Sequestered here at my home in Bella Vista, Arkansas waiting for a vaccine or cure, I’m thinking of the relatives on my father’s side. I’m reading some history my sister Judy Oetting mimeographed from the Fergus Falls museum in Minnesota, a book by Biloine Whiting Young titled “Obscure Believer’s) and the Old Clitherall’s Story Book, with many stories in it written by Hallie Gould, sister to my grandmother Lenna Maud Gould (Sherman)
I’m ordering food from Amazon Pantry and having food delivered from a local supermarket, wondering what my ancestors would have thought about such a ludicrous state of affairs. Two generations back my father’s male relatives could sustain themselves by farming, hunting, and trapping. They built their own homes, and their wives spun thread, wove cloth, knitted, kept gardens, preserved food, and took on an abundance of other tasks connected to raising and feeding large numbers of children. In this day and age, we forage for food in the supermarket aisles, and buy our clothes at Target or Wal-Mart. Spinning wheels, beaver traps, and squirrel rifles have now found their way to the local museum.
I am impressed reading about our Whiting ancestors, who were skilled in a variety of trades beyond tilling the soil, muzzle loading a rifle, or setting traps. If you were a pioneer family living near the Whiting clan in Clitherall Minnesota, that’s where you’d go to buy a chair, or have a custom made wagon built.
The skills of our Whiting ancestors were passed down from generation to generation from the son of a sea captain, Elisha Whiting. I wish I had been a fly on the wall (just metaphorically) watching and listening to them as they assembled their shaved spindles into a chair, or drove their turned spokes into the wheel of a carriage. I suppose my grandfather, Plinnie Sherman, may have hung around the Whiting men as a young man. Plinnie, and all his sons, at some time during their lifetimes, worked with furniture; manufacturing, repairing, or putting the final finish on chairs, tables, and other home furnishings. My father, Leonard, worked at the Wyandotte furniture store in Kansas City near the Kansas City Airport. He also did side jobs during the depression repairing broken or discolored furniture in the wealthier Plaza District of Kansas City.
One of my monotony breaking routines in this pandemic is driving out to Pea Ridge Arkansas, where I’ve moved all my woodworking equipment into an outdated dairy barn on the property of my youngest daughter and her husband. I’ve never had the patience or skills for intricate rabbet joints or inlaid chessboards, etc., but I enjoy making craft items with salvaged wood from old barns and homes. I suppose some of this interest filtered down to me in some unfathomable way from my Whiting ancestors. I also have nephews who enjoy working with wood.
If you have Sherman lineage you have a lot of Whiting DNA floating around in your cells. I was happy to find that you (and I) received an extra dose, since we have not one, but two Whiting grandmothers.
Editha Ann Whiting was the mother of my grandfather Plinnie Alfred Sherman and Editha’s cousin, Ella Jeanette Whiting, was the mother of my grandmother, Lenna Maud Gould. Because of the small religious community my Father’s family comes from, marriages frequently happened between closely related individuals. I joked to my high school science students that I had seventeen operations to have my eyes set into their proper place. It appears, however, that there were no serious genetic repercussions from these marriages. There were consequences, unfortunately, on my mother’s side, where the tightly knitted communities of Ashkenazi Jews led to endogamous marriages. These marriages resulted in some very harmful genetic driven cancers.
The Whiting kinfolk that lead to my two Whiting grandmother’s starts with a Sea Captain, Elisha Whiting, who died young, leaving his wife impoverished. She was forced to send her son, Elisha Whiting Jr., into servitude to a Quaker Carpenter, in exchange for his upkeep. The Quaker beat Elisha Jr. and treated him inhumanely, possibly because he came from a Puritan background.
The Quakers who came to America were every bit the religious zealots that our Puritan ancestors were. When they first came they would disrupt Puritan meetings by banging on pots and pans, and refused to pay fines, imposed by Puritan authorities, The Puritans considered the Quakers heretics, and tortured them, even boring holes into their tongues. This animosity between the Quakers and Puritans is pure speculation on my part as to why Elisha was treated so poorly. The upside of the servitude was that Elisha Jr.did learn a lot about carpentry, but the harsh treatment eventually became so bad that he ran away. With woodworking skills in his resume he landed a job as an apprentice to a wagon builder. He was smitten by the wheelwright’s daughter Sallie Hulett. They later married and she bore him many children.
