Four years ago this month I wrote a piece for the Ramble about my great-grandfather, Thomas Franklin Nutt, and a memorable, yet harrowing, road trip that he took with my family to California in the mid 1950's. Grandpa Nutt, who was forced upon us by one of his Missouri daughters just as our family was pulling out of the drive to head to California on a vacation, became disoriented and volatile while on the road, and we finally had to abandon him at a care facility in Arizona until his son could drive from Los Angeles to fetch him.
What I didn't realize at the time I wrote the piece was that was not Grandpa Nutt's first trip out west. He and his wife, Etta, had lived in Los Angeles during the World War II years to be near some of their grown children - and he had made a trip to the coast as a single man much earlier in his life.
It is Tom Nutt's first trip to the Pacific Coast that I find to be so personally captivating. I learned about that trip a few weeks ago while doing a bit of basic internet genealogy research. There I discovered some Nutt family history that incorporated what appears to be a set of notes written by Tom's granddaughter (and my dad's cousin), Maryruth Nutt. Maryruth, several years deceased, was a nurse in the Kansas City area who never married and maintained a lifetime passion for genealogy. She and I exchanged a couple of letters many years ago, and we met briefly one time, but during those contacts she never told me the story of Grandpa Tom's trip west as a young man.
Here is my summation of what she had to say in her notes:
Thomas Franklin Nutt was born in 1870, and though his parentage is unclear, he did grow up in the household of his grandparents, Henry and Celana (Rutledge) Nutt of Neosho, Missouri, a community where Herny ran a sawmill and served for a time as the town constable. Tom Nutt was married on March 31, 1893, to Etta Orvilla Griffith in Neosho, and their first child, Claude Nutt (Maryruth's father) was born to the couple six months later.
According to Maryruth's notes, sometime not too far ahead of that marriage and quick baby, Tom Nutt and one of his Rutledge cousins decided to go on a walkabout and check out the land situation in other parts of the country. The young men probably started walking west from Neosho, Missouri, in the very early spring of1889, 1890, or 1891 - and they walked all the way to the Pacific Coast!
In later years Tom recalled segments of the trip including the wide expanses of prairie that gradually rose into the foothills of the Rockies, the beautiful Arkansas River Valley that was visible for miles, the groves of cottonwood trees along the river banks, and the glimpsed tribes of Indians and sporadic views of Indian encampments. Tom found some land that he liked near Wichita, Kansas, and filed a claim on it, but after eventually returning to Neosho he decided not to "prove" his Kansas claim but instead to marry Etta and remain in Neosho near friends and family. His logic was that Kansas was still too wild and untamed, and Neosho was better suited to raising a family.
So perhaps that is a clue as to why Grandpa Tom Nutt had a meltdown in the backseat of our family car and began swinging his cane at Gail and I and our parents. He was remembering the old times and wanted to get out and walk!
Rest in peace, Grandpa Nutt. I'll think of you the next time I dread getting on a treadmill!