October 21, 2018

Finding Fred 1 of 5: I Have A Great-Grandfather

We old ‘originals’ are prone sometimes to believe that we are neglected or ignored by a generation that ‘knew not Joseph’ and his works. —Frederick Augustus Bagley

Maj. Frederick Augustus Bagley
Frederick Augustus Bagley
Battleford, Saskatchwan, 1875
THE FAMILY MYTHOLOGY surrounding my great-grandfather Frederick Augustus Bagley was limited and unpleasant when I was growing up.

His daughter was a missing grandmother in my life—a woman who, it was said, abandoned my mother when she was six weeks old. Where Leona had gone or where she was, no one knew and none seemed to care. And while the judgment against her wasn’t particularly harsh (her actions explained away as depression and, after all, Granny Goodfellow, had been quick to step in and raise baby Betty), Leona’s father, my great-grandfather, came under a much harsher light. When Leona asked if she could leave her husband and come home, Frederick Augustus Bagley had apparently said, “Yes, but leave the brat behind.”

And so while I loved and missed my missing grandmother, and grew up yearning to find her, I secretly resented my great grandfather. After all, had he been a bit more understanding of whatever the plight may have been in 1928 my mother would have never been an orphan of sorts and my missing grandmother would not have gotten lost. Who was this man who thought my mother a brat? I didn’t care. I just wanted my grandmother.

Banff, Main StreetI was fourteen when my family drove into Banff, AB, for the first time. I was sitting in the back seat, between my two sisters. I had a straight-on view as we came in—the Rockies climbing up the sky all around me, just ahead the stone bridge and stately old hospital. I scooted forward with an exuberance new to me. In my fourteen years we’d moved a lot; any sense of home had dissipated, leaving me with a feeling of transience. But driving into Banff I recognized home. Here, I belonged. Here were roots. Here was my energy source.

Why? I didn’t know.

Fred Bagley's Banff post 1888
First Mountie Detachment: 1896
At the time we were living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and were on our way back after spending the summer, as we usually did, at my paternal grandfather’s beach house outside Vancouver.

It was with great reluctance that I said goodbye to Banff, yet…in grade four, Miss Bilby had told us stories about growing up on a farm outside Regina, SK, and it took my breath to see the prairie unfold as we dropped down out of the Rockies to meet the plains. Was it her stories that made my spirits soar? That gave me that sense of recognition and delight? Perhaps. Yet I’d heard many stories of wondrous places that didn’t, when experiencing them for myself, evoke such a keen sense of connection. We passed Dead Man’s Flat and drove right into the lapping waves of an ocean of grass that in actuality was my great-grandfather’s country. I didn’t know he’d spent his life here, that he’d policed the thousands upon thousands of square miles of earth and sky so flat and far-reaching it boggled my mind. I didn’t know…yet I must have known. I was recognizing land I loved and didn’t know I missed. Perhaps this is why Miss Bilby’s stories had meant so much to me.

Ft. Macleod, Fort Macleod AB
Ft. Macleod AB
We pulled into Fort MacLeod in Southern Alberta. My sisters and I—thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen, me in the middle—were looking at the doo-dads displayed in the gift shop, trying to keep an eye on our five-year-old brother, when all of a sudden our mother, peering intently at every photograph on the wall, started to shriek: “Roy! Roy! Come quick!” She was hyperventilating, I think—but then the whole scene is probably dramatized in my mind for we were teenagers.

Dad went over, I hid behind a bookcase; she was not my mother.

“Look! Here’s my grandfather! It has to be him. ‘Frederick Bagley, Crack-shot of the RCMP,’” she quoted and I came out from behind the bookcase.

“Your grandfather was a Mountie?” I asked, meeting his eyes and thinking he looked like a decent sort. Not the kind of guy who called his granddaughter a brat.

