Jottings: Search for Emma
My wife, Marlene, had been reading a Jane Kirkpatrick trilogy, a truth-based historical novel written about a group of pioneers that formed a religious commune in Bethel, Missouri.
Part of that group set their roots in Aurora, Oregon, in 1851. Since they began in Bethel, the commune was referred to as The Bethel Colony.
Her reading and transferring key data to me verbally piqued my interest. Both of us wanted to learn more. So, on our ninth anniversary, we began our search for Jane Kirkpatrick's story.
Beginning in Aurora, Oregon, our drive around the tiny town was brief. A visit to several antique stores was adequate for the shopping. It is a quaint town with many deliciously restored buildings.
The real reward was the museum that included a number of those buildings. As a bonus, we had great conversations with two workers in the museum where we learned many things about some of the characters in the stories and Kirkpatrick. We purchased three more of Jane's novels.
Our interest triggered a little more research. Part of the original Bethel group had preceded their leader to scout out the Washington Territory that now surrounds Willapa Bay.
Some remained there. Their leader, Dr. Keil later moved out west but settled in Aurora.
So, we headed north in search of facts, fiction and Jane Kirkpatrick's Emma. As we drove toward South Bend, Washington, we knew we were on the right road when a sign appeared, "Entering Dismal Nitch" on one side and "Leaving Dismal Nitch" on the other. Another sign told us Raymond was only thirty-nine miles up the road.
The Pacific County Museum was not easy to find. We meandered through the back streets of South Bend gawking at some old houses we would love to buy and restore, only if we were younger. When we were about to give up our search, we made our final circle of the entire two blocks of downtown.
"There it is," I shouted. Nestled in between two other storefronts was a tiny store with a Pacific County Museum sign pleading for us to come visit them. "Eureka! We have found the mother lode."
In Jane's books, she tells of Emma Geisy, her husband Christain, and a small group of men, and how they came across the prairies in 1851
The author had given detailed descriptions of how and where Emma lived. She pointed out the Cowlitz Indians were the only other human beings in the Willapa area when they arrived and they became close sharing friends.
The curator of the museum answered many of our questions about the area and how it is described in the novels. She verified that most of what is in them is factual.
The curator gave us great suggestions and mapped out directions to a graveyard of interest and the location of Christen Geisy's parents homestead on Route 6. She pointed out that she had been in that house years ago but it has since been torn down.
Her instructions were to take Route 6 inland about four miles and look for an information sign and a cemetery on a hill above. Then continue for three miles and look for an old apple tree on a hill. Locals believe this is near where Emma lived originally. She later lived in a shack on his parents' land. Legend hints that Emma planted the apple tree.
The story goes that the leader, Dr. Keil, remained for a time in Missouri after Emma's group left. His son Willie, age 19, was heart set on being a part of the caravan west. But, he came down with yellow fever and died. To fulfill his wishes, they constructed a lead-lined coffin, put his body in it and filled the coffin with whisky. They hauled Willie across the plains, and buried him in the cemetery on the hill. I think he was 86 proof by that time.
The remainder of Route 6 to Chehalis took us through such exciting towns as Frances, Pe El, Doty and Adna.
The entire three-day trek covered 300 car miles, included scores of interesting people and furnished lots of fun.
D. Fred Benton is a member of the Jottings Group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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