Monday, February 2, 2009

St. Louis Author Hangs With Mark Twain

Some say that if you go back far enough in time everyone could very well be related to each other. Please don’t tell that to my “Aunt Marie.” She is now a retired schoolteacher in her late eighties. I don’t know if she would have enough time to research all of those connections.

Our family historian has been my dear “Aunt Marie.” She has spent the better part of her life researching county records, state documents, gravestones, periodicals, and anything else that is part of public knowledge. She has spent virtually her entire adult life composing the family tree. What she turned up in our gene pool was surprising to all of us that now live several generations away from our ancestors.

So as to not sound boring, I’ll simply cut to the chase. As the story goes a Colonel William Casey was born in Frederick County, Virginia in 1756. He migrated to Kentucky and had many fights with the Indians over the years as the property was being settled. Through adulthood he was appointed a county judge and served in local politics. Rumor has it that he was a mountain of a man, very kind, and the father of four daughters. This is the start of what I’ll call a mighty oak with several enduring branches.

His third daughter was named Polly. His fourth daughter was named Margaret, but nicknamed Peggy. The two branches of the tree that those two formed are what this article is about. They traveled through Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Iowa.

William Casey died in 1816 after serving in local politics in Adair County, Kentucky. He never lived to see his great grandson which had been placed on a limb of the family tree by his youngest daughter, Peggy. Born in Florida, Missouri in 1835, William Casey’s great grandson was christened Samuel L. Clemens…none other than Mark Twain.

Samuel Clemens was born roughly thirty-five miles inland from Hannibal, Missouri which was where he was raised during his younger years. Being from the Midwest it is quite believable that Casey’s youngest daughter Peggy and her siblings traveled up and down the states that were bordering the Mississippi River. Mark Twain made that tributary legendary in several of his tales.

As an added sidelight “Aunt Polly” was a recognizable character in Tom Sawyer. In all likelihood that was a name that Twain had heard his mother say often as he was growing up. To me the person identified as “Aunt Polly” would be my great, great, great, great grandmother.

At any rate the rest is history as far as Mark Twain goes. He is a legend in American folk yore as an author, philanthropist, statesman, humorist, and traveler.

I doubt that William Casey even cares that his great, great, great, great, great grandson wrote a novel after he turned fifty. That was the limb of the tree that his third daughter Polly helped to form. And I doubt if it matters that his far-removed relative grew up in modern-day St. Louis…only a driver and an eight-iron away from the Mississippi River.

But don’t tell that to my “Aunt Marie.” When she turned over all of the family tree information to me she said, “You know, Jim, you’ve done something that I’ve always dreamed about doing but never found the time.”

Naively, I asked, “What’s that?”

She said, “You wrote a book. I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

Something tells me that maybe she should start with William Casey. He’s the mighty oak in this tale and she’s on one of those limbs too.

James Ross has published a series of books that use the wonderful city of St. Louis as a backdrop. Lifetime Loser (2007), Finish Line (2008) and Tuey's Course (2009) all present a colorful cast of characters that come together on the Prairie Winds Golf Course. Situated high atop the Mississippi river bluffs on the east side of St. Louis the author uses his personal knowledge of St. Louis to fully incorporate the city into the plots of his novels. Residents of and visitors to the Gateway City will appreciate the author's fine storytelling and how he highlights his home city. All three novels from James Ross can be found at or through his personal web site:

Author James Ross

No comments: