of my favorites.


Wild Bill Cody.


I was just struck at the humor of this situation that I couldn't help covertly snapping a picture.



Another one of my favorites.

Friday, September 6, 2013

South Dakota: Crazy Horse (The Memorial)


On my trip through the Black Hills 30 years ago, there wasn't a lot to see at Crazy Horse Memorial because they were just starting to carve it into rock. I suppose that explains why my parents didn't take me to see it. Now 30 years later on my first visit to the memorial, I must say I was very impressed and would recommend stopping there over stopping at nearby Mt. Rushmore.

When we pulled up to the entrance, the fee was nearly twice that of what it cost to get into Mt. Rushmore but it didn't take me long to realize that what Mt. Rushmore lacked, this place had it in spades. This memorial is definitely on a different and much bigger scale than Mt. Rushmore and the main viewing area is situated further away giving you a more straight on perspective. Although they don't give public tours, the do give private tours where you can drive right up and through the tunnel seen below what will become Crazy Horse's pointing arm. You can also hang out right on top of Crazy Horse's head. How cool would that be?

At the complex, they too had a gift shop and a cafe but both were not nearly so in your face as they were at Mt. Rushmore. Also, where I couldn't find the museum at Mt. Rushmore, the entire complex was dedicated to the history of the making of this monument. There were rooms filled with artifacts and displays showing the history of the monument and its future. I also liked the fact that most of the money they parted from my wallet went towards the carving of the monument and not back to the government like at Rushmore. I also liked the fact that though crowded, it was much less so than Mt. Rushmore.

My favorite part of the whole site was the living quarters of the artist who began carving the monument. Not only did he spend his days carving rock, but he spent his evenings doing so as well as in other mediums. The man was an artist in his own right judging from the displays that I will show in the next post. I spent more time walking through his workshops and home than I did actually looking at the mountain across the valley. I also thought it was neat that when the artist died, he was buried in a tomb that he had already dug at the base of the Crazy Horse monument and his still living wife still living in parts of his home not open for tour, will join him when she dies.

In the top picture, you can see a white line that at first looks like graffiti but is actually layout lines for the horses head that they will be working on. Looking at the timeline of pictures on display, most of the progress seems to have been made in the last 20 years. If I am ever back to this area 20 years from now, I will most certainly stop by to see how much more work has been done.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

South Dakota: Mt. Rushmore


Although it had been nearly 30 years ago, I had been to Mt. Rushmore and remembered that it had been kind of underwhelming. It is impressive that someone could see a pile of rocks and carve out the pictures of four presidents but compared to all the pictures I had seen previously, it seemed kind of small. But my wife, her mother and two aunts had never seen Mt. Rushmore before so we set our sights on it next.

Thirty years ago, I remember that Mt. Rushmore seemed a long way from civilization and one you got there, there wasn't more than a parking lot, a path up to a viewing platform with a small building behind that contained a museum of sorts explaining the history of the mountain. That Mt. Rushmore no longer exists. Now, there is practically a four lane freeway up to the foot of the mountain and the parking lot has been replaced by a multi-story parking garage. All along the road are billboards screaming out various ways to part you from your money. Once you make it to the top floor of the parking structure, instead of the path, there is now a series of stone gates that you walk through followed by a wide path lined with flags, food vendors, cafes, trinket shops, atm machines, etc. Although I looked and may have missed it among all the signs, I couldn't find the museum anymore. Where the old museum and viewing platform used to stand, there is a much larger viewing platform and stadium seating for a laser light show in the evenings after dark. It is all very commercialized which is unfortunate.

We took our obligatory pictures though I found my best picture above was taken from the first gate after the parking garage with a zoom lens. Although I wasn't real enthused about visiting Mt. Rushmore and fighting the crowds of people, I was out voted and went along. Afterwards, one of my aunt-in-laws from the Philippines was nearly in tears due to the extreme happiness of visiting a landmark that she thought she would never see in her lifetime. The impact a foreign national landmark made on her certainly made me see Mt. Rushmore in a different light, commercialization and crowds be damned.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Extremes

This has been a strange year for sure. Last year was one for the record books when we had the worst drought in 30 years in this part of the state, nearly as bad as the one in 1983 which coupled with the farm crisis, formed me to who I am today which is to say, not a farmer. This year started off differently and in the spring, was the wettest year since 1898 which is the year we started keeping records of such things. Who knows how far back we might have to go to find the actual wettest year but it may have been those years when this part of the world was on the bottom of a vast inland sea.

