February 6, 2015

Flawed Legend of a Proud Clan…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:00 pm

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The seed of our destruction will blossom in the desert, the alexin
of our cure grows by a mountain rock, and our lives are haunted
by a Georgia slattern, because a London cutpurse went unhung.
Each moment is the fruit of forty thousand years. The minute-
winning days, like flies, buzz home to death, and every moment
is a window on all time.

—Thomas Wolfe
________________

I suppose every family has them. Well, as tiny as the modern family is these days, maybe not so much. But still, they have to be sprinkled in there, somewhere. The tales handed down and told and retold, tales that grow more fantastic with each telling. And then, of course, there are the legends, the things that happened generations ago. The difference between a tale and a legend? A tale will shift and grow and change, almost at the whim of the teller. The details of a legend remain pretty much set in stone. The basic story is carefully guarded and passed along from one generation to the next.

And the one legend in my family that stood out above all the rest, well, that was a pride thing, one of those legends that got told to us from the time we were old enough to understand the basic concepts of what we were hearing. It was as natural as the passing of the seasons, the telling of the story. We heard the voices speaking, and we listened with innocent ears and wondering hearts. And to me, it was the same as gospel truth, the story, because it was so real, and so unquestioned. We Waglers are different, at least the ones in my immediate family are. We’re different, because we got special blood flowing through our veins. It’s Indian blood. American warrior blood. Sure, we come from the Amish. But we got us some native connections, too. Connections to this land, before it ever was the country it is today.

I can’t tell you how casually and how solemnly that story was passed down. I remember it from my earliest years. Not really as a special thing. I mean, any family story you hear as a child, you just absorb it. You accept it as the truth. And you don’t really consider it as anything other than what was. And what is. Later, as you grow the legend in your mind, that’s when you get a little proud of the blood in you. At least, that’s how it all came down for me.

The details of the legend were all a bit vague, but always told the same. Never much variation at all, in the telling. Way back whenever, a young unmarried woman boarded a ship from Germany with maybe her father and a sibling or two. I forget who else exactly came along from her immediate family. Anyway, this young woman had a young daughter. She was unmarried, the young woman. Maybe widowed. We don’t know. Those details never made it. And supposedly, the young woman hooked up with an Indian on the ship on the way over. It was whispered that she may have been of somewhat dubious moral fiber. I mean, how slatternly was that, hooking up with some dark stranger on a ship? Especially in those days. Anyway, some months after they landed, another little baby girl was born to Veronica Stuckey. Yep. That was her name. Veronica Stuckey. Such a surname has long disappeared from the rolls of any current Amish group anywhere.

The young daughter that was born here in this country was supposedly my maternal great-great-great grandmother, or some such thing. It goes way back. And she was dark-skinned, being half Indian. And that’s where we come from, my brand of Waglers. That was the legend. And it wasn’t just a loose story. Oh, no. It was always pointed out, in the telling. Look at us. Look at our high-boned faces. That’s Indian. American Indian. We got the blood flowing in us, through us.

And details like that made it all fit, when you look at my immediate family. You look at our faces. Mostly high-boned cheeks. Coal black hair, pretty much across the board. And we have dark complexions. That’s who my family is. I can sit in the sun for ten minutes a day, and have a deep and healthy tan in less than a week. And when I work in the sun, well, I get real dark. Back in the days of my youth when I worked construction, lean and shirtless under the summer skies, I very much resembled an Indian. Except for one thing. My curly hair. But that was from all the non-Indian blood in me, is what I always figured. Except for that unruly hair, I could have passed as a native son of this land, from way back.

A little aside here, about my curly hair. I hated those curls, as a child. Despised them with all the intensity any child is capable of. And I remember when I got particularly irritated, I remember going and dunking my head under the water tap in the sink. Get those curls wet. Plaster them back. Now, I got nice flat hair, just like everyone else. Of course, mere minutes later, after my hair had dried, the curls went completely haywire. There was no way to win, seemed like, looking back.

