Friday, October 28, 2016

Verne Finds His Roots

Exactly when my father returned to Smyth County, Virginia after the horse sale trip in November 1936, I’m not sure, but return he did, and soon. The green hills and the cool summer nights may be part of what drew him back. Maybe he saw a business opportunity. Maybe he liked the looks of the pretty young ladies he met. Maybe it was a sense of belonging, to nearly 190 years of his maternal ancestors’ rootedness in those hills.

For certain, he liked his Uncle Jim. He liked Jim's folksy, outspoken speech. A favorite saying of Jim's that Verne liked to quote was, "I'd rather wear out than rust out." Verne lived with him and Aunt Susie and their teenage daughter Frances in Marion for a while. In August of 1938, Uncle Jim took Verne for the first time to Troutman, North Carolina, where they attended the annual family reunion in the hometown where Jim’s father, Daniel A. Troutman, had been born and raised.

Uncle Jim and Verne in front of the depot, Troutman, NC.

Verne drew arrows to point out himself and Uncle Jim, on right.

At the reunion, Verne met some of his grandfather’s cousins. He sent pictures and wrote home to his father, Clint, about his experience:

“Marion, Va.
“August 20, 1938

“Dear Dad,

“We just got back from the Troutman reunion. I sure wish that you and mom and all could have been here. We left here Friday morning about 7 o’clock and got down there about 11 o’clock. It was 131 miles from Marion. We went by the mouth of Wilson, Independence, Sparta and Elkins. When we got at the meeting place. It is an old building in an old school house, used for only this purpose. We were greeted of course by Chal. The first thing we did, was to go into the building and they had a program especially suited for the meeting. Several talks were given by Troutmans. A violin solo by Sarah Troutman, in fact all was by Troutmans except one preacher who gave a short talk. He was not a Troutman but was a pastor of the Lutheran Church of Troutman North Carolina.

“There were two Lutheran Preachers who gave talks, one of them was in charge of the program. They were both Troutmans. One is a son of El. Troutman, your first cousin. And we stayed there all night last night. He lives about five miles from Troutman. El looks like a german and is a brother of Chal. His son is pastor of the Lutheran church of Boone North C. He sure is a good preacher. He made a talk on ‘Time.’

“They made all the ones that come from quite a distance stand up, of course we had to stand. They all seemed to know Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie. There were several from out of State there. One man and his family from Washington. They ask Uncle Jim if he did not want to say a few words and he said he was a better listenor [sic] and talkor [sic]. But he said a few words and told them how glad he was to be there. They ask me if I didnt have something to say and I told them no. But Chal. told them I was a big Auctioneer and was from Nebraska and I just had to get up and say something. So I told them how glad I was to be there and sat down. I would have to go back as far as Grandpa and tell them I was a grandson of Daniel T. before they could get me placed.

“One woman told me she knew me when I first came in, because I looked exactly like a picture she has of you, when you were about my age. She was a nice looking lady. She looked quite a little like Aunt Stell looked in her younger days.

“All of them seemed to be nice sociable people. Some looked like they had money and some looked rather hard up. But as Uncle Jim says, I didn’t see a mean looking face in the bunch. I think there must have been over 200 there.

“They had a business meeting and elected committees for the coming year. This was the 35 annual Troutman reunion. The building has printed in big letters over the door ‘Troutman Historical Building Association.’

“There is a cemetery and nearly all the graves are Troutmans. I saw my Great, Great Grandfathers grave. It was so old you could hardly read the writing on it. He came over here from Germany and married a german girl and at one time owned 20,000 acres of land around Statesville. He bought it for 12 ½ cents per acre. I saw your great grandfathers grave. His name was Henry Troutman and he was at one time Sherriff of Iradell [sic] County, North Carolina. And he owned 32,00 [sic] of land at one time. I guess grandpa was a son of a rich man. Uncle Jim says that accounts for him not being much of a hustler.

“Uncle Jim, Aunt Susie, Francis, Chal and myself went out to the old place where grandpa was born and raised. There is one old building still standing. You can see where the house used to stand. It was a large one. There is one big walnut tree still standing right in front of where the house stood. There is a stump of a big old pine tree left where it had been burned. We took a picture of the place. This is the first time the Uncle Jim seen the place where his daddy was born and raised. He cried as he looked at it.