Although other members of the Whiting family built chairs, Almon Whiting was known as the “Chairmaker”. You can find some of his chairs on display in the Fergus Falls Museum near Clitherall, Minnesota. They’ve become collector’s items sought especially by Whiting relatives, so I suspect I’m out of luck in acquiring one. I have a detailed account of how Almon selected basswood for the seats, oak and ash for the frames, and elm and maple for the rails. He had to hike seven miles from Clitherall to a tamarack swamp for the ash he used to make the woven seats in some of his chairs.
Almon made his own glue from deer horns and hoofs, and he mixed his own paints which he applied to the chairs in colorful designs. He ingeniously made a wood lathe for the spindles that was powered by a horse that turned the lathe by walking in circles. His youngest daughter rode the horse. He would take a large number of these chairs on a wagon to markets in nearby towns, often tying extra chairs to the side of the wagon because they had become so popular. He and other members of the Whiting family made high chairs, rocking chairs, and dining room chairs.
Other Whiting family members made wagons of all kinds. They manufactured farm wagons, two-wheeled carts, buggies, and carriages. They also made every type of sled imaginable, useful ones to haul wood, and ones for recreation. One toboggan design became known as the McKinley toboggan named after the Republican president.
There are many humorous and informative stories in the books and material I’m reading. Following are a few I found interesting.
When I look at the pictures of the long strings of small fish that my father and his brothers caught in Lake Clitherall as teenagers I was amused when I read this fish story in “Obscure Believers.” The fish in Lake Clitherall were evidently at one time much much bigger. There are accounts of the original Clitherall pioneers spearing muskies and catfish weighing over forty pounds with pitchforks.
George Hammer was fishing with his uncle Francis Lewis Whiting, known as “Uncle Lute,” when Uncle Lute saw a monster pickerel and speared it. It rushed toward the boat and Uncle Lute stepped backward and pushed George Hammer over the edge. George still had his feet in the boat, but his whole body was under water. Uncle Lute was sitting on George Hammer’s knees, while still hanging on to the fish for dear life. The other passenger, Odd Albertson, shouted, “You’re drowning Hammer!” “Can’t help it,” Uncle Lute replied, “This is the biggest fish I ever speared and I’ve got to get it.” George was not completely drowned and Uncle Lute got his fish so it had a happy ending, with the exception being the pickerel.
This account of Lurett Whiting (son of Chauncy) caught my attention because of my sisters Ruth Farrand Cox and Judy Oetting, who have tapped maple trees and teach classes on wild edibles.
Lurett Whiting documents how he and his brothers would tap a thousand hard maple trees about the first of April, placing small sap-troughs on the ground where they would catch the sap running through the spiles. He gives detailed account on how they made the spiles and sap-troughs from basswood, and how they made the sap boilers with sheet iron bottoms. In a good season they could make a hundred pounds of fine grained sugar, seventy five pounds of tub sugar, two barrels of maple syrup, and a barrel of vinegar.
To give some background on how the Whitings came to be important branches on our family tree I might mention that my father’s ancestors were members of a breakaway group of Latter Day Saints, headed by Alpheus Cutler; one of my great grandfather’s a few generations back. Some of the Whitings were original followers of Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois, and had their homes burned and members of their family murdered by mobs not happy with many aspects of the Mormon doctrine, including anti-slavery sentiment, plural wives, and Joseph Smith’s aspirations to become president of the United States, which included a religious run government. Never losing faith, my Whiting ancestors were basically chased pillar to post across Missouri, and eventually sought refuge in a little town in Iowa named Manti, where my grandfather Alpheus Cutler was holding court over 300 converts by his charismatic personality and prophetic visions.
One prophetic vision eventually led the group to Clitherall Minnesota where my ancestors clustered together in a small pioneer community just two years after Indians massacred thousands of white settlers in 1862. How they chose this spot and how the managed to settle peacefully among the hostile Indians is another story.