Well, maybe there was one small victory. I’ve always remembered this little incident, because it was just such an aberration. It was a summer evening, when I was probably four years old. I was playing out in the yard north of the house, beside the road, with my siblings. A car pulled up on the gravel road, and stopped by the mailbox. Stephen and Titus and my sister Rachel, I think, walked up to see what was going on. There were two couples in that car, out on a date. Young kids, teenagers. Maybe the boys were twenty. And they wanted to know how to get to somewhere. My siblings just stood around and they were all chatting amiably with each other. About that time I pushed myself through the crowd, up beside the car. A little curly-haired four-year-old Amish boy with large brown eyes. Galluses holding up my denim pants. Barefooted and dirt-stained. And dark as any Indian.

I remember the two beautiful English girls in the car, and how they suddenly squealed in unison. “Oh! Isn’t he cute? Oh, couldn’t you just hold and hug him?” And they kept gushing. “Oh, isn’t he cute?” I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. And then I realized it was me they were fussing about. The two girls kept pestering their boyfriends. “Isn’t he cute?” And the boyfriends mumbled half-heartedly. “Yeah, yeah. He’s cute.” They probably wanted to throttle me. But I was blissfully unaware of any of that. We stepped back, then, from the road, my siblings and me. And the car crunched off to the east on the gravel.

And that was just a bunny trail about my curly hair. Despite those curls, though, I never, never doubted the original story. We have Indian blood in us, we Waglers of the David and Ida Mae lineage. We’re pretty unique. The ancient warrior strain, that stirs in us. And yes. We are proud.

And I always made sure to slide it in there, in a lot of conversations with people along the way over the years, although in later years not so much. A casual observation that just kind of came out on its own. I have Indian blood in me. I’m one/thirty-second Indian. That’s how closely they had calculated it all out, those ahead of me. And I told people wherever I went. I wouldn’t remember this specifically, but my sister-in-law, Wilma, Steve’s wife, told me recently. “That first summer, when a load of you came to Bloomfield to build your barn, I remember the first time you walked into our house. There was a picture on the wall, of an Indian on a horse. You pointed up to that picture and said, ‘There goes one of my relatives. I’m part Indian.’”

I have no memory at all, of that particular instance. But I’m sure it happened. Because I remember how proudly I carried it on me as a badge of honor back in those years, and beyond, my Indian blood. Like I said, not so much in later years, and never, since I started writing. But I still believed it. And I’m sure I bored many people to tears with it all, way too often, back then. To all such people, I apologize. I believed what I was telling you, and somehow, I just thought you’d be interested in hearing it. I wouldn’t be that presumptuous again.

And so it was all firmly settled in our minds for all these years, for me and my siblings. We have Indian blood in us. That makes us different. Special, somehow. Well, I think my brother Steve was the only one who didn’t really embrace the legend. “Nah,” he’d proclaim. “I don’t think we have any Indian blood at all.” But he dutifully passed the story on to his children. We all dutifully passed it on down to the next generation. Those who had children, to their children. Those who didn’t have children, like me and Nathan, well, we spoke it to our nieces and nephews. As dramatically as we could intone it, we spoke it. Walk tall. Walk proud. You have a very rich, mixed heritage. You have warrior blood.

And it probably would have receded into the mists of time as the truth we all believed, our Indian heritage. It would have happened. Except for two little factors that somehow just came rumbling right down the pike when no one like me was looking for them.

The first factor is that the younger generation tends to be a little skeptical about some things. Even family legends. My nieces and nephews somehow didn’t just buy into the Indian blood legend. Well, I’m sure they all believed the story when it was told to them as children. I’m sure they listened, all wide-eyed, and drank it all in. But somehow, they became skeptics, some few of them, later, as adults.

And the second factor is because they, those in the younger generation, they have a tool in hand that we never had. The internet. And if you know your way around, even just a little, in that world, you can research a lot of stuff, very thoroughly. And it all started out innocently enough last fall. My niece Dorothy (Abby’s Mom) decided she was going to check out Ancestry.com. A grief diversion for her, I think. Dorothy told us all about it on the family Facebook page. She was fixing to do a little family research, to see if she could find that young single lady who came over on that ship. And we all blessed her and cheered her on.

