My Life’s Story
By Eleanor Bowen
Chapter 1: My Story
My father’s name is Caleb Grant Van Dusen. He was born December 19, 1867 in Indiana. His parents were Elijah and Martha Rennels Van Dusen. He was raised on a farm. When he was about ten years old, the family moved to Stuttgart Arkansas where his father bought a farm at the edge of town. There were four children; Scott and Caleb; two sisters, Polly and Rebecca, both who died young. My father was in the creamery business for several years. When his father died, the farm was sold and the proceeds, plus cash were divided between my father and his brother Scott. Father put his share into a restaurant, but he soon lost everything. When his brother offered to get him a job in the creamery in Hot Springs where he was working, he accepted and we moved to there about the first 1913.
The meaning of the Van attached to our name, according to Webster’s Dictionary is that it identifies the part of Holland that we came from, but legend says it means that we are in some way related to the House of Orange, so, you can take your choice. Dusen is supposed to be our last name, but we combine the Van and the Dusen and capitalize the V and the D. Father is a third generation from the old country on his father’s side, I don’t know much about his mother’s side of the family, except that they come from England.
Later in life, Father became a carpenter. He taught me a lot about carpentering and repairing of furniture.
My mother’s name was Mary Ellen Barrett. She was born in Coffeyville, Kansas, September 30, 1881. Her parents were George and Lydia Melvina Halstead Barrett. The family moved to southern Nebraska while she was still a baby. When she was thirteen years old, they moved to Arkansas and rented a farm near Carlisle. She was raised on a farm. She was a second generation from England on her father’s side of the family. Her father came from England when he was nineteen years old. A plantation owner, by the name of Barrett, sponsored him. He had to work for him three years without pay and during that time he was taught to read and write by Mrs. Barrett. His name was originally Green, but when he decided to stay, he took the name of Barrett. In some way it made it easier for him to become a citizen of the United States. Mother was a third generation from Scotland on her mother’s side of the family.
On January 15, 1899, she married my father in her home. Afterwards she went with him to Stuttgart to live on the Van Dusen farm. Later she moved with him to Hot Springs. Her only claim to something other housewife was her part in supplying recipes for a local cookbook. And Marksman with a gun.
I have two brothers. There is Charles Grant Van Dusen, who was born at home in Stuttgart on November 17, 1905. There was my brother, Harry Scott, who was born at home in Stuttgart on December 23, 1912. He died September 22, 1923 at Durango, Colorado in the Mercy Hospital of gangrene which was due to a ruptured appendix.
I am Eleanor Erma Van Dusen. I was born September 11, 1910, at home, in Stuttgart Arkansas. I lived at times on a farm and other times I lived in town. In Hot Springs, Father worked in the creamery until he became ill with TB. Mother, then, took in boarders and baked bread for sale until she too contracted TB and was soon unable to do much of anything.
I remember the following:
We would lay nails in different positions on the tracks of the street car. When the wheels passed over them, they became fused together in the forms of scissors, knives and etc.
Childhood diseases were a big part of my life the first year that I lived in Hot Springs. I had measles, Chicken Pox, and a bad case of malaria fever.
I lived to watch the children that were old enough, roller skate up and down the sidewalk on the hill from our street to Whittington Avenue. The sidewalk would have four steps, then a length of ramp and then four more steps up to the higher street.
We would have an especially good time when the family went to the park to see the ostriches and the alligators and bears. An attendant, who sold little alligators for pets would fasten their mouths onto his fingers while he dangled them in the air.
One pleasure was when I would walk, barefoot, down the street when it was muddy and I would squish the mud between my toes on my way to a neighbor’s yard to pick and eat sweet ripe cherries and plums off her tree near the fence.
Often, I was allowed to play with a doll almost as large as I was. It belonged to Mrs. Needham who lived next door to us. She dressed it sometimes as a sailor boy and at other times as a Buster Brown doll, which it originally had been.
I remember fighting with my cousin Helen, who was older than I. I could get away from her by slipping through a hole in our fence to play with a little girl my age, because Helen was not allowed to leave the yard at any time.
Mother and Father became so ill and poor that there was very little to eat. When my Grandfather learned how ill my mother had become, he sent the money for her and the three of us to come live with him in New Mexico. We left father in Hot Springs, because he was too ill to travel and Uncle Scott promised to look after him.
In January 1915, we boarded the train for New Mexico.
Chapter One Notes: In this first chapter, there are a few issues that need to be addressed. First, Eleanor was told that her father was a third generation from the “old country” on his father’s side. This is not exactly true; it is, but it isn’t. Her paternal grandfather was Elijah Van Dusen son of Jacob Van Dusen of Dutch descent. Jacob Van Dusen was born in New York State, where the American branch of the Van Dusen family have thrived since the 1620’s. So for them, New York would have been the “old country”, not the Netherlands.
Another part of this narrative that is more from the realm of fiction than fact, is the story of Eleanor’s maternal grandfather, George Barrett. He did come from England when he was nineteen, but the rest of the story she tells is not true. His original surname was not Green, as she states, it was Barrett. As for the plantation owner, there is no evidence to support the existence of such characters. Eleanor fails to mention George Barrett’s first wife, who happens to be Lydia Halstead’s (George’s second wife) mother, Rachel McIntyre. It may very well be that Eleanor did not know about her great grandmother. It is not clear from whom Eleanor learned the story of her family from, but I do have a few theories as to why she was told a story clearly divergent from the truth.
Check back next month for Chapter 2.
Thank you for reading,