Mum headed for the cash register. I tore my eyes away from this man whose bloodline I carried and quickly trundled along behind , ears on high alert and wondering why I’d never been told this bit of information. A Mountie? I pictured of the red-tuniced men parading around on frisky horses in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

The long and short of the ensuing conversation at the cash register was that the curator was just then reading Fred Bagley’s diary, written when he’d crossed the prairies in 1874 as a fifteen-year-old kid. One year older than myself! His diary, however, was open only to family. So why give it to the museum? Mum patiently explained she was family. Didn’t matter. She still had to get permission from one of his three daughters, Kate, Leona, and Marian. [today you can read the diary for yourself by clicking on this link: https://albertaonrecord.ca/fred-bagley-fonds]

Diary page, Fred Bagley
Diary Page, Fred Bagleyto access, click on
I had to sit down. How did Mum feel about this? My own heart was hammering, high on unexpected hope in the air.

Mum got the address of her Aunt Marian, Leona's sister. We drove out to my great-great-aunt's roadside farm and Dad pulled over onto the highway shoulder, and we sat for what seemed like an eternity while Mum mulled things over, hope humming all around me like bees in the sunflowers. “Let’s go on, Roy,” she finally said and the bees fell silent.

That was that. We drove away, not knowing Leona lived only a few miles away, only that she’d remarried and that his name, too, was Roy. Roy Bent.

Three years later we were living in Iowa. My parents put my older sister and me on the train in Fargo, North Dakota. Linda and I were headed for Winnipeg, where an uncle would meet us and drive us out to Lloydminster, Alberta. There we’d spend a few days with our cousins, then take the train to Vancouver for another summer on the West Coast. I didn’t know, ticket in hand that hot, sultry June day in 1969 that my departure point was, in June 1874, our great grandfather’s train terminus, end of the rails.

Mounties sort gear in Fargo, ND
Mounties sort gear in Fargo, ND
I didn’t know that the newly formulated RCMP (in civilian dress, for they’d skirted the Great Lakes by special arrangement of the American government) had disembarked here and “dumped” their baggage onto the “bald-headed prairie.” In 1969 I saw wheat and corn stretching as far as the eye could see. In 1874 our great grandfather saw acres of “ uniforms, arms, ammunition, provisions, bedding, saddles, harness, wagons, hay-rakes, ploughs and harrows.” I didn’t know that he, by special dispensation from his father and Colonel French, had been allowed to join as the force as its youngest member and bugle boy. I didn’t know that he’d rubbed the sleep out of his eyes the very next day and sounded Reveille at 4:00 a.m.; I didn’t know that he and 200 other men and sixteen officers put together 200 hundred sets of harnesses, 300 saddles, and 75 heavy wagons; I didn’t know that his “D” Troop pulled out with twenty-nine fully loaded wagons at 5:00 p.m., headed for Winnipeg; that “E” Troop followed at 7:00 p.m.; and that “F” Troop, left behind to clean up, got under way the next day—without benefit of my great-grandfather’s bugle to wake them. I didn’t now any of this. I was already in Winnipeg and it was exactly ninety-five years later.

In Lloydminster, my aunt took Linda and I to an RCMP band concert, front row seats, with our five cousins. We were all musicians. Linda was a flutist, I was a clarinetist, and my single most joy in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had been our middle school band and symphony where we were the recipients of exceptional directing and private study—an unstated requirement if we were to participate. Consequently, Slauson Junior High won numerous awards and today, when I listen to our recordings, I am astonished. I was in “high fiddle” to attend the RCMP band concert.

Two erect Mounties in dashing red jackets and gold braiding stepped out, curtains still drawn, from stage left and stage right, with five-foot long bugles that glimmered in the light. The executed a few fancy steps, faced each other across the space, snapped their horns into position and, without warning, shot the clear tenor tones of “Oh Canada” into the air with such pomp and circumstance that the short hairs along the back of my neck stood up and I was on my feet without knowing quite how it happened. The crowd was not far behind and I bit back tears. I may have lived in the States for four years, but my loyalty was Canadian and I thought at the time it was the sheer excellence of the music and being “home” that had triggered my nationalistic pride and an ecstasy that never, in fifty-five years, has ever been repeated.

Military Trumpet 1880s
Trumpet similar to Fred's
What I didn’t know was that my great grandfather, asleep in my DNA, recognized his work and awoke, and that it was he who propelled me to my feet in a shock of joy that can only come after a century of sleep. Frederick Augustus Bagley, bugle boy, had made the RCMP his career and it was he who’d started so many of these bands. Together, unknown to each other but one and the same that night, we listened, our hearts caught in a surreal space where time and distance blended for one magical evening in the harmony of familiar sound.