“They told me how Grandma told about her and grandpa going to N. C. after they were first married. From what they tell me they were greeted by a bunch of boys and girls on horses. And they rode their horses around and around the house. Grandpa took out after them in the buggy and she said two wheels were on the ground part of the time. She said Farewell Vain World, Here is where I get killed. As we looked the old place over I could just see the horses and buggy running around that place.

“Write soon

Sixty-nine years later, Verne had come full circle, back to the home place his paternal grandfather had left in 1869, the place the Troutmans had lived since about 1790. And for the same reason Verne had left Nebraska, his grandfather, had left North Carolina: to take horses to sell in Virginia.

[1] Verne Troutman, Marion, Virginia, to Clint Troutman, letter, 20 August 1938, relates events of a 1938 family reunion in Troutman, North Carolina; Verne and Lois Troutman binder, privately held, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana.

 © Z. T. Noble

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Making Cousin Connections

For as long as I can remember, my father, Verne Troutman, would go out of his way to connect with long lost family members. This penchant must have developed as he grew up with aunts, uncles, and cousins in Nebraska, hearing tales from the adults about their childhood in Virginia, enjoying annual picnics with the Virginians, and playing with his cousins. Perhaps his horse-trading trip to Virginia in the fall of 1936 intensified his itch to look up relatives he had not seen for about ten years, for on his way home from Virginia to Nebraska, he took a side trip to Oklahoma to visit cousins.

Verne’s paternal aunt Estelle and her husband Tell Worley and family had lived nearby to the Clint and Mary Troutman family in Missouri and in Nebraska until the late ‘20s. Estelle’s son Carl and his family had lived in Wayne where Carl was a shoe maker and owned a shoe shop.[1] By 1930, however, Carl had moved his family—wife Serena and five children: Verdena, Pauline, Carl, Jr., Captola, and Wilburna—to Miami, Oklahoma where Carl was making a living painting houses.[2] Verne and Verdena were about the same age, and the others were younger. Verne seems to have enjoyed his visit with his pretty cousins in Oklahoma.

Wilburna (15), Verne (22), & Captola (17), 1936.
Captola and Wilburna wrote letters to Verne soon after he had visited their family urging him to come for Christmas with their grandmother Estelle, and they sent him this photo.[3] He saved the photo and the letters. I don’t know whether he returned for Christmas, or not. Through the years, he liked to tell about this trip to Oklahoma. He said that his cousin Carl's wife Serena was Native American, but if she was, the records don't show it.

[1] 1920 U. S. census, Wayne, Wayne County, Nebraska, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 225, sheet 14-A, dwelling 161, family 169, Carl Worley; digital image ( : accessed 17 October 2016); NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1003.
[2] 1930 U. S. census, Miami, Ottowa County, Oklahoma, population schedule, p. 132 (stamped), enumeration district [ED] 58-15, sheet 8-A, dwelling 188, family 154, Carl D. Worley family; digital image ( : accessed 17 October 2016); NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 1923.
[3] Wilburna Worley, Miami, Oklahoma, to Verne Troutman, letter, 23 Nov. 1936, inviting Verne to come for Christmas, Assorted Letters, Memorabilia, and Other Papers from the Collection of Verne and Lois Troutman, binder, privately held, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana.
© 2016, Z. T. Noble  

Friday, October 14, 2016

Speculating on Horses: An Adventure

Although my father, Verne Troutman, and his brother Jim had established an auction business in Wayne County, Nebraska, the two young men were still looking for business opportunities. It was the mid-1930s, after all, and the entire country was in the throes of a depression.

Not only that, but during the summer of 1936, dry weather and scorching winds whipped the country and temperatures rose to record levels. The hottest day in Nebraska history was 24 July 1936 when forty-two towns reported temperatures over 100° F, with Minden the highest at 118°.[1] In Lincoln, the night of July 25 never dropped below 91°, so people spread blankets on the lawn in front of the state capital and slept there.[2]  In fact it was the hottest summer on record for the entire country. Crops scorched and dried and the landscape turned brown, which  left farmers in dire financial straits.