And within days, she was posting some pretty astounding stuff. At some point, there, my nephew Reuben Wagler joined her. Reuben actually subscribed to the service, and the two of them were off and running. And it didn’t take them long to dig up all kinds of fascinating facts and figures. They even posted a picture of young Veronica Stuckey. A rather buxom woman, with high cheek bones. Not looking any too happy, either, in my opinion. Or maybe that’s just how people posed for photographs back then. And she didn’t look Amish at all. I don’t know. Maybe she wasn’t. Anyway, Dorothy and Reuben dug and dug around to find the father or fathers of Veronica’s children, her two little daughters. And they dredged and dredged and sifted some more. They could find nothing. No mention at all, of any man anywhere in her life.

Veronica Stuckey

Well, what do you expect, at least when it comes to the second child? We older ones asked, all confident and smug. It was that Indian on that ship, of course. And I think that would have settled the matter in everyone’s minds. Except the younger generation is very restless. And except the people at Ancestry.com offer more than just research services. For a fee, they will take your DNA test, and match it with everything in their vast data bank. And they’ll tell you where you come from. And they’ll tell you if you got any Indian blood in you or not.

And now, enter another nephew. Ira Lee Wagler. My namesake, Steve’s son. Married, with a little son named Desmond Ira. (Lancaster County now has three Ira Waglers, which is probably about as many as any county, anywhere, could be expected to put up with.) A month or so ago, this man, this nephew, my namesake, suddenly got a very bright idea. He’d get that DNA test done. So he sent off his hundred bucks for the kit. And duly spit into the little tube and sent in his sample of saliva. All this he did, without telling any of his aunts and uncles. And maybe no one else, for that matter. Whoever he told, it wasn’t many people. He kept it pretty quiet.

And one day, a few weeks later, which was just a few weeks back, the results were emailed to him. He read the stats eagerly. And a few evenings after that, we were all at Steve’s house for supper. And as we visited after the meal, Ira Lee brought it up. He told me what he’d done. The results were in. And a big old family legend was just about to be put to rest, once and for all. And boom, just like that it was flung at me, right out of the blue. I recoiled.

Oh my, I said, dismayed. Why in the world would you do such a thing as to take that DNA test? Is there no respect in you, for family legends? Especially for such a foundational legend as that. I mean, it’s part of the essence of who we are, as Waglers. We have Indian blood. That’s just how it’s always been told. Do you realize what you’re doing, when you set out to disprove something so entrenched as that? How could you? I really, really wish you wouldn’t have.

But he had. And we sat there, and he told me the results. Native Americans (Indians) have a very unique strand of DNA. And the test had shown not a shred of that specific, unique type. It’s impossible, that we have Indian blood in us. Boom. Again. We are mostly Caucasian, from France and Switzerland. But there is a thirteen percent slice of Greek/Italian. So that’s maybe where the dark features come from. The facial features, too, some.

There was nothing I could do but absorb what he was telling me. But I grumbled pretty savagely at my nephew. You’re just gonna believe what they tell you? I mean, I think that DNA test is just wrong. If it’s not, then maybe that was an Italian on the ship, and people just mistook him for an Indian. I’m trying to protect the legend, here. Ira Lee seemed a little apologetic, but still, not repentant. He was gonna do what he was gonna do. And he had done what he had done. He has since actually produced a very flashy little video, recording every step of his heretical journey.

But I’ve thought about it all a good bit, since then. I can’t be too mad at Ira Lee. If it wouldn’t have been him, it would have been someone else in the family lineage. It’s impossible, that the legend wouldn’t have been shattered as the myth it was, at some point. It would have happened, sometime, somewhere. It was all just a matter of time. And who can control the timing of such a thing?