I was thirty and back living on the West Coast when I began my summer treks to Banff and the prairies. In the silence of my missing grandmother, I’d taken to finding what I could of her dad. The Whyte Museum is where I learned of his short stint in Banff, that he’d returned and retired there, and was buried. I also learned that he’d started the Banff Springs Hotel band. Now that was interesting—and some of the pieces began coming together for me. My musical interest for one, but certainly my passion for Banff.

My first trip to Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, however, gave me a start—and then made me mad. I came across a slip of paper in my missing grandmother’s handwriting. Leona had been asked by a Calgary school classroom to submit a list of Major Fred Bagley’s descendents for a 1974 mountie centennial project they were working on. She listed herself, a son and three granddaughters—Leslie, Maia, and Elizabeth. After the shock of seeing her handwriting—she was real!—I allowed the information to sink in. The first thing I noticed was that there was no mention of her first husband Leslie, my Grandpa Les. No mention of her daughter, my mother Shirley Elizabeth, whom everyone called Betty. Certainly there was no mention of us, of me. And then it hit me. The names.

Leona, for whatever reason, had separated from Leslie—yet her eldest granddaughter bore the same name. She’d supposedly abandoned her infant, Shirley Elizabeth—yet her youngest granddaughter carried the baby’s name. And, like her daughter “Betty,” Leona had married a man named Roy. Coincidence? I was beginning to suspect that our unacknowledged and unknown past struggles for recognition; that we have less choice than we think. We are compelled, and the people around us are compelled, to name the past.

Bankhead AB foundations
Bankhead foundations
to learn more, click here
This was the summer I discovered Bankhead—and, happily, Louis Trono. Intrigued by the Bankhead history ParksCanada listed in their brochure and on the various site signs posted about the old ghost town north of Banff, I asked in town if they had any further information. They let me see a short documentary and in the flickering darkness I wrote down the names of the elderly men and women being interviewed. They’d grown up as children in Bankhead, their fathers the coal miners brought in by the CPR from all over Europe.

“You want to know more about Bankhead?” Louis Trono asked when I knocked on his front door later that day, one block off Banff’s main drag. Graciously he invited me in, called for his wife, Joy, to bring us some iced tea for the day was hot. “Tomorrow might be a better day,” he said as we settled in, a lively Italian, eighty-four years old, with slicked back hair and coiled energy. “I have to leave in an hour to rehearse at the Banff Springs Hotel. We play every night.”

“Really?” I said, perking up. “My great-grandfather started that band.”

Mr. Trono plunged forward in his stuffed chair. Iced tea slurped up over the glass brim, down his fingers. He didn’t notice. His eyes were on me. “You’re the Major’s granddaughter?”

I started to ramble about my lost lineage, my search of my grandmother, how I had to content myself with Fred Bagley. Mr. Trono interrupted, smile so big, leaning across the room to shake my hand again. “This is fine! This is a pleasure! Joy!” he hollered. “We have the Major’s granddaughter here!” She came running, a woman twenty or thirty years his junior. More handshakes.

“You knew my great grandfather?” I asked, the bees back in my ears and humming. “You knew him?”

“Knew him? He came out to Bankhead and started the Bankhead band. He taught me how to play the trombone. I was only in knickers. At first he said no, I couldn’t join. I was just a kid. I kept badgering him. He finally thought to shut me up by giving me his old trumpet. But I blew my lungs inside out for a week until I finally got the hang of it, showed up at the next rehearsal, and he had to let me have a shot. I’ll never forget the look on his face. He turned to the big guys and said, ‘This lad is a musician, boys. If the rest of you ever learn to play half as good as—what’s your name, Sonny?—Louis here, I should be so proud.’ But your granddad needed a trombone player—so I’ve played trombone all my life, all over the world.

