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Grandmother Brookshire tells about Civil War South and homesteading in Idaho

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Posted: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 10:47 am

Editors note: This is part of a series of articles about pioneer families of Gem County originally published in the Sept. 25, 1948 edition of the Emmett Messenger. See other pioneer stories online at: www.messenger-index.com/history.

Miriam Ophelia Howell Brookshire still exemplified at 96, the hardy determination of the pioneer stock which won the West - there could be no doubt of that recently when she spinned tales of pre-Civil War Arkansas, the fabulous Cherokee Strip land wars and her pioneering train trip to Idaho in the last century.

She was born May 19, 1851 near Fayetteville, Ark., the daughter of Wylie and Elizabeth Jones Howell. Of her ten brothers and sisters Mrs. Brookshire recalled sadly that seven died of typhoid fever contracted on their small farm.

"Oh yes," she replied pleasantly to a question, "we got to go to a country school ... about three months a year. I was doin' pretty well in school too, till the outbreak of the war between the States and that closed down all southern schools for more than four years you know."

Asked if their part of the Arkansas was much affected by the war, the spry little old lady stated Union soldiers robbed homes and killed stock in her neighborhood, "but they never bothered any of us girls." She said it was the post war reconstruction with its carpetbaggers and "black Republicans" that caused them the most grief.

As she rocked back and forth peeling fruit to preserve, she reminisced about her first meeting with Christopher Columbus Brookshire, who was then working as a hired hand on a neighboring Patterson farm. They were married May 20, 1869 and moved in with the Pattersons. They rented a small place a year later and saved enough money to make a down payment on a 40-acre place in 1876. It was near Cincinnati, Ark. and on the eastern boundary of what was then known as the Cherokee Nation (now Oklahoma), she recollected.

"Our place had to be cleared off and a house built for me before we could do any farming," the near-centenarian declared. "The Indians used to come over from the Cherokee Strip to help us. We found them mighty good help, too ... as long as they stayed sober. After we got to raisin' grain they helped in the harvest and would pull corn-fodder for their horses."

After they had paid for their hard-earned 40 acres and were looking forward to spending the rest of their lives on it. A neighbor, Jim Morrow and his family returned from visiting relatives in Caldwell and "just couldn't talk about anything but the opportunities ahead in Idaho." Mrs. Brookshire and the Morrows finally persuaded them to sell out and move with them to Idaho.

"We had two boys and two girls ranging in ages from two to 14 at that time, so I took them on one train and Chris brought out household goods and livestock in another freight car," she mused. "He had summer work at Bellvue so we stayed there from May to September of 1884. We homesteaded 160 acres of bottom land near Middleton that fall."

Grandmother Brookshire, as she is known to even Emmett old timers, said they proved up on the homestead in 1887 and sold it for a good price. They moved then to the Boise Valley and leased a place from Sam Mann east of Eagle for "a coupl'a years."

"Then we came to the Emmett Valley in 1892 - and leased a place from a man named Witt ... just west of where the Boise-Payette mill now stands. In 1894, we bought five acres on the south side of what is now Emmett's Main Street and about half a mile east of town. Cartwright and Bilderback owned the only store that was here then and Miss Elsie Wardwell, now Mrs. Ed Hayes, was serving as postmaster."

Her husband's health failed so that he was unable to keep up with his farm work about the time Emmett was getting rail service and was becoming an incorporated village. They sold their tract in 1902 and bought from Mrs. Joe Reed the large house Mrs. Brookshire still occupies at 310 West Main St.

Although she never mentioned this indication of her self-reliance, other Emmett pioneers have told this writer how Grandmother Brookshire worked as a janitor in several businesses here in order to have money to finish raising her children. Like her mother, she bore 11 children, of which four are living: Mrs. Florence Sloper, Eagle; Mrs. Frank Clark, Emmett; Mrs. Ivy Roades Whittle, Boise and Wilburn Brookshire, Nampa.

"Chris wasn't very old, 67, when he died here in 1910," she sighed, "and since he's been gone this place had kept me busy doing my housework, taking care of the lawn and doing a little gardening. I guess it's kept me from thinking about getting old. I don't think anybody's any older than he feels ... and I feel fine!"


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