Still, it would have been OK if the legend-busting bloodhounds had held off for a while. Like, maybe, another generation or so. Because it knocks you around a bit, when something you have firmly known all your life just gets yanked out from under you like that. It’s disconcerting. What else out there isn’t true, that we’ve always been told?

It all is what it is, I guess. But still, it makes me wonder, a little bit. Where does a formerly proud man of “warrior blood” go to turn in those false credentials he has claimed all his life?

**************************
And this past week, another milestone quietly came and went. February 3rd. Which would have been my parent’s seventy-third wedding anniversary. And I thought about it, on that day. Thought about that long, hard journey they traveled together through all those years of life.

Dad and Mom

In 1942, my parents got married in a simple Amish wedding ceremony in Daviess County, Indiana. Through all that came at them, for better or for worse, they held that marriage together for seventy-two years. Mom left us last April. Except for a few years early on when Dad was serving in a WWII work camp, this was the first time since their wedding day that they had been separated on February 3rd.

Still, I thought it. Happy Anniversary, Dad. I know you miss her. She never will come back to you here, but one day you will go to where she is. And then the two of you can celebrate this date together again.

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(19 Comments) »

  1. Was truly delighted to see a new post today! Seems a lot has happened recently.
    Family history can be fascinating. My husband knows nothing of his family name, Hullinger. Seems to be an Amish name. By word of mouth we heard a woman left the order at one time agree falling for an English man.
    In my mother’s side I’ve heard tales of being an Israelitell from a lost tribe by way of Alaska.
    Family legand indeed.

    Comment by Mindy D. Hullinger — February 6, 2015 @ 6:46 pm

  2. Just read this blog and I can relate to some of it, Ira. Being from Appalachia, and I personally am in So. Ohio…born and bred..but am including Ky, W.Va. and Virginia in this comment as well..I think most anyone who is originally from this area has some percentage of Native American blood in them.

    In our town, we are eat up with the name Shawnee…Shawnee State University and many, many businesses with the name Shawnee as well as Shawnee Forest, etc. My lineage is pretty vague and I’m not one who really wants to do research on it. But I was told many years ago that we were Indian too…well, that we had Indian blood in us. My Dad really showed it. My Mom’s side, no. Scottish and German there.

    I was told that many, many, many years ago, a family by the name of Cooper took in a young Indian boy and raised him…the boy took on the last name of Cooper and that he was one of my great, great, great…well, you get the picture…grandparents. I haven’t a clue if this is accurate or not. I do think it’s possible as all of my people are from this immediate area. Well, my people for many years back anyway. And this area was an ideal place for the Indians to call home for awhile…the woods and the rivers I’m sure held bounty beyond imagining back then. So…who knows? But..I can so relate to your blog because of this ‘legend’ in my own family.

    Comment by Diane — February 6, 2015 @ 7:08 pm

  3. Excellent blog post, Ira. Yes we are a proud clan, but also unafraid to face the truth.

    If any of your readers knows anything further about the Stuckeys, I would be highly interested.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — February 6, 2015 @ 8:01 pm

  4. Interesting post… So many of us Americans want to have a claim to a legend of an Indian Princess among our ancestors!! I have that same desire/claim but just not sure if it’s so. I’ve been considering the DNA testing, more so in the past few days/weeks. Something to consider in your ‘struggle’ of who the unknown father was, consider the time frame and location of Miss Stuckey and the history of the area from where she was. I’m of a group that are tri-racial that was considered to be European and black and Native American. The groups that carry this same label are all adamant that there is no black, it’s ‘Portyghee’ or Portuguese. Regardless of what DNA or any legend or myth states, I am who I am.

    Another thing to consider when you’re trying to mull over this dear lady is her whereabouts at the time of conception, remembering that boundaries and counties and townships and states change throughout the years. The library probably has a book (the name escapes me at the moment) that has maps of every state for each census timeframe so that you can get an idea of her exact location back then. If it was before the census then I’m not sure where you would look. Good luck to Ira Lee and Reuben in their endeavors, and who knows, you may have an even greater warrior ancestor than some Native American would have been!!