Mounties at Queen Victoria's Jubilee
Fred Bagley
2nd from left
"Did you know your granddad played at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee? He taught me well. I played for Queen Elizabeth. And I’ve been more places playing music than even your granddad, he was famous for his music, you know. I owe him life, my livelihood, every wonderful thing I’ve ever known in life. Everything. He gave me direction in that old ghost town, I am indebted to him. And here you are…”

It was too much for the old man. He flopped back in his chair. Joy fussed. I started to make excuses, asked when I could come back. I, too, needed some time to process the surprise.

“Your grandmother?” he said, pulling out of the shock. “What was her name?”

“Leona.” Bees swarmed through the room, honey in their wings.

“Joy, was it Leona?” he asked, “who taught Marco in grade two?”

Joy pulled out some old school pictures. “Yes, she taught at the little elementary school a few blocks away.” Linda, I thought, thinking of my older sister and seeing my grandmother for the very first time, would be interested in this. Linda was an elementary school teacher, and loved the second grade.

“Are you in a hurry?” Mr. Trono asked, glancing at his watch.

“No, I was going to go over and see if the Craigs would talk to me about Bankhead.”

“Do that tomorrow. I’m taking you to rehearsal, to introduce you to the boys. They’re younger than me, they didn’t know your granddad, but they know of him. Hey, I’ll buy you supper at the hotel. We can visit, and you can stay and listen to us play for the evening.”

Over grilled trout at the Banff Springs Hotel, "Louis" told me that when Bankhead closed  in 1919 all the houses were taken into Banff or Canmore, a little town five or six miles east. “I was twelve. My family moved next door to the Major on Beaver Street and summer afternoons he had us boys over to play with his swords. He taught us how to parade. I of course continued my music lessons.”

Bankhead AB 1904
Bankhead AB 1904
The next day found Louis and I in Bankhead, laying out the huge maps I’d gleaned from the museum, Louis putting stones on their corners to keep the wind at bay, everything spread over what was once, he said, the curling green. He filled me in on who lived where and what they were like—and fed me details of my grandmother and great grandfather as they came to mind. He regretted not having made it his business to learn everything he could. “I was a kid,” he told me, taking me over to the old Catholic church, now a basement and stone steps rising to meet heaven. “We didn’t care about that kind of stuff, but once he passed on? I regretted knowing so little.”

Yet what Louis told me that summer and over the next several years confirmed my growing suspicion that Major Frederick Bagley, despite all reports of his grand, military bearing, could never have called my mother a brat. And if this much of the story wasn’t true?

I started to feel a sense of desperation to find my grandmother. What history begged to be told?

Unbeknownst to me, when the bees fell silent outside my great Aunt Marian’s house, my mother still heard them, and had written her aunts and mother three times for permission to have a copy of her grandfather’s diary. Three times she’d been ignored and I think it was this rejection that stung. Or perhaps these were my own feelings, and I visited them upon Mum in my growing reversal of feelings—love and admiration for Fred, less for Leona. But was this fair?

Betty Goodfellow Wilbee and brother Dale Bent
Betty Goodfellow Wilbee & Dale Bent
I had children of my own when Mum got a phone call. She and Dad were living in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the time. “You don’t know me,” the man on the other end of the line said, “but my name is Dale Bent.”

Mum reports that her knees weakened, and she sat down. “You are my brother,” she said.

“Yes. And I have something I think you’d like.”

And so a brother walked into Mum’s life, an uncle into mine, bearing the diary Mum had wanted so badly that she’d risked, three times, her mother’s very pointed rejection.

In the end, it was a death bed sort of confession that brought us Fred Bagley’s diary. Aunt Kate was dying. She called in her nephew, told him there were three letters, that his mother had been married before, that he had a sister, that she wanted their grandfather’s diary. Could he deliver it to her?

He could, and did. That was the good news. The bad news was that his mother—Leona—didn’t want to know about us.  This grandmother I yearned for not even interested to know if I existed? Stung, I nevertheless resolved to look at it from her point of view. What was an old woman supposed to do when past became present?