In August, Verne received a letter from his father’s brother, James Henry Troutman, his “Uncle Jim,” in Virginia with a proposal that they bring horses to Smyth County to sell at a profit. By October, the two brothers had taken him up on it. They loaded horses on a train and traveled across the country. Verne remembered stopping, once in Pennsylvania, and unloading the horses to water and feed them.[3] In his letter, Uncle Jim's urged his brother Clint to come, too, which apparently paid off. Clint and Mary went together for a visit with family Mary hadn’t seen since 1909 (Clint had gone back about 1926 to bring his mother for a visit to Nebraska); they probably drove instead of riding the train.[4] The green hills and valleys and cool mountain nights of Virginia must have looked and felt refreshing to Clint, Mary, Verne, and Jim.

The horses were auctioned off on two dates, 31 October and 23 November. Sale bills Verne saved tell the story. 

Verne apparently went back home to Nebraska before the second sale, as his brother Jim mailed him a sale bill and wrote a letter on the back telling him how the sale went. 

“Monday Evening
“Hello Verne,

“Well we had the sale today and it didn’t go quite as good as the other. Looks like we might have a hundred apiece [about $1700.00 today] when everything is payed for.

“Had a Auctioneer hired up but he didn’t get here until late and I started the sale and sold the 1st four head.

“I bid in about six head but got rid of them all after the sale except the mules had 285.OO bid on them and didn’t let them go. Going to try and get $300 or $325.

“The sucking colts made more than any thing. Good little bay mare brought $202.50 and the other all brought $75 or $76 except the little blue colt she brought $44. Ilers team brought $200. Grey 3 yr old mare brought $165. Spotted mare brought $149.00. Big Black 2 yr old  horse brought $170. 2 Bay 2 yr old mares brought $320. Sorrel mare brought $135.00[,] old Black horse brought $30, old Grey brought $75. Full bros. colts brought $127.50. 2 bay 2 yr old geldings brought $240.00 and mouse colored 2 yr old brought $121.00 they sold to [sic] cheap. Good black yearling filly brought 117.50 Bay one brought 77. Black one that was thin brought 90.

“It was a pretty good sale all thru [sic] some made[,] others lost[;] sucking colts is what saved us. There is about $285. our expenses not counting our personal expenses. And the money we will have to pay Ed. Kenney. Freight was $312.00. Don’t know when we will start for home some time the last of the week.

“Some of them were coughing a little more than the other bunch. Am going to try and get rid of the mules tomorrow.

“Guess that is about all to tell. I sure am glad they are sold.  -- Jim.
“All the horses went to farmers right around here.”[5]

Jim and his parents soon went back home to Nebraska, but that was not the end of Virginia for Verne. Apparently, he was intrigued by possible business opportunities, for he was soon on his way back.

[1] “July 24, 1936 – The Hottest Day in Nebraska History,” Real Science ( : accessed 12 October 2016). Also, “Nebraska Annual Temperatures and Records,” (
nebraska_temperature.htm : accessed 12 October 2016). Also, “Next to 1936, ’05 Is No Sweat,” The New York Times ( : accessed 12 October 2016).
[2] “The Great Heat Wave of 1936: Hottest Summer in U. S. on Record,” WunderBlogâ, Weather Underground ( : accessed 12 October 2016).
[3] Verne Troutman, conversation with Zola Troutman Noble, date long forgotten.
[4] Captola Worley, Miami, Oklahoma, to Verne Troutman, letter, 23 November 1936, urges Verne to encourage his parents to visit her family in Oklahoma on their way home from Virginia, Assorted Letters, Memorabilia, and Other Papers from the Collection of Verne and Lois Troutman, binder, privately held, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana. Also, Wilburna Worley, Miami Oklahoma, to Verne Troutman, letter, 23 November 1936, explains the reason her grandmother did not go to Virginia with Verne’s parents, Assorted Letters.
[5] Jim Troutman, Saltville, Virginia, to Verne Troutman, letter, 23 November 1936, reporting the outcome of the horse auction that day, Assorted Letters.

