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    The following narrative of actual past events was written by Brenda C. Ellis Jones, as told her, by varying relations, about her ancestors families trek from Scott County, Tennessee in 1917, this is the story of their journey by Covered Wagon Train.  If  you're an ancestor of Martin Van Buren Ellis, you may find this story very interesting

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Wagon Train Story

Copyrighted By: Kinfolk's Family Files 2003

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Surnames of Travelers in The Wagon Train

By: Brenda C. Jones June 1991

This is the story of the Ellis Family migration from Tennessee to Oklahoma. James Alvis and Nuretsia Retsie Phillips were married in the town of Robbins, in Scott County state of Tennessee on October 30, 1897. From this union there were seven children, this story is a reminiscing of four of those children. Hattie Anna Mae Ellis Hensley, Roy Albert Ellis, Martin Louis Ellis and Verna Frances Ellis Spade, as passed on to their children over the last eighty plus years.

The author and principal research for the information in this story was compiled by Brenda Ellis Jones, her father is Martin Louis Ellis. The other family member that worked on this project is Euphemia Ellis Samuel and her brother Ray Ellis.  He did the computer and web site design. They are the children of Roy Albert Ellis.

James Alvis Ellis; son of Martin V. Ellis and Thursa Jane Parker was born 1878. He married Nurestsia [Retsie] Phillips, daughter of William Marion Phillips and Cornelia Frances Tudor. Retsie as she was called by her family, was born in 1876. James and Retsie were both born in the North Eastern part of Tennessee.

The first part of this story starts around 1907 or 1908 the unique year is not known, but it was about this time that some members of the Ellis Family made their first trip to Oklahoma. On this first trip a small number of people went and they stayed only a short time, less than one year in Oklahoma and then return to Tennessee. We think they were checking the lay of the land, before the final move was made. How they went to Oklahoma is not known but according to some of their children two trips were made to Oklahoma. The first trip may have been by rail road on the train.

But we know for a fact that the final trip occurred in 1917. In March of that year, the Phillips and Ellis families acquired four covered wagons and were laden down with all their family possessions and other miscellaneous belongings of each family for the big journey to Oklahoma. You need to understand that by today's standards this would be a very simple trip to make. But remember in 1917 that US Interstate 40 was not there and its about 750 to 800 miles from Scott County, Tennessee to Adair County, Oklahoma by means of wagon trails. History of wagon trains, states that the average miles per day that a wagon could travel was between fifteen and twenty miles, at this speed, it would have taken about 35 to 50 days to make this trip. That's a lot of time for what is now an easy two day trip by car.

The four families were; Retsie parents William Marion age 64 and Cornellia Frances Phillips age 62. Retsie's youngest brother, Jasper William Phillips born in 1893 he was 24. With him was his first wife Alzie, assumed to be in her early twenties and her two sisters. Retsie's two sisters, Martha Cornelia age 40 and her husband George Howard, he was in his early forties. Her sister Harriet age 35 with her husband Billie Robinson. The abundance of the relations were the James Ellis' in-laws, the Phillips and assorted children. Six of James and Retsie Ellis' children, Nellie Cornelia 19, Hattie Anna Mae 17, Roy Albert 15, Jessie Lee 12, Verna Frances 9 and Martin Louis 2 year's old. Martin was the baby at the time of this trip. So we have grandpa and grandma Phillips, assorted uncles and aunts, with maw and paw Ellis and their six children undertaking a monumental trip by covered wagon. Why they were making this trip is unknown, we can only think it was to better their lives and the lives of their children.

It was very common in those days to travel a route that was well traveled by others. And to travel in large groups so that the people would not be robbed. It was often that a lone rider would join a wagon train for this reason and for the company of his fellow man. The route that the wangon train took led across the wide Mississippi River at the town of Cape Girardeau in Missouri. Verna Ellis Spade said, most everyone in the family walked all those miles from Tennessee to Oklahoma. This was probably true because those wagons gave a very rough ride and I am sure each wagon was full of belongings, food and drinking water, and other basic necessities.

Retsie's brother, Jasper Phillips was the Wagon Master. He would ride ahead and scout the country side for water and a place to graze the horses and fodder for the livestock. He also would scout for a safe place to camp for the night. Verna said, that at night they would sleep under the wagons. Hattie remembered One morning they were breaking camp and Uncle George Howard forgot and left his gun lying under a wagon. A man passing by claimed the gun was his, she said it took all the men in the wagon train to convince him the gun belonged to Uncle George Howard, the man eventually gave the gun back.

Verna and Hattie both said that when supplies ran low they would stay over in places where the men folk could do "handy work" or miscellaneous jobs. They would get paid in cash or take their pay in the form of provisions and foodstuff to be used in their travel. Hattie tells of Papa (James Alvis Ellis), buying milk, butter and stock feed from farmers along the way. Papa told us the lady, where he bought the food had a real live Parrot in the cellar where she kept the milk. And the Parrot said "what are you doing down here?". Hattie remembers Papa stopping and buying Verna a bouquet of roses because she thought they were so pretty, Verna always loved flowers. Verna said she saw real live Indians along the route and she just knew they were going to scalp her but they were peaceful. To a young girl only nine years old they must have seemed very frightening indeed.

When they arrived at Cape Girardeau, Missouri the wagons were loaded on a ferry to cross the Mississippi River. Verna called the ferries "long platforms."  One wagon at a time was loaded and pulled across the water by mules. Hattie being the oldest remembers more details of the river crossing. She says the ferries each had a name, "Big Buck and Little Buck."  The mules that were to pull the ferries across were on their knees because of the heavy load. Roy Ellis told of the big fish that he saw in the Mississippi River when he rode across on the ferry boat. He would retell this story about the big fish many times to his children. While the family was waiting for the wagons to be loaded, Hattie saw a large river steam boat. People were getting off at the dock and she talked of the Ladies, how pretty they looked in their "fine clothes." After crossing the Mississippi River they were on the trail again, headed toward their new homeland in Oklahoma.

How long this trip took, we do not know. But I'm sure each individual on that wagon train was happy the trip had ended. They had arrived at their new home, where all but James Alvis Ellis, who died in July of 1919, would spend less than two years. The other older family members lived in Oklahoma all their remaining life. All of James Alvis Ellis and Retsie's children, except  Jessie Lee eventually came to Sacramento Valley area of California in the 1930's and 1940's. They were seeking a better life and they found what they were looking for in the Golden State. Nellie Ellis Jones, the oldest child, died in childbirth in Oklahoma in 1935, they laid her to rest in the Proctor Cemetery in Adair County, as were so many of the Ellis' family members that remained in Oklahoma. All the family members that made this trip are now deceased and we the younger generations have this part of our family history to pass on to their descendants and others. We think its nice to know about your Roots.


Updated: 12 Nov 2003 10:52:55 AM

       Copyrighted By K infolk's Family Files