Time Travel I–West Virginia

NOTE: This post previously appeared on this blog on 10 June 2012. I have republished it for “History” month here in Isles.

In May of 2006, Patty, John and I visited Seneca Rocks, West Virginia. Greg Adamson and Marsha Fuller hosted us on a 2-day guided tour into my Harper family’s past. Through their kind and knowledgeable guidance, I learned more about my family in that short “graveyard tour” than in my entire life.

The year 2006 would turn out to be eventful on several fronts, but this chance meeting came about from an email John received from Marsha. He had been googling ‘Harper’ and discovered that our family had a genealogist. Very surprising, and it turns out, very handy. John flew separately from Arcata, and Patty and I from the Ranch, out to Washington D.C. We rented a Chevy Trailblazer, an awful vehicle and a beast of an SUV. The drive from the capitol to Seneca Rocks took about three hours. We got a cabin at the Yokum Vacationland Resort, run by a distant relative.


The next day, we went to the Harper General Store, and waited for my cousin, Greg Adamson.


As we sat on the porch, we analyzed each car, truck and person to see any family resemblance. After a brief wait, a man got out of station wagon, and walked up to me, saying “I know who you are, you’re Rick Harper.” “Yes sir, I am, but how did you know that?” “I recognized you from your baby pictures,” he replied, smooth as silk. He led me to the back of the car, and proceeded to produce several cardboard boxes of photos and memorabilia. After an exchange of $3000, far less than he had paid on eBay, I took possession of the family history, along with some material from previous generations, as far back as Dr. Eli Harper.


Over the course of the next two days, Marsha Fuller, who had brought her aging dog companion, Little Sister, and we all traipsed up and down steep hillsides to visit restored, partially restored, and decaying graveyards.


We went to auction of a distant family relation in German Valley, where even the hay bales and 2×4’s were up for sale. We went to the Franklin County courthouse, saw the signatures and history of a dozen generations. We visited the old and still used Jacob Harper place near Seneca Rocks.

After the auction, we all jumped back into our cars, but soon stopped in a turnout off the road, near a chain link fence; an area fenced off to prevent the unwary from tumbling into a saltpeter mine. This mine served the farmers of the area, and Greg told the story of Eli assigned to excavate saltpeter for his summer work. It reminded me of Muir’s well tale in Wisconsin.

As we worked our way along German Valley toward the Franklin County courthouse, we paid a visit was to a collection of houses down by a creek, in which folks still lived. Patty and I searched for poison oak and ivy as we strayed around a wet bog, near a mill and creek. We paused outside several homes set back off the road. The current occupants greeted us warmly, and generously opened their homes to us, and Greg pointed out the saw marks in the attic boards, like those on quarter sawn wood, that indicated it had come from Harper’s Mill. Apparently, the blades made a characteristic mark that a skilled eye could trace back to a specific wood mill. In D.C., at the Museum of Science and Technology, we saw the same tech on display, all three of us smiling broadly at the near-immediacy of connections and history.


We spent several moments in the courthouse, after a brief visit with a distant relative. The court stored records reaching back hundreds of years, and we could see the registration across the centuries of Harpers married and dying, buying property and living in the public record. We struggled across the street to a pie and coffee shop, had some caffeine, and then bid our two wonderful hosts, Marsha and Greg, a fond goodbye.

Our brains were full, and our hearts laden with a history that no one had recounted to the western Harpers for a hundred years. We made our way back in silence along the winding roads leading from West Virginia to Virginia. We stopped at a sushi bar in Richmond, and thence to the Residence Inn, just north of the capitol. The next day, we drove into D.C., and found ourselves in the middle of “Rolling Thunder,” a collection of 300000 bikers on their annual migration to our nation’s capitol.

We visited the Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington monuments and memorials, visited the Museum of History, and walked the streets near the White House.


We took lunch at Philips on Washington Harbor, toured the open air seafood market, and then wearily made our way back to our hotel. The next morning we flew home.

But, of course, the story did not end there. We visited my dad and Marilyn once more after that journey in Prescott Valley, AZ. I mentioned the sale and purchase of family history, including my dad’s passport, his school mementos, and wedding photos. They had sold them quite some time before to neighbors who specialized in eBay sales.