The rains continued into the last days of June and then the tap shut off. In July, we got just enough rain to just take the edge of our thirst but not a tenth more. In August, we had the driest month ever since we received not a drop of rain in the entire month. Now everything up here is starting to look a lot like last year. For the farmers, it will be another early harvest because the crops are all dead and drying up already with no amount of rain going to help them anymore. For people like me, the biggest repercussion is the loss of more trees.

On my 2 acres of land, I lost 24 trees last year due to the drought and earlier this spring I wrote on here that I lost another five. Of those five that I thought I lost, three of them did leaf out but only on a few branches so although they were still among the living, they were definitely on the terminal list. With this drought going on now, their leaves are all dead and falling off already. Worse, I've got more than a couple mature trees that looked fine through spring and into this summer that are now full of wilted leaves. I'm beginning to think that in another three or four years, the only trees that are going to be standing are the ones way down at the bottom of the hill next to the roadway ditch where they perhaps get a bit more moisture.

I had been thinking about planting some trees next spring to diversify our little plot of land but now I'm beginning to think that perhaps I need to be looking more for palm trees and cacti.

Monday, September 2, 2013

South Dakota: Visiting a Chicken


Newer readers of my blog might think that a cemetery is an odd place to visit on a family vacation but older readers will know that it is expected behavior for me. I am the family historian and genealogist and any trip I planning always means some time researching if my planned route will take me by any place I would like to visit in an effort to further my genealogy research. So that is how I ended up at Springhill Cemetery just outside of the county seat of Gann Valley, South Dakota, population 14 and perhaps the only unincorporated town that is a county seat in the nation. It is also known for holding the record for the hottest temperature recorded in South Dakota, a whopping 120 degrees Fahrenheit!

What brought me there was that a man by the name of Joseph Chicken, who is possibly my 4th great grandfather is buried there. I have written about it many times over the last decade of my hard fought search for this side of my family which began as Bakers and whom I only recently have believed that there real surname was Chicken. As of right now, I am about 95% certain that my 3rd great grandfather Joseph Baker is really Joseph Chicken, son of Joseph Chicken Sr. whose gravestone can be seen in these pictures. I have lots of evidence pointing towards my conclusion and it is way too much to chalk up as a coincidence but my search still goes on for the smoking gun that can make me say I'm 100% certain.


My 4th great grandfather moved sometime around the death of his son Joseph Chicken in 1882 at age 35. Several of his other older children were already dead along with his first wife and my 4th great grandmother. He had already remarried to the lady sharing the above shown plot of ground and South Dakota had just opened up this vast swath of prairie to be homesteaded by pioneers. He moved out there, settled on a little piece of land just north of Gann Valley and lived out his remaining years. I had hoped that perhaps I might get lucky and see some children buried next to him or some clue that might help my on his gravestone that might help me on my quest but it was not to be. Instead if was a visit to pay homage to one of my many ancestors, a still noble quest.


As this quest to track down this family tree has been wont to do over the last decade, it has provided me with another mystery to solve. According to all my research, Joseph Chicken was born in November of 1811 and lived until 1903. I have lots of evidence to support that. Yet as you can see from the tombstone above, what is carved in stone is much different. It states:

Mr. Joseph
Chicken
Passed to spirit life
Feb 28, 1893
Aged 91 Years and
4 Months

I have several census records and the passenger list of the boat he sailed to America that all state that he was born in November of 1811. For the above epitaph to be true, he would have been born in November of 1801. I also have him very much alive in the 1900 census at age 88 living with his second wife in South Dakota. Although I don't have a record of his death, a user run website called Find-a-Grave has his death listed as February 1903 which is 91 years and 4 months after his birth if it was in November of 1811 as all records indicate. Yet the gravestone obviously says Feb 28, 1893 for a death date.

So how to reconcile this discrepancy? I need to do more research to even think of a plausible answer. I initially thought that because they died well away from the rest of the family, that there wasn't any close family nearby to set the facts straight when making the headstone. But usually it is the birth date that gets messed up and not the death date which is usually pretty obvious to most people, especially the year it happened. Perhaps the stone was erected many years after the fact by more distant family. I think my first step will be to try to contact the poster who listed the death years much different than what it on the gravestone to see if he can offer up an explanation.

I also need to do some more research to see where I need to research. Gann Valley is in Buffalo County, South Dakota which is mostly an Indian reservation. Most of the time when doing research on a relative, I head to the local library and courthouse at the county seat. Gann Valley, all 14 inhabitants, obviously didn't have either of these things so I'm not sure where the county records are kept, if they even exist. As it has been all of Joseph Chicken Sr's descendants, this will be another tough nut to crack.