Buck pony
Buckwheat "Buck", Fred's Famous Pony
My third trip to Glenbow was with Mum. She wrote to see what artifacts they might have of her grandfather. I’d never thought to do that, and so was delighted when we were taken into the archives to see and handle a collection of his uniforms, accouterments, manuscripts, even a horse’s hoof. A Mountie’s regiment number, we learned, was always carved into his horse’s right front hoof so that if his horse ever returned to the fort unmounted the others would know who to look for. “He’s actually quite a famous horse in Mountie history,” the curator explained, telling us the story of how Fred Bagley had “stolen” the bay out from under the nose of a fellow Mountie. “Unlike other Mounties, whose horses were periodically assigned and reassigned, your grandfather managed to hang onto his, and when he was too old serve, rather than being consigned to the glue factory as was the policy, this horse,” she said, handing me the hoof, “was put out to pasture. Old Buck lived to the ripe old age of 32."

"Buck, as in Buckwheat?" one or the other of us asked.

Once-upon-a-time my younger sister had snuck a cock-a-poo puppy from Bellingham, Washington, onto the plane and taken him as gift to St. Paul, Minnesota, for our mother. Mum had called him Buckwheat—Bucky for short. I thought of the other names we shared—Leslie, Elizabeth, Roy…and now Buckwheat for our pets. How is it possible for a man in 1874 to call his horse with the same name that his never-to be-known granddaughter would give her  pet a hundred years later? In the name of all that is rational, how is this possible? I handed Buckwheat’s hoof to Mum, K 1 carved into it, grateful for this curious knowledge.

Banff Train Depot 1930s
Banff Train Depot
Was this this same summer Mum and I went up to Banff, where we walked past the old train station one evening?

“Granny and Granddad had a summer cabin here,” she told me. “Granny often brought me up here from Calgary on the train. Back in those days, the Banff Springs Hotel band came out to greet the trains and to play, always conducted by a kindly old man with white hair with the most regal bearing. I was fascinated by him. I’d dawdle along, staring at him over my shoulder, Granny hurrying me along with a stern ‘come along, Betty.’”

Betty Goodfellow, Age 8
Betty Goodfellow, 8
“According to Louis Trono, Mum, that would be your grandfather,” I said.

“I thought of that when you first told me about Louis.”

Did Fred Bagley ever sense his granddaughter’s eyes on him as he directed a rousing “God Save the Queen?” Did he ever catch sight of Granny Goodfellow hastening by, anxious to keep them apart? Did he even know they had a cabin a few blocks from his own?

I took my sons to Glenbow when they were twelve and fourteen to help me go through all the photographs. I was getting desperate to meet my grandmother and wanted to get my hands on a picture that could tell me more about her. We found only one of a child—which daughter was this? Conflicting reports of how many girls Fred Bagley had—anywhere from seven to the three I knew about—provided no clue. I asked for a generated photograph of this unknown child looking over her dad’s shoulder. I’d pretend it was Leona.

It was Phil—the same age I was when I first heard my great-grandfather's call—who asked the curator where his great great grandfather’s badges might be located. We’d gleaned enough information over the years to learn there were many. “Probably in someone’s musty attic or moldy basement,” the librarian offered with a grimace. “If you ever find them, let us know.”

Pincher Creek was a name that kept popping up now and then in my research. It was new country for me and I was curious. I was in talking to the curator at the little museum there when the boys came flying into the office, out of breath, exuberant. “We found them! We found them!”

“Found what?”

“His badges!”

Sure enough, there they were, high on the wall, pinned to velvet and encased in glass. To say he had a lot was putting it mildly. A plaque read “ON LOAN FROM THE CONNELLY FAMILY.”

“Who are they?” I asked the librarian.

“A local family.”

“Any relation to the Bagleys?”

“Cousins of some kind, I think.”

I rather liked the idea of having cousins of a sort in Pincher Creek. But it my grandmother I wanted to meet.

Leona Bagley
Leona Bagley
15 years old
Somewhere along the line, my mother's brother gave me a picture of their mother when Leona was 15 or 16, an early Flapper Girl!

The spring I turned forty my desperation reached a point of near panic. I wasn’t getting any younger, neither was Leona. I called my uncle; he came up with a plan. I’d fly out to London, Ontario, where they now all lived. He’d introduce me as a family friend; in this way I could at least see her and get to know her. I had my ticket in hand when Phil, now a shocking six feet, four inches tall and skinny as a rail (shocking because no one on either side of his family for as far back as we could trace had ever stood over six feet tall), said, “Mum, if you go meet her as a friend of the family, you’ll never get to meet her as family. And isn’t that what you really want?”