    Comment by Bev Jackson — February 6, 2015 @ 8:30 pm

  5. Now you’ve got me chompin’ at the bit to find out if I do, in fact, have Jewish blood. It makes sense, since our particular German is laced with Yiddish–so much so that I can read a ton of it just by sounding it out and hearing my mother tongue–but maybe it’s all a myth too, not a legend, this thing about Jesus being my ‘cousin’…

    Great blog!

    Comment by Trudy Metzger — February 6, 2015 @ 10:10 pm

  6. Lovely as always! so fun to see the story of all of us in print. Sorry to have been a part of bashing the legend and you are correct. It has been a tremendously wonderful diversion! I think we as a family have the internet to thank for our ability to be together even tho many miles separate us. We (probably mostly Reuben ;) ) will keep dredging for more info on Miss Veronica and what makes the story of her life appear as it does….

    Comment by Dorothy Miller — February 6, 2015 @ 10:41 pm

  7. So you go from proud Native American warrior to descendant of a Mafia kingpin- is that so bad? My pawpaw came over as a stowaway on a ship from Naples, oh my! Could we be related?

    Comment by pizza lady — February 7, 2015 @ 8:22 am

  8. Just completed reading your posting on your blog. So enjoyed and related to your feelings. My brother’s and I were also told that we have Indian Blood lines (Blackfoot). I sent my brother’s DNA and my DNA in and was shocked nothing indicated a drop of Indian Blood.

    For me, it is hard to release tales that have been passed on from generation to generation as gospel truth because of a DNA Test!

    Comment by Martha — February 7, 2015 @ 8:25 am

  9. Enjoyed reading what you write as always. I love the Thomas Wolfe quote heading your column this week. “…and every moment is a window on all time.” This is why true prophecy works, for those who have ears to hear, and respond in faith, even if that response means I have to take sides against myself. In related news, I found this song last week, “Cageless Birds” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10F8uLdzOaU Really worth listening to the spoken poem that starts it off.

    Comment by LeRoy — February 7, 2015 @ 8:53 am

  10. Very interesting as usual! I suspect that I have Indian blood and after reading this I may really check it out. The difference is that my family would not even talk about the possibility. My understanding is that a generation or two ago it was the last thing people wanted to know..Indian bloodlines. My family migrated through TN before settling in Lawrence and Daviess Co.

    Comment by Linda Ault — February 7, 2015 @ 9:28 am

  11. I think Rudy could testify that you said “that’s my anscestor”. I think you said 1/17 th Indian. Also think it should be mentioned it’s from Mom Waglers family The Yoders that this strain was supposed to have originated from.

    Now don’t jump to conclusions that the Italy/ Greece is from Ira Lees paternal blood lines he also has a rich, dark heritage from my side. It is true I have heard these remarks about my daus. “Is that your biological child?” “Is she adopted?” “Is she your fresh air child?”etc.

    Comment by Wilma — February 7, 2015 @ 12:33 pm

  12. Loved this post and happy to hear from you. I have thought for some time that I would like to send my DNA off to be analyzed. You have given me the motivation to really do that now. How fascinating to learn what you have learned. The proof is in the DNA! :-) More fascinating than trying to work up a family tree.

    Comment by Rosanna F. — February 7, 2015 @ 3:13 pm

  13. Nooooo! Don’t take the Indian blood away from us!! The mysterious Veronica Stuckey is in my family tree too, about the same place as in yours, and for me too it has been a sense of pride. And now you go and “fadutz” the legend! Arghhhh

    Comment by John — February 7, 2015 @ 3:13 pm

  14. The 13% number in Ira Lee’s DNA analysis is interesting and compelling. That number is really 12.5% or 1/8. That analysis says that one of Ira Lee’s great grandparents is southern Mediterranean ethnic. That could be one of Ira’s grandparents. It also could be one of Ira Lee’s mother’s grandparents.

