Archive | Bettises

Uncle Billy: The Evolution of a Legend, Part One

William Wiley Rubottom, a California innkeeper and entrepreneur known to everyone as “Uncle Billy,” provided the inspiration for some serious storytelling.  Conflicting versions of two of these stories, set down twenty years apart,  offer a glimpse of the way in which stories can be used to reinforce the values of a place and time, and […]

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A “Hardboiled Hellhole:” Panamint City, California

For the past 20 months, this blog has been following the journeys of the Drew and Bettis families and their descendants across the continent, paying less attention to the characters themselves than to the unexplored corners of American history through which they traveled.  We’re now getting to California, the farthest point of their journeys.  From […]

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The Rise and Fall of Nicodemus

In 1878, a newly arrived settler in western Kansas looked over a small rise in the prairie, expecting to see the new, all-black town of Nicodemus rising before her like a beacon of hope. What she saw was a collection of “anthills”—small mounds of sod, some of them with chimneys poking up.  She burst into […]

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Rivers and Freedom: A Child’s Escape

When Patsie Bettis was freed in 1837, a year after the death of her father Elijah Bettis III, she was the mother of two young sons, Drew, age 7, and Martin, age 2.  Drew was the son of Thomas Stevenson Drew, who was married to Patsie’s white cousin Cinderella Bettis.  Martin’s father is unknown, although […]

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A Birthday in Pocahontas

No one in Pocahontas, Arkansas, seems to know why its 150th birthday was celebrated in 2006, when the town, as everyone knows, was given its current name, and chosen as the county seat for Randolph County, in 1835.  Nor does anyone know for sure why it was named “Pocahontas,” although it may be because it […]

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Talking Ourselves Into Hatred: the Arkansas Cherokees

“What is civilization?” wrote Nu-Tah-E-Tuil, or “No-Killer,” in an April, 1828, letter to the Arkansas Gazette. “Is it a practical knowledge of agriculture? Then I am willing to compare the farms and gardens of this nation with those of the mass of white population in the Territory.   The advantage will be on our side.  Does civilization consist […]

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Moving West

Two of my ancestors moved west over the mountains, one from Virginia and the other from North Carolina, within eight years of each other.  They were part of the “second wave” of settlement, yeoman farmers who supplanted the earlier hunters and Indian traders.  Both were moderately prosperous citizens, with standing in their communities.  Newit Drew, […]

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The Seven Slave Daughters of Elijah Bettis III

The descendants of Drew Bettis, the mixed-race grandson of Elijah Bettis III, have passed down the tradition for nearly 200 years: Elijah had seven enslaved daughters, by seven different enslaved women. All of them were close to each other and considered each other sisters. Some of their names persisted in the family for generations: Martha, […]

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What did it mean to be a “trained doctor” in the 18th century?

At the end of the 18th century, there were perhaps 4,000 people in America who called themselves doctors, 400 of them with formal training and 200 with actual medical degrees. In rural areas, most people acted as their own doctors, with the help of popular self-help books designed to make basic medical knowledge available to […]

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Frontier Aspirations: Cinderella, Charnelcy, Narcissa – and “Harriethusie”?

When the large family of Elijah Bettis Jr. decided to move west in 1805, they were among the richest residents of Moore County, North Carolina.  Elijah Jr. was recognized as a “trained medical doctor” (more on that later,) and either he or his son Elijah III was keeping company with the elite of Moore County […]

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