Fred Bagley had been fifteen when he left home. Phil was fifteen. I stared at my son—and tore up my ticket.

I raised my children as a writer and at some point Uncle Dale took to setting out autographed copies of my Sweetbriar series, books on Seattle’s pioneer families, for his mother to find, and to read. Sometimes she asked if he knew if I’d be writing any more. “She’s your granddaughter,” he finally told her at some point, “you can ask her for yourself.” She clammed up. The fifth in the series was released in 1997. I was 45, Leona was 93. It was then that she finally said the words I longed to hear, “I think I’m ready to meet Brenda now.”

It was our common interest in history that slowly built the bridge we needed in order to cross over into each others’ lives. I stepped into a beehive of hurt.

But by grandmother was reluctant to reveal the worst. It wasn’t “nice to speak ill of the dead.” She told me instead of her father—the man we both admired. Fred Bagley, she said, stood six feet, four inches tall; and I found it ironic that it was his six-foot, four-inch great great grandson who enabled me to find her, to be speaking with her.

He was a kindly man, she said. He had a sense of humor and loved a good joke. He had many friends. He treated everyone with dignity and respect, even the prisoners he was assigned to guard. He adored his six daughters, only three of whom survived childhood and hence the confusion. They adored him. “Oh, the good times we used to have,” she said with silver in her laugh and eyes seeing back in time to where I couldn’t go. He abhorred violence, she said. He suffered none to strike them and when a nun made the mistake of taking a whip to Leona’s shins one day in school Lucy May, his wife, promptly withdrew all the girls and settled them elsewhere. The nuns begged that she and Fred reconsider. They did not.

Most certainly, he did not call my mother a brat.

In fact, when she was born, he took the train from Calgary to Vancouver see her—wheeling a wicker pram. Here Mum slept for lack of cradle or crib, and when she was taken from Leona at eighteen months old (not six weeks), he did everything in his power to get her back. The Goodfellows, however, were a formidable foe. My mother it seems was the only battle Major Frederick Augustus Bagley ever fought and lost.

Iamasees Chief Big Bear's son
Iamisees / Murderer
Big Bear's Son 
All this very nearly didn’t happen. Trouble was brewing in 1884 on the Northern Saskatchewan. First there was the “Poundmaker Racket” earlier that summer and soon there’d be Louis Riel’s Second Resistance. Grandfather and his men were caught up in the tension and under orders to keep an eye on Big Bear of the Plains Cree and his young war chief, Wandering Spirit. So when Big Bear and his band suddenly pulled out of Fort Battleford in the fall of 1884 and started back to Fort Pitt where they normally wintered, Grandfather and his party were ordered to go along as an escort. A hundred years later I was there, researching Big Bear’s subsequent flight from the authorities during the ensuing Resistance. I came across a hair-raising note penned by my great grandfather and my growing dislike for Big Bear’s son Iamisees (The Evil One) crawled out of my belly to leave the taste of bile in my mouth--and a very real sense of fear. Grandfather wrote:

View of Fort Pitt, Saskatchewan…I had to accommodate my rate of travel to that of the Indians, who traveled very slowly; consequently this trip of 95 miles with Big Bear’s band took 11 days to complete, while I, on my return trip to Battleford with my men, took only 1½ days to cover the same distance. When I, with the Indians and escort, arrived at a point about half a mile distant from Fort Pitt, but on the South side of the North Saskatchewan River, I received dispatch from the officer commanding Fort Battleford ordering me to return at once to Battleford. After wheeling my men, horses, and wagons about, and starting them on the return trip, I met Ayimeesees (The Wicked One), Big Bear’s son, and stopped on the trail to talk to him. He seemed to be in a very excited state, and doubted my word that there was no serious news from the South, and that Louis Riel had not yet started the expected “Rebellion.” In fact, he went so far as to tell me he thought I spoke with a “forked tongue.” In plainer language that I was blank, blank liar. Following his accusation he seized my horse’s reins, and made a dash at me with a big hunting knife. As my men were by that time at least a mile away on the back track, and, as per my orders, traveling very fast, and, as I was, very foolishly, unarmed at the time, I took the only way out and knocked him down by driving my horse at him and so got away after my men. I am convinced that if he had had a firearm he would have shot me.

