Secrets, Miners and Gunfights! Part One

Moving Targets

Caveat:  Our blog was originally conceived to be a way to connect with our sweet grandkids, Eric and Hazel, since we don’t get to spend much time with them.  And to keep our kids, Jesse (Terri) and Caroline apprized of where our wheeled home was currently residing, in case they wanted to visit.  We share pictures, stories, geography, geology, history, church missions, adventures and love. Hopefully, our extended family and friends enjoy it as well!  This particular blog series is about Wendy Walton’s family history, before she became a Smith.

I’m not often nostalgic, but Clay and I spent the month of April, 2018 around Bisbee, Arizona and it made my heart gooshy (that’s a Latin medical term for soft and squishy).  Nostalgia doesn’t often bubble to the surface because it seems like I’ve never been in the same place twice during my lifetime.

Thanks to my Dad’s career and our current nomadic lifestyle, it practically guarantees new scenery all the time with no backtracking.

In 1968, when I was 7 yrs old, my father was offered an active duty army assignment, which meant he could finally quit working 4 jobs at the same time to pay the bills (including high school French teacher, counselor at a juvenile detention center, grocery clerk and reserve army major).


Denzil Ree Walton, at the start of his army career

Major Walton was asked to attend Command and General Staff College in Leavenworth, Kansas– a rare honor especially for a reservist, with the next orders after that being assigned to Intelligence headquarters in Saigon during the Vietnam War.

One of his C&GS classmates was Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. who later became a general and commander of United States Central Command, leading all coalition forces in the Gulf War.  It was a prestigious opportunity for Dad.  We met lifetime friends there, including Blaine and Clarice Jensen and Al and Laura Morris and all their wonderful children.


Although Dad could never talk specifically about his top secret work in Vietnam, we knew he was the French speaking secret military advisor for the Cambodians fighting the Khmer Rouge when the US government was denying they had any personnel in that country.  He sent daily briefings to General Abrams and President Nixon during that time.


We were living in Laie, Hawaii when Dad returned from Vietnam 13 months later- safe, tan and handsome. It was the first time I can remember crying tears of actual joy.  It still happens when I look at this picture.


We were then stationed at the Military Intelligence School in Fort Holabird, Maryland. From sunny Hawaiian beaches to December on the Chesapeake Bay, freezing our flower leis off!


But that next summer of 1971,  the entire Intelligence Command operation was moved 2300 miles to the isolated outpost of Fort Huachuca, Arizona, near the Mexican border.

Like the old time land grabs, the Walton clan was one of 500 families set to race directly across the country to snatch up the limited housing options near the new headquarters.  But instead, my parents decided to take a month camping in our tent trailer on a leisurely drive west across Canada, then down through Washington, Oregon and California. Upon arrival, there was no more housing near the post, so we found a wonderful hacienda style home in the old mining town of Bisbee, 30 miles southeast of the fort.


April of 2018 was the first time I had been back to the area in 46 years.  Clay and I spent a lovely day touring the museums at Fort Huachuca and seeing the history that unfolded when the Military Intelligence schools arrived.



What did my Dad work on at Fort Huachuca?


 Shhhhhh!  It’s probably still a secret.

Clay and I enjoyed the Military Intelligence Museum and while walking out the door into the warm Arizona sunshine, I felt the overwhelming presence of my Dad right there, smiling and happy, looking over my shoulder at his old stomping grounds.


The Walton family spent 1968-1977 scurrying around the country while Dad was on active duty.  Because we usually moved in the middle of the school year, I had 13 notches on my school transcript belt (even though I skipped my junior year and graduated early).

While Dad was stationed at Fort Monroe, Virginia, he also served as the Bishop of our congregation, which was also a confidential job, where people came to him with their problems and concerns.

Mom: How was your day at work, Dear?

Dad:  Great!

Mom:  How was your evening at church, Dear?

Dad: Great!

I don’t think they had many substantive conversations over the years.

The last time I moved with my parents was to Southport, Indiana.  In the middle of my senior year of high school. During the Blizzard of 1978.  Welcome to the midwest.

But, the miracle is, I met Clay there in the few brief summer months when he was home from college before he left to serve his two year mission for our church. So I’m not complaining!  If you ever feel the Lord does not know where you are, just remember He has GPS: God’s Positioning System.

When the army ended his active duty assignments, Dad worked at whatever civilian jobs he could find (who needs a white-haired French speaking secrets keeper?) until he could finally retire from the reserves as a full Colonel with 32 years of service.


Colonel Denzil Ree Walton in full medal regalia, with the Intelligence pin on the left lapel.



Military Intelligence pin.  I have one on my charm bracelet to remember his service.


Walton family picture Spring 2000

The Waltons, Spring 2000. Back row: Mark, Kerry, Jean, Ree. Front row: Creed, Wendy

Dad died in Greenwood, Indiana at the age of 71 in April 2001, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, two months before I completed my Otolaryngology residency training.

When Heavenly Father suddenly called his son home, the Colonel saluted smartly and said, “Yes, Sir!

