My Family of Storytellers for 385 Years in America: Part 2

Aurilla Stevens, c. 1823

Aurilla Stevens, my great-great grandmother, was born in 1803 the town of Painted Post in New York State, the eldest of a family of four. She came to Michigan with some neighbors when a young woman, leaving her father, mother, brothers, and sisters. From Detroit she rode an Indian pony to what is now Ypsilanti [40 miles on the current interstate], following an Indian trail of notches cut in trees. (Source: a 1931 speech given by her niece, Rilla Goodell Dunlap, who lived with her aunt from an early age following the death of her mother.)

After being acquainted one year, Aurilla Stevens and Jothan Goodell were married and…bought 80 acres of land [near Ypsilanti, Michigan) from the government at one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre… They fenced a little yard around the house with bars to protect themselves [from wolves]… In felling a tree, it struck the corner of the house, knocking their gun down and damaging it so they could not use it. A very large bear got in the enclosure. [Jothan] told [Aurilla] to watch it while he ran to [the neighbor’s] to borrow a gun. She climbed a ladder and went on top of the house. [The bear] came and put its feet on the rounds of the ladder then went around out of sight. She climbed down, grabbed the axe, got in and closed the door and said if it tried to get in the window she would chop its feet off.—Rilla Goodell Dunlap, 1931

William Goodell, 1837

December the 23, 1837

My Dear Son and Daughter these lines leave me in comfortable health though I feel old age creeping on me very fast: This puts me in mind to lay my head on Jesuses breast and breathe my soul out directly there and let my body moulder in the ground: …Last September I looked for my Son Jonas and my Daughter Phebe to come see there old Father but I looked in vain: I know it is a long journey…: I do not blame you for not coming tho I want to see you and all the rest of my children: …I find my Blood is cold and I don’t go out much only from the house to the barn: Yes my work is most done: I can’t write much it makes my head crazy: …My son Jonas and Daughter Phebe the God of all Grace enlighten your path and give you grace to help in every time of need is the Prayer of your Father William Goodell

William died in 1843, so he was not on death’s door. Before his death, he went to live with Jonas, who told him he would have to work as long as he was able, and when he was no longer able, he would have to hand over his $8/month pension from his service as a private in the Revolution to pay his keep.

Joel B. Goodell, 1855

Jan. 8th, 1855

Dear Brother & Sister,

… I should like to take a peep into your happy home and if all is favorable as soon as my school is out I shall take a short trip up there. So you must not be abashed at all if the Pedagogue gives you a call sometime unaware. There is to be a donation party this week at a Rev. Bent [?] in my district and perhaps I may seek enjoyment at his abode too, as it is quite a popular place and large company generally attend. It so happened that I could not help taking his daughter to a “visit” one evening and the old mans attention to me since is remarkable. He often pauses and never fails to bow through the window. I tell you the success of a teacher is insured when can by some such simple means make firm friends with the old fathers and mothers in his district. All must use policy in settings through the world.… Joel B. Goodell


Rev. Jotham Weeks Goodell (father of Phoebe Goodell Judson, founder with her husband of Lyndon, Washington, and author of A Pioneer’s Search for an Ideal Home, written from her journals at age 95). Jotham also wrote a series of wordy articles for the Oregonian about the wagon train’s forced winter layover in “the great Salt Lake” among the “depraved” Mormons who threatened their lives and extorted their money, copies of which I also have in my possession.

Grand Mound, Washington Territory
Nov. 28th, 1855

Maria wishes me to set down and give you full particulars of our indian war. At different times last summer there were rumors afloat that the indians through the entire region had conspired to exterminate the inhabitants but no one believed it. It now turns out that it was too true… Fifty men were immediately sent out from this place to cross the Cascade mountains and demand the murderers. They crossed the mountains and had nearly reached the plains on the opposite side when they met a frenchman who had just passed through a body of not less than 3000 indians lying in ambush ready to receive them. The french were not molested as the indians did not intend to make war upon any but the Bostons as they term the Americans. Our men thus fortunately warned made their retreat.

Rev. J.W. Goodell

Original letter.

J.W. Goodell, Jr. 1859, ten years old at the time he and his brother and buddies “sallied out for adventure and got it” near Grand Mound, Washington Territory.

Four boys had planned for some time to escape for half a day from the [military style] discipline that had become so irksome that at times there was a feeling that we had rather be killed by the Indians than to live in a fort…. We were free out on the bounding prairie alone. I do not now remember that we intended to kill [the Indians] outright, but the best of my recollection, we had decided to torture them with slow death…. Our weapons were manvine pods, about the shape and size of a baseball, which exploded on impact in a puff of blinding smoke.

From Phebe Goodell to her sister Maria, 1850s. A letter full of religious pomposity but for a reference—written sideways across the top of the first page—to the…

…dreadful murder of poor Lucretia…. Two of the Williamses were murdered soon after [they] were left down there. I believe it was a judgement sent down upon them.

Original letter.

Melanchthon Zwingle Goodell (another son of J.W. Goodell, the preacher of wagon train/Mormon/Indian Wars fame) wrote this in his old age of his youth, in a letter to his sister.

…After Will moved to Pacific County Henry and I walked to his place over the old mail trail from Gleneden (upper Lincoln Creek) to Willipa. As Henry decided to stay sometime at Will’s it was up to me to return home to Adna alone. Being a kind of nervous kid I dreaded such a long lonesome walk through the woods so Will took me as far as South Bend and got me started on a roundabout way. I crossed the bay on a tug, took a stage along the ocean beach to Peterson’s point, then on a small steamboat across Grays Harbor and up the river to Montesano. From Montesano I went by stage to Olympia and then by train to Chehalis and then home. It was quite a trip for a kid like me then.

Coming up in Part 3: first hand accounts of the Civil War battlefield. Warning: Graphic descriptions may not be suitable for all readers.

2 thoughts on “My Family of Storytellers for 385 Years in America: Part 2

  1. I am eager to see where this story-road will take you. Those handwritten letters are beautiful. Very tactile stuff, I love that. Just the feel and smell of old paper makes it all more interesting. You are the perfect excavator of memory … you go girl !


    1. I don’t know if it will take me anywhere or not. I have to stay focused on the one I’ve committed to: the WWII letters and my father’s family of origin. Much of this one was written by Ethel, my father’s 4th cousin; these people were here direct ancestors. I haven’t read her account yet, but it doesn’t include these letters, though I think she has done a good job of creating a highly readable narration of the stories, it’s not just a genealogy. I might have to transcribe the and do…something. They need to be in the world.


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