Big Bear, Poundmaker, Little Pine, Wandering Spirit…these were men I understood, admired even. But Iamisees? He was a bully and coward. He was selfish, unruly. He sought constantly to undermine his dad. At times I felt sorry for Big Bear, shackled as he was in his old age by such an unworthy son. And to learn that Iamisees had tried to murder my own grandfather? And thus me? I went down to the riverbank and stood looking at the ridge where I’d nearly died before I was ever conceived.

But no one died that nearly terrible day. Frederick Augustus Bagley went on to father Leona, then Mum, then me, then my own daughter and sons, and now my grandsons and granddaughter. He went on to bring the prairies music, and today one can hardly pick up a book on the settling of Canada West or the making of the Mounties without reading of him. Or thumb through an old Scarlet and Gold or R.C.M.P. Quarterly without finding his byline. Or see the Musical Ride without hearing his music. His contribution to Canadian heritage is significant...
Fred Bagley Blowing Taps, Glenbow Museum
Blowing Taps
Glenbow Museum
...and in May 2007 Glenbow Museum of Calgary AB built a new permanent display naming Major Frederick Augustus Bagley one of twenty-four Canadian Mavericks. Yet there is no one definitive work on him. I would like to see this rectified.

It's been said in many places that to tell the story of Fred Bagley is to tell the story of Canadian history. Confederated in 1867, the country was but six years old when he rode out as a fifteen-year-old kid to help establish law and order in an area the size of Europe. The Mounties were assigned the task of protecting the Natives north of the 49th parallel from American whiskey traders; and indirectly to warn off the covetous Americans. Fred's story is indeed Canada's--her past and present, for we are Canadian, not American. For me, though, to tell his story is a far more personal overlay of past and present. Grandfather left me the bread crumbs so I could find Leona. And by finding her, I found him.

He once wrote:
 "We old ‘originals’ are prone sometimes to believe that we are neglected or ignored by a generation that ‘knew not Joseph' and his works."
Yet history does indeed struggle to be told; it struggles because who we were and are is our birthright.

Finding Fred 2of 5: His Early Life

Frederick Augustus Bagley, colorized by Brenda Wilbee, great-granddaughter
Fred Bagley
begins not on the Canadian prairie where he made history but in Nanaimo, BC, at the the home of my aunt and uncle, Penny and Dale Bent. My mother and I had been researching Fred as a Mountie. Penny, however, researched Fred's parents, grandfather, and his early life. She'd gone all the way back five generations to Col. James Bland, a Scotsman born about 1793, who, while in the British army, was stationed long enough in Barbados to father Catherine Ann, Fred's mother. And so I drove up through Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay and boarded the ferry for a two-hour crossing to Departure Bay of Vancouver Island to see what information she might have.
Bad eggs and sausage on the ferry
Below deck and parked, I got a binder of my research from the jeep, hoofed it up three flights of stairs, and hunted down the cafeteria where I began reacquainting myself with what material I had while eating some very bad scrambled eggs and not very good sausage.

My aunt and uncle had retired to Nanaimo, and I found their new abode on a hillside overlooking Departure Bay. Ferries go in and out all day; on clear days you can see Vancouver across the water. It's just about the nicest place to live. But the view paled in my excitement to see what Penny had unearthed.

My great-great-great-grandfather Colonel James Bland had been an officer in the Royal Army, stationed in the British West Indies (now the Bahamas) between 1829 and 1832--leaving behind a toddler and presumably a mistress. Piecing what data we have, a possible scenario emerges. From a birth certificate of one Catherine Ann born in 1830 to a Rebecca Harker, a mulatto, we might well think my great-great-great-grandfather had had a dalliance with a woman of mixed blood. Presumably African. But my DNA says no. I'm about as white as you can get.

There's another scenario.