Bonnie Miller later contacted me (2011) and sold me another tranche of family history, also gleaned from eBay. Here is an excerpt from our email conversation:

On 12/29/2011 8:14 AM, Bvmiller@aol.com wrote:

Hi Marsha, hope you had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Several years ago, I bought a small amount of material on the Harper Family on ebay.  Greg gave me the address of some of the descendants who were interested in this material but their email was returned.  I was wondering if you had an address for any of these people who were the descendants of Eli Akim Harper.  I am getting
rid of some of my genealogy works as it is time.
Bonnie Vance Miller

We’ll never know, I suppose, how much was lost in that act of indifference and divorce, but for posterity I have acquired as much as time, treasure, and interest permit. As part of the healing and history process in which I am engaged, I cut a video with John Denver’s “Country Roads” as the music backdrop. I know that somewhere I have photos of the amazing Seneca Rocks, and many other parts of our visit. As those surface from old Outlook .pst file, and elsewhere, I will update this post. In the meantime, enjoy the few images to which I currently have access.

Country Roads

Yesterday, January 8th, 2012, I met James Hanks in a quiet conference room, on the second floor of a tech building in Sorrento Valley. The exterior was unremarkable, as most of the buildings are in that area, save for Qualcomm and a few other “statement” structures. The ghosts of Allegiant stalked Mira Mesa Blvd., but did not haunt me as I drove to this meeting. James asked that I give him a call on his cell so that he could buzz me in to the secure site, but as I reached for the door handle, it occurred to me that he needn’t bother. Every door that I had needed to open in the last twenty years had been unlocked, patiently waiting for me to reach out and pull on it. I did so this time, with quiet confidence, and it yielded into a faceless lobby. I peered around the corner into a large, dark room that had once housed a no-doubt thriving IC business–it was empty, generally clean, with the dust of a decade laying silently upon it.
From the outside, the faded signage and half full parking lot gave no real indication that this edifice was but a shell. How many, I wondered, of these buildings were empty, pulling at the pockets of their landlords in a slow, steady drip of loss and wasted potential. The lobby had no address, no company name, so I ascended the carpeted stairway, and saw a lit room, of the same size and dimensions as its downstairs copy. Several women were conferring at a nearby desk, the lady with her back to me wearing six-inch stiletto Steve Madden’s. I notice these details now, without effort. The other women, vaguely oriental, turned to me nervously. “I’m here to see James Hanks, please.” “May I ask your name?” “Richard Harper.” “From what company,” she asked uncertainly, and I looked around the sparsely populated room – some sort of data recovery or warehousing signage hung from the side of a desk. How far the mighty tech sector had fallen. “Oh, it’s personal,” I replied, with a smile.
She walked to far end of the open room, and briefly spoke to an oriental man of about thirty, with a pony tail. She returned, and guided me into a small conference room, adjacent to the bull pit.

On 1/3/2013 6:32 PM, James Hanks wrote:
Hi Marsha,

I recently found some documents on Ebay that may pertain to your family. I was hoping you could fill in the blanks for me. (side hobby of mine) If they are indeed family papers, let me know where I can return them!


I settled into the seat, and after only a moment or two, James Hanks joined me, we shook hands, and he set a manila envelope down on the table. We had already digitally examined each other prior to the meeting, and he handed me the ziploc bag from between two sheets of cardboard. The eBay images had clearly shown the entire contents. I immediately recognized Dickey and Clarence; a third photo of Model T’s set to race was obscure and I set it aside. Before I could ask, James reiterated his interest in historical objects, specifically San Diego history. He was familiar with Mt. Hope cemetery. “What impressed me the most was the continuity of these items, the fact they came from one family. Most items I collect, the families have no idea or interest in their history. Then I found Marsha’s website-it wasn’t hard-and I was amazed. I saw these on eBay; I hate it when certain people start cutting up scrapbooks. Why do they do that?” Then, he narrowed his gaze, and leaned in a bit toward me. “Do you know why these came to be on sale?”

We visited about our trip to West Virginia, and the large collection I had purchased, the large collection I had recovered from Marilyn and my dad, the notion that my grandmother was a hoarder, a pack rat, a family historian. “When you’d visit her place in Escondido, the patio, the garage, every nook and cranny, had items she had stored, carefully folded and arranged, for some future need, some posterity. My dad sold these for money, to forget, I’m not sure why.” “What about you? Marsha says they’re getting older back there, and may not be able to hold onto Jacob’s farm. Had you ever thought of buying Rattlesnake Canyon and renaming it back to Harper Canyon?”

