North Berrien Historical Museum is always interested in photos, stories or information sharing. The museum can be contacted at 269-468-3330 or by email to email@example.com.
From the photo collection at the North Berrien Historical Museum
300 Coloma Avenue, Coloma
The Paw Paw River Journal
Tales of the Old West
I know this will make me sound older than dirt, but I must say it! People my age are just one generation from the pioneers and the old American West! My Dad was born in a little frontier town in Wisconsin in 1886, where his father owned a general store. That was just 10 years after General Custer got his at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. It was just five years after Wyatt Earp shot it out with the bad guys at the OK Corral!
My mom was born just a few years after that. When she was a girl her family went homesteading in the Snake River Canyon area in Idaho. They lived in a tent with a wood floor. There was a local young man, a cowboy, who would have loved to come courting, but my mom’s father put his foot down on that. He had to leave the area for some reason, and my mom wound up with a guitar that he gave her.
There are at least two tales of how my mom got the guitar, both slightly different. First I’ll tell you the one my sister and I grew up with. When we were small my mom used to tell us stories and play music for us on her guitar, mandolin, and the piano. Our friends gathered and she entertained us all. And we had to join in on the songs we had learned, “Red River Valley,” “Springtime in the Rockies,” and songs like that. The watershed experience of her life was when they lived out west in two different states and she loved to tell stories of her childhood when she had those adventures.
My mom, Edith Merrill, was the 6th of seven children. They lived in Joliet, IL, and her father had an adventurous spirit… not the best thing for a man with a family that size. The oldest son, Charles, had gone to Texas and married a Palestine girl, whose family was (I think) in oil. He painted such glowing pictures that my grandpa and some of his friends decided to move their families down there.
They rented a train passenger car and a couple of freight cars for their stock and furniture and were off for Texas. There must have been three or four families in all. They settled in Mexia… this is about 60 miles east of Waco.
When I was stationed there in flight training I flew over one day to look at the town. Just out cloud chasing and decided to look it over. Not a very big town and on one side a no fly zone… probably an army ammunition depot or something, so I didn’t linger.
My mom said they lived in an old church that had been converted into a rental unit. Only reason it was available was because of the cemetery in back… people were too superstitious to live there! Across the street lived the retired minister and his wife, nice old people.
That never worked out, and they moved back to Joliet. Meanwhile son Charlie and his wife, May, had moved to Idaho. They painted such glowing pictures that Grandpa Merrill packed up the family again and moved out to the Snake River Valley area in Idaho. They leased a farm with apple orchards, and were expecting a huge crop… but freezing weather ruined that. My mom said she was the only person around who had gone through the 8th grade, and they wanted to hire her to teach school.
She turned that down because she was just a girl, and small at that. She said she never could have controlled the big kids. While there, my mom knew a cowboy. This is where our stories diverge. I remember her saying that the cowboy wanted to come courting her, but her dad said she was too young for him. He gave