    Comment by Mark Hersch — February 9, 2015 @ 10:12 am

  15. I’ll put in a plug for you curly tops. My youngest has thick, auburn curls. Oh, do the women swoon. Not three days ago the boys were redeeming their Chick Filet gift cards they received for Christmas. As soon as it was Curly’s turn to order the cashier went into the usual spiel of “Ohhh! I love his hair! He’s so cute.” You know, the stuff you heard as a tike. This particular cashier was kind enough to include my older boy in her hair compliments which I deeply appreciated. Nobody said a thing about my hair.

    Yes, my son’s hair is a real attraction. We’ve had dreamy eyed bald men approach us, “I used to have hair like that.” Grandmas on scooters have accosted us while shopping, “My grandson has red hair” or “I wish I could get that color from a bottle.” And then there’s my understandably jealous older son, “Your hair doesn’t grow down…it grows up! Ha, ha, ha!” Whatever the case, people are drawn to curly haired boys.

    As a young girl, I had a friend who claimed she was from the Cherokee bloodline. I have no idea how she came to this conclusion since she was as fair as I. It was nothing for me to return from the beach with blisters on my back. Apparently, my mother never heard of sunscreen. Oh! Sorry. Ahem. Got lost in a flashback. So, back to my little friend…she claimed she had Cherokee blood and I believed her which resulted in my being jealous of her. I wanted Cherokee blood too!

    If I were you, I wouldn’t give up my claim to Native American fame just yet. There must be glitches in these mail order DNA tests. I’m sure they’ll find them…some day. Hold onto your dream I say! You can’t believe everything that’s placed before you even if it does cost a hundred bucks. I mean, who’s to say the lab techs. weren’t clowning around the day Ira Lee’s spittle arrived? I can see it now, “Hey, Mike, come here and sneeze into this tube. Time to rock some guys world! Ha, ha, ha! Achoo!” I quote Saturday Night Live’s 1980’s funny lady, Joan Cusack, “It could hyappen.”

    Comment by Francine — February 9, 2015 @ 1:10 pm

  16. Well, if this Italian thing holds out for your generation, you know what this means don’t you? You’re now going to have to proclaim you’re a lover(Italian), not a fighter(Indian). HA! Side note-I though you were taking a break. Can’t stay away from the keyboard, hey? Side,side note-After listening to Ira Lee, it’s evident that the Amish accent is passing along strongly. No worries about that tradition becoming endangered. :)

    Comment by Lisa DeYoung — February 10, 2015 @ 6:10 pm

  17. Having thought about this I agree with Francine. One hundred dollar test seems very low end testing to me. I believe another test is in order before you give this up.

    Comment by Linda Ault — February 12, 2015 @ 9:33 am

  18. Some decades ago the cousins from Oregon on mom’s side of the family dug around in the Mormon archives in Salt Lake City. They figured out the tree pretty much, Aryans coming from Germany and Switzerland in the early 1800’s mostly. A few misfits and scalawag’s sprang out of that, characters that didn’t seem to fit in, and I count myself among them, it’s just the way it is. Dad’s side was found out to be of the same linage around the same time, the first ones from his side are buried around Charm, Ohio. A lot of straight haired little Blondie’s were the result, and still are, along with a lot of other hair shades. There was one curly top in the immediate family and that was my younger brother. He was blonde and hated the curls, especially in his teens. One other brother and I had straight blond hair and we wore it long back in the day. The girls seemed to like it, it was good for some rock star squeals and yelps once in a while. We still are blessed with most of it but it sure isn’t very blonde now. DNA tests are something that I have considered, maybe there is something in the wood pile that no one knows about… and maybe no one wants to know. I think we all have our allusions and delusions about our family of origin and that’s just who we are as humans… anyway.. great post and peace to all.

    Comment by lenny — February 15, 2015 @ 5:02 pm

  19. comment #14 has a good point, one would need to
    test Ira Lee’s parents to see which side the 12.5%
    is coming from. just to clarify, I am not a genealogist, but I have counted to three on occasion.

    Comment by Paul Kuhns — February 16, 2015 @ 12:12 pm

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