Priscilla Mangnall

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November 20, 2012
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THE WAY WE WERE: Thankful for My Heritage

Being the historian I think I am, I've been trying to wrap my head around my own family history. I pretty much have a good idea of the Brown side, that's my father Louis' side; but my mother Ruby's side, the Barmore-Cullison side, still holds some mystery.

Mother was one of four sisters and her father, Ralph Lee Barmore, was one of 10 children born to Bertha Beryl and James Daniel; seven survived.

The Barmores homesteaded a ranch in Stevens County in the southwest part of Kansas bordering Oklahoma. The nearest town, Feterita, sat between Hugoton and Rolla and is no longer there. Great-grandfather Barmore was an auctioneer and would "Cry" a sale from his ranch, or travel to another location to sell off other people's farms and goods. They had lived is Waukomis, Okla., before they homesteaded their Kansas land.

Grandpa Ralph was always proud of the fact that he was born in Oklahoma Indian Territory in 1904. He was just 17 when he met my Grandma Mae Marie Cullison in Rolla and married her in 1922 in Richfield, Kan.

Mother, born in 1924, talked about how hard it was being a child of the Depression. They had very little to show for all their hard work but they were happy and they were part of a bigger family that looked after and took care of each other. She spoke of not having shoes to wear to school and of how embarrassed her sister, Donna, was when having to entertain classmates with powdered milk.

She would sing the songs her mother taught her, the songs the girls would sing together, they were sad songs like "Mother Put My Little Shoes Away" and "The Little Match Girl." They would tell of the children lost to dust pneumonia and it was sad. All they had was each other.

By the time the dust storms began, the Barmore clan had moved to northern Kansas and Missouri. The youngest, Bonnie Barmore Coen, moved back to Morton County and married Dale Boicourt Coen of Elkhart, Kan. Great Aunt Bonnie passed in 1996 but Dale Coen is still alive at 91 years of age and living in the same house they shared.

I thought that all my elders had passed away until I sat down to watch Ken Burn's "Dust Bowl" documentary on the PBS. To my surprise, there was Dale Coen and his twin brother, Floyd, being interviewed. "I think that's my Great Uncle!" I said to my husband, Dee.

A quick search for my mother's address book and there it was, the information I should have known anyway to confirm it. I quickly called and texted my cousins and siblings. We were all thrilled to see our family's past come to life. I had one remaining elder! I promptly called him the next day; I have a lot of questions for him. Questions I never ask my mom. He has photos to send me and more stories to tell. Thank you, Ken Burns.

When Mr. Burns and PBS were looking for stories I couldn't remember mother having told me anything about the "Dirty Thirties," only about the Depression and I thought that my family had nothing to offer this archive ... or so I thought.

Del and Bonnie Coen and their family survived the Dust Bowl, the drought, the grasshoppers, the rabbits and the Depression. I now have someone to help me fill in the blanks. I've been gathering the stories and the photos and the clippings so that I can put it all together for my family, my children and their children.

My mother started working as soon as she could. She didn't want to be poor anymore. She bought her mother and father things and never stopped. We were never "well off," but we were never without. She would tell us that we may not have a lot but never act like you are poor or uneducated. Be proud and use the brain God gave you. She still sang those sad songs from the Depression but she also sang the happy songs and whistled constantly while she worked.

I am what I like to call myself "a scrapper." I can make something out of nothing and need very little to keep me happy. I'm thrifty, proud and self-educated. I work hard and find treasure in the little things around me. I wonder where I get it?

Priscilla is president of the Mesa County Historical Society. Reach her at 970-260-5226, or email

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The Post Independent Updated Nov 21, 2012 08:33PM Published Nov 20, 2012 03:16PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.