Never once questioning his newest orders.

I am so proud of my father– an honorable, gentle, intelligent, hard-working, funny guy who loved his Savior, his loyal wife, his four kids, his grandchildren and his country with the heart of a true patriot.

I’m beginning to think the spirit world is kind of like his secret military jobs, because he hasn’t told me what happens on that side of the veil, either!

Stay tuned for Part Two- Miners.


On The Trail

Devil's Gate at sunset

Devil’s Gate at sunset

Between 1843 and 1869 (when the railroad finally joined the west coast to the rest of the nation), 500,000 people rode horses, walked beside their wagon or pulled a handcart  by Devil’s Gate (in Wyoming) on their way to what is now Oregon, California and Utah.


This summer we are camped right on this famous trail which we read about in our American Heritage classes as teenagers.

Our mission this summer is to tell thousands of visitors the stories of these pioneers.


The Martin Handcart company, made up of over 600 European immigrants bound for the Salt Lake Valley, got a late start on the trail in 1856.  They were seeking refuge from religious persecution in their homelands. Because of their late start, and early snows in the high plains of Wyoming, over 150 of their group perished as they struggled to pull their carts through the snow and sub-zero temperatures.  During the worst of these storms they took shelter for five days in a cove just west of Devil’s Gate, now known as Martin’s Cove.


On the trail from Martin’s Cove

These are touching stories of sacrifice which families made in order that their children and future generations could be raised in a place that would nurture and promote their religious freedom.


Many of our visitors come in groups of 30-700 teenagers.  They set up in primitive camp sites, dress in 1850-era pioneer garb, pull handcarts and cross rivers: re-enacting to the best of their ability a small part of the journey their forebears made so that they can appreciate the heritage they enjoy as free people, and as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).


During their experience with us, these youth cover mile upon mile pulling their handcarts, fording rivers and thinking about their relationship with God, about what they truly believe, and how they will, in their own way, be pioneers of the next generation.

2016-06-14 09.06.45These are amazing youth!  They get it.  Wendy and I have been in awe of their dedication, their desire to learn and their pure goodness.  They give us hope for the next generation.  We feel so fortunate to be their mentors and guides.

  • Clay

What’s in Your DNA?

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Isn’t this the most cool image? These are the people who created my DNA.  They are my ancestors.  I enjoy just looking at all of these people, going back four generations. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to go back in time and see your great grandfather, to watch his mannerisms, to see how he treats his wife and children, to see how he reacts under pressure? Was he good with his hands? Was he an independent thinker?


Clay’s G-Great Grandpa Oren Smith

What mannerisms and ways of thinking did I inherit? So many people have commented to me that when they see me in a public speaking situation it’s like watching my father. And you know what? It’s probably like watching my great-great-grandfather Oren too.

Create Your Ancestral Fan

My genealogy fan was created in They’ve made it incredibly easy to trace your ancestors. You start by putting in your full name. Of course, you know when you were born. So start filling in your information.

Now add your parents. Don’t know where they were born? Just look at “sources” and it will show you census records, military records, marriage records, etc. which have your parent’s name.  By using a little deductive reasoning you can identify the right source documents, which will have their birth places, etc.  Before you know it, you’ve used source documents to trace your genealogy back several generations.  Then you can create your own way-cool fan.  Most genealogy research can be done from your computer at home — zip, boom, bam.  But sometimes you come to that source document that doesn’t just pop up on the screen for you.  So then you have to get up from the computer and go hunting.  Wendy will tell you about that game.




OK, now it’s my turn (Wendy).

We love to geo-cache, which is a new type of world-wide treasure hunt. After downloading an app, it uses your GPS coordinates to help you find caches others have hidden in parks, buildings, paths and natural settings.  It’s a fun way to take a walk while having something to search for.  Another version is LetterBoxing– great for kids (you put stamps in your notebook for every cache you find- the picture below was from a four part Star Wars themed stamp finding expedition).

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Terri and the kids Letterboxing

So genealogy is a lot like that— gene-caching.  Instead of finding a plastic or metal container, you are locating information about your ancestors. It can be just as much fun as geo-caching but is much more rewarding. Instead of finding a trinket or stamp, you find Grandpa!

We were heading to Silver City, New Mexico, where my great grandfather Charles Thomas White was born.  My sister, Kerry, wanted me to see if there was a birth record for him and any information on his father, William Henry White.

The hunt was on!

As Clay mentioned, although there are many digitized, searchable records online (so you usually don’t have to go to the actual place to find source records), the majority of records are still sitting in local towns and cities, waiting for you to physically find them.

Digitizing is really important for genealogy work: imagine a document hand-written in cursive, like a land deed, a military muster list, a ship’s passenger manifest or a birth record, with barely legible names. Someone has taken a photo of it and put it on microfilm, but how do you ever find that document?

Someone else now has to digitize the names in the document: type in the actual names into a computer program, with the book, page and file number, that then becomes available online. If a source document has been digitized you can do an online search by name, date, and location and it will pull up the source document.