My mind drifted to the ranch in Oregon, and the little Harper Canyon there. I shot a dozen heavy shotgun rounds the last weekend I lived there, into the giant woodpile Greg Stout and his brother had created. I looked back at James: “I didn’t see my father for twenty five years. It was enough coming from nothing to raise three kids, and help put them through college.” “I was adopted,” he confided. A light went on, and his name and face now made sense together, as did his curious, but essential interest in history. “It’s always a dynamic equilibrium,” I replied, “between the living and the dead.” “It just seems to me,” he assessed, “that with such a family history that you should try and preserve it.” “Oh, I do my part,” I said, “but there hasn’t been sufficient time and money between raising the next generation, and worrying about the last one.” He looked unconvinced, as though I had abandoned the Yasukuni shrine to the forest. “It’s a vanity, I’ve tried, but how would one afford such an effort?” “You could register it among as a national historic landmark,” he offered. “I’m doing a blog,” I responded, “its private right now, but as soon as I get it finished, I can include you in the IP list, if you like.” He seemed relieved, and interested.

He asked me many questions about the content of the history he had saved; it occurred to me that he had made copies, and would soon busy himself with annotations. I showed him the “Country Roads” video, albeit without sound, and he watched intensely, noting the Hinckel and Nicholas Harper monuments. “I tried to convince Marsha that she should put up a Facebook site. It’s really important and relevant for young people. I mean, I’m not young, I’m 37, but its the way I get a lot of my information.” Remarkable, I thought, having just that morning brought up the La Jolla Sunrise Rotary website – what were the chances? Nil. “I agree, but doesn’t it bother you that Zuckerberg commoditizes and profits from our private lives?” “They’ll find a way to make money off of it, no matter what we do. At least they provide us with a way to share,” he replied. I thought for a moment – don’t darken this person’s life, go easy. “As long as they don’t go ‘Minority Report’ with it, I’m good,” I concluded.

I rose with the packet in hand, “Let’s stay in touch, James. You’re on LinkedIn, aren’t you? Mind if we connect?” He agreed, and was a very intelligent and totally agreeable person. Although, he reminded me on some deeper level of Peter; does testing and quality control draw certain types? As I drove off, I felt his eyes follow my car; perhaps, just my own paranoia. I wondered about my dad. Was the burden of so much history the real reason he abandoned his family and his legacy? Did he not have the right, and responsibility, to live his life for himself, in the present and the future? So much of who we are and can be derives from those who came before us that I guess I come down on the side of that question with the response that we must honor our past to ensure our future. Therefore, you who read this must factor my bias, just as I weighed James’ motives, into my narratives. Perhaps, you find these pages more accessible, easier to digest, my video histories more engaging than the dusty photos and careful memoirs from which they derive. I fear that does not lessen the burden you assume when you view them.

From: Marsha Fuller <mfuller@fred.net>

Subject: Re: Harper Family of California

Date: January 3, 2013 4:22:08 PM PST

To: James Hanks <j.hanks@impactcomponents.com>, Z Harper, Richard <rharper2@zagmail.gonzaga.edu>

 Hi James,

Wow!  You just restored my faith in the old adage, “Never say never.”  Just when I think we’ve found everything from the Dr. Eli Akim Harper family collection, you find more!!  This is very cool.  (And, just as an aside, I really needed to believe that things can still happen even when you think they can’t.  I’m dealing with a difficult situation in my life right now, and was losing hope.  Thanks for restoring it, even if you didn’t know that you were!)  Yes, indeed, this is our family.

I’m copying Rick Harper on this email – he is a direct descendant of Dr. Harper and now owns most of the collection.  He currently lives in San Diego.  I will leave it to you two to work out.  Please keep me posted.

Many thanks,

Of the items I received in what I now call the “James Hank’s Collection,” in honor of his generosity, three items are worthy of mention. The first is an news clipping referring to the Arguello Santiago land grant, and its trustee, Eli A. Harper; we have extensive documentation of the court proceedings required to effect this transfer.jameshanks001

The second item is a City Tax document from December 14th, 1882, assessing the sum of $225 on three parcels of land owned by Dr. Harper; this bears further research to identify these lots, and how they relate to Rattlesnake Canyon.jameshanks002

The third item is a letter of introduction on behalf of Julius Dickey Harper to a certain Mr. James Oates of Larragon, Strokestowne Co., Roscommon (!) We were there, just as we were in Galway in ’00, not too far from Duncommon, Sarah Martin’s home village. ¡Qué casualidad!


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