Lillie Davenport
Mary Lou Midkiff
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Buy *Lillie Davenport: Pioneer Mother* by Mary Lou Midkiff online

Lillie Davenport: Pioneer Mother
Mary Lou Midkiff
Oleo Publishing
344 pages
July 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Pioneering in Texas spanned a large swath of American history since it was still, in spirit, the "wild west" well into the 20th century. Lillie Davenport was a Georgia transplant who moved to Texas with her family in the aftermath of the Civil War. The family went by covered wagon to what was then called "Indian territory," which later became the state of Oklahoma. Lillie married a cowboy in 1896. She was never quite accepted by Oscar Midkiff's kin, as letters reproduced in this family chronicle suggest. Yet it was she, as the wife of a rancher and drover, who was often left alone for long periods of time to raise the large family, with the reluctant occasional assistance of her in-laws. As Lillie's mother expressed it in one of her letters to her daughter, "I want Oscar to take as good care of you as he can, and for you not to bother his people any more than you can help for it seems they have but little use for you."

After giving birth to 12 children (herself one of 12), in 1940 Lillie was left alone when Oscar died. She was in the process of deciding how to divvy up the Midkiff ranch when she got an offer from an oil company to lease the property. During the war, the ranch became a site for testing bombs for the U.S. war effort. The explosions caused prairie fires and local spectacle. As the author states, "There was no television in those days, and the army provided much appreciated entertainment."

The book is full of memories from the Davenport and Midkiff clans, with many reminiscences about their strong, upright grandmother Lillie. When Lillie passed away in 1972 at the age of 95, there were still 11 of her 12 children to mourn her passing, along with 36 grandchildren, 44 great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren. The preacher compared Lillie's character with the statue that stands in Ponca City, Oklahoma, of the "Pioneer Mother:- "head held high, body erect, with every fiber of her being reflecting courage."

Reading this book has given me insight into the art and science of genealogy. In most families, there is one aspiring genealogist (in mine, it's my sister). Mary Lou Midkiff has written one other book about the Midkiffs - Midkiff: a Texas Family, Town and Way of Life. She plans to write next about her side of her family tree (Davis). It is obvious that she has exhaustively researched this book. The actual genealogy (names and dates) of the several branches comprises nearly 100 pages. The book will be of use to other genealogists and stands on its own as a well-organized, brightly written family saga. Midkiff has gathered stories from most of the younger generation of the clan which, you will realize from the numbers quoted above, is a huge brood. The recollections are a powerful living testament, offering historical background and local color as well as personal vignettes. I have concluded that those who undertake to study their family history, like Mary Lou Midkiff, will themselves become historians of the wider world.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2008

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