Digitized documents have revolutionized genealogy.  It’s made the difference between hiking to grave sites, county courthouses and church record vaults (the old way) versus simply sitting at home in front of the computer and doing an online search (the new way).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a huge digitizing program called Indexing.  Anyone can volunteer to be an indexer, from their own computers at home. It’s actually quite fun to be an indexer and doesn’t take much time. Many hands make light work and it’s a much better use of time than playing computer games.

So, let’s go on a treasure hunt together!

Silver City New Mexico Recorder’s Office

I went to the Grant County Clerk’s office and asked blundering questions about where to go for information, birth records, etc. They pointed me to the Recorder’s Office just down the hall.  The Recorders Office showed me into a records room, with old wooden tables, clunky enormous copy machines and shelves filled with rows of big huge heavy ledgers that recorded mining deeds, property deeds, marriage and divorce records.

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I grinned like a monkey. This was going to be fun! The hunt was on for William Henry White.

It’s always good to have a well-formulated question when started a genealogy search. When and where was he born? Who were his parents? Did he purchase any land? Did he have a mining claim? In this case, I just wanted proof he was there in the county in the late-1800’s and what his occupation was and did he get into the mining fever for silver while living in New Mexico?

I quickly figured out the system and looked through mining deed ledgers from 1884-1887 (according to past census records and information on previous children, they were in Texas right before this time and then in Arizona after that time, so it narrowed the search).  Sitting on the floor, I found the slim index books for each fat ledger that listed the grantors and grantees (sellers and buyers) in double alphabets. A forward and reverse directory. All handwritten in cursive script.

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And I found Wm H White, with a page number. A tiny burst of excitement went through me. I hefted the huge ledger to the floor and leafed through it to find the flowing script of the mining deed itself, looking for clues that this was truly my great-great grandfather.

Through searching through multiple indexes and ledgers, I found that some of the documents even listed his name in full as William Henry White, and that he had purchased a 1/3 interest in the Carbonate mining claim, in the Chloride Flats mining district. Then a few years later, he did a power of attorney to a friend to sell his share, just about the time he would have been heading to Arizona.

It would have been a true ordeal to get a copy of these pages, so I photographed them with my IPhone. Much easier. And, I can enlarge at will to read the faint ink scrawls.

New Mexico Territorial Census

I felt happy about finding the mining deeds.  Next, I really wanted to see if any other family members were on file.  The Records Office directed me to the Silver City public library.  The librarian showed me the titles of all their microfilm. One was the New Mexico Territorial Census of 1885. That was right when my White family would have been there. Now that’s a primary source document!

After being taught how to load microfilm into the reader and how to copy pages of interest, I started hunting through the handwritten census.  It’s a tedious process with lots of scanning up and down pages and pages and pages of documents. For hours and hours.

And there he was. Wm H White, farmer, in the agricultural census. With a small bit of land, $350 in farm assets, two horses and a mule.

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Agricultural Census- line 6: White, Wm H.

And then, in the list of families recorded in the census, Wm H White and his wife, I. F. White (India Francis), three daughters and a son– 1 year old Chas White (Charles).

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Territorial Census, W H White and family

I had found my family! It was a sweet, tender moment. Hello there, Great Great Grandpa and Grandma, nice to meet you!

On the Territorial Census, William was 55, born in Virginia and India was 29. Now I had an approximate birth year for William (1885-55= 1830) and a state to start looking for his parents’ names. That’s how genealogy goes- clues lead to more clues.

Newspaper Hunt

We knew from other sources that Charles’ birth date was April 10, 1884 (, but we don’t have an actual birth certificate. The local health department said all the birth records were in Santa Fe.  I looked on their website and it stated they may not have much birth information before 1911. Typing in his name didn’t reveal anything. Drats.

My sister suggested I try looking through the newspapers of that time to see if there was a birth announcement.  Another source I later discovered is the Library of Congress, which has gathered tons of newspapers, searchable by state, date ranges and names. (

At the local library, the microfilmed copies of the newspaper were tattered and blurred and useless, so they suggested I try the university in town. At the university library I got the appropriate microfilms and began searching. Not easy– newspapers of that time were basically gossip columns with no real organization.

After searching backwards and forwards in the April 1884-July 1884 editions I finally found a birth announcement in the Silver City Enterprise, Friday, May 2, 1884:

“W.H. White, residing at Oak Grove, was recently presented with a ten-pound boy by his wife.”

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It made me smile.

We still don’t have an official birth record for Charles T. White, so the search continues.


Wendy’s Great Grandpa- Charles Thomas White


Do you see how the hunt goes? It’s about asking questions and finding experts (librarians rock!) and searching for answers and a big dose of luck.

And if your ancestors really want to be found, I’m sure they do some nudging from the other world.

Having said all that, again, most genealogy research is done as Clay described — just sitting comfortably at your computer and pulling up digitized source records (census records, land deeds, birth, marriage and death certificates) from simple online searches.  Try it.  It’s fun!

So what’s in your DNA?  Show off your family fan!