© 2016, Z. T. Noble

Friday, October 7, 2016

Adventures in the Auction Business

During the 1930s, Clint and Mary Troutman's children were venturing out on their own. Carl married and started farming, Neville and Virginia became teachers, and James (Jim) worked in farming and an auctioneer business with Verne.

After Verne's study at the Reppert School of Auctioneering and his World’s Fair adventures in 1934, he went back home to the farm at Winside. In August, he received a letter from a Reppert classmate, W. H. Heldenbrand, an established business man from Wichita, Kansas, offering to advise and assist him in his auctioneer business and enclosing a contract to manage Heldenbrand’s furniture auction.1

A few months later, Verne received another offer in the mail. The agricultural agent at the University of Nebraska, College of Agriculture, S. H. Liggett, asked him to assist with the organization of Baby Beef clubs in Wayne County and offered him a “Wesleyan Scholarship of $37.50 per semester for four years” at the university. He adds, “This is ample to pay all tuition.”2 Verne  declined both offers. He had other ideas.

First, he and his Winside buddy, Ruben Strate, who went to Reppert with him, started a partnership auction business, two enterprising young 20-year-olds.

Note the small print below the owner's name.
Verne even called a few auctions on his own, and he saved lots of sale bills or parts of them. Maybe he wanted to remember the names of his clients.

Note the small print below the owner's name.

Later, he taught his brother Jim all that he had learned about auctioning, and they started an auction business together, Troutman Brothers Auctioneers. This receipt shows their earnings from a livestock auction in 1935.

Then in September of 1936 a letter arrived from their horse trader Uncle Jim in Virginia:

“J. H. Troutman
General Merchandise
Saltville, Virginia

“Sept 23 – 36
“Dear Verne
            “Rec your letter yesterday and will say to you[,] you all do what you think best of course horses will be much better here in spring and if you all send a load or bring a load rather do so as soon as you can before the snow begins to fall as you said if a man never risks nothing he never does nothing[. . . .] they will sell good if they are mares and it looks like the mare you spoke of cost you 117.00 would bring 200 here as Arthur Campbell one day this week bought a 2 year old Perchern [sic] mare wt. 1300 and paid 200.00 for her but he had a match for her.

“Verne there is stock pens at Marion where they have had some horse sales [. . .] no weekly sales there but there is weekly sales [. . .] at Wythville, 28 mi. east of Marion and at Abingdon 28 mi. west of Marion and if you all come we mite sell some privately or thought could have a sale any that did not do so good could hold them and get a truck and try the stock markets at Wytheville and Abingdon.

“I am geting [sic] my 2 year olds ready for the Fair tomorrow in 1 mi[.] of my store this will seem funny to Clint but we have a good Smyth Co. Community fair at Riverside each year and have had for several years I expect there will be around 100 horse there tomorrow moustly [sic] saddle horses I don’t like that kind.

“Now Verne if you come make Clint come to if he thinks he can stand it will be a hard trip here guess he can get off all ok as he has no corn and listen if you come get started soon as you can if not and can hold them until Mar. the 1st come then you know how I feel I would like for you to come but don’t want to advise you or persuade you for fear you mite not be satisfied but if you all bring some good heavy kind of good colts and horses not branded I do think they will sell good so do as you want to and I’ll sure help you dispose of the horses as I am some horse trader to and sure can tell a old on from a young one.

“So if you come come at once as you C it will be 2 weeks or more from the time you leave until we can have a sale.

“Your Uncle Jim”[3]

This letter changed the course of Verne’s life.

First page of Uncle Jim's letter to Verne, 1936.

1 W. H. Heldenbrand, Wichita, Kansas, to Verne C. Troutman, letter, 17 August 1934, offering assistance in Verne’s auction business ventures, Assorted Letters, Memorabilia, and Other Papers from the Collection of Verne and Lois Troutman, binder, privately held, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana.
2 S. H. Liggett, Wayne, Ne., to Verne Troutman, letter, 10 Dec. 1934, offering a job and a scholarship, Assorted Letters.
3 J. H. Troutman, Saltville, Va., to Verne Troutman, letter, 28 Sept. 1936, telling Verne about opportunities to sell horses in Virginia, Assorted Letters.

© 2016, Z. T. Noble