When Fred and his siblings were all grown up, they inherited their mysterious mother's aunts' "plantation" in Jamaica. These two aunts were Gordons, and the Gordon family were multi-generational British military--which explains why a family of that name lived in the West Indies when James Bland was there. He may well have married a Gordon daughter, which is far more likely than bedding a mistress whose DNA isn't mine. But this begs the question as to why he didn't take his Gordon wife and toddler with him when he retired back to Scotland in 1832. Why, indeed?

Catherine Ann Bland Bagley
Catherine Ann Bland Bagley
The wife could have died in childbirth, a lot of women did. Or she could have died from any number of the beastly diseases rampant in the military environment and so common to the West Indies. As widower, he wouldn't have been expected to raise his own child. At that time, widowers either remarried or left their offspring with a friend or relative. Perhaps Catherine Ann's mother didn't die. Perhaps she just didn't want to go to Scotland with a forty-two-year-old man. What we know for sure is that Captain James Bland retired on half pay back to Scotland, where he joined the Royal Aberdeen Highlanders Militia as their Paymaster and Adjutant. We also know he kept in touch with his daughter because many years later, when Fred was two years old, his family visited the old man--then retired to Jersey Island in the English Channel. Fred wrote to his daughter Marian that he remembered the visit because they'd landed in storm, with waves crashing over the boardwalk.

Whoever Catherine Ann's mother was--a mulatto whose DNA isn't mine, or a Gordon, or even some other nameless woman, the Gordons were nonetheless critical to Catherine Ann's upbringing: Her two aunts (whether by blood or close friendship) deeded what was left of their plantation to her children--worth all of $300.

Richard "Dick" Bagley
Whoever her mother was, Catherine Ann married Dick Bagley, a lowly Gunner in the British army.

One has to ask why, if she indeed was a Gordon. At the very least protected by the Gordons? This was the Victorian era. Crossing rigid class lines wasn't to be tolerated. The army too had its rigid class structure. An officer's daughter would never stoop to marry a low life in Britain's Royal Army!

Victorian custom aside, why would she give up her luxurious life for the impoverishment of army life in disease-ridden forts? And why did the navy even let Richard marry her? Non-officers were routinely denied wives. Their pay couldn't support it, the work was unforgiving, and living conditions harsh.

The how or why of Catherine Ann and Dick's marriage remains a mystery. Love overcoming all barriers, one might like to think. But as my aunt says, "These weren't romantic people." And if it was love, I think Catherine Ann lived to regret it.

Their first daughter, Evangeline or "Eva," was borne in Belize, Honduras; Fred came next, in Jamaica. The three of his six surviving daughters disputed this for years, one sister saying Barbados, another Jamaica, my grandmother Leona, St. Lucia. She even went to St. Lucia to prove herself right. However, the pertinent documentation had been burned by a fire. I have, however, Fred's baptismal record of Sunday, November 14, 1858, showing that he was baptized at Fort Charlotte, Lucea, Jamaica. An understandable error on my grandmother Leona's part: St. Lucia or Lucea. And so unless Dick was transferred sometime between his son's birth on September 28 his baptismal six weeks later, my great-grandfather Frederick Augustus Bagley was born in Fort Charlotte of Lucea, Hanover County, Jamaica.

Interestingly, Dick Bagley was promoted to Bombardier the day after Fred's baptismal. Had he been serving elsewhere, then, when Fred was born?

Baptismal record of Frederick Augustus Bagley 1868
Wherever he was born--Fred himself claiming it was Jamaica--his earliest memories were of crying and being shushed with a sugar cane, given him by a black nanny. This suggests his family may not have lived in the barracks but on the plantation where his mother may have grown up. Perhaps, though, the black nanny was as a hired barrack army servant. Whatever the case, Fred wrote that the sugar cane turned him off sugar for life.

The black nanny disturbs me. England had abolished slavery in 1808, but it wasn't until 1838 that Jamaican slaves became fully emancipated—just twenty years before Fred was born. This black nanny would have had little choices for herself back then and, if over twenty-five, could have been deeply traumatized by her own slavery. Attitudes take a long time to change and she was part of a race that had been over-the-top brutalized in Jamaica. I wonder what her history was.

When Fred was two, his father was transferred to Kent, back in England. This is probably when Fred visited his grandfather on the Island of Jersey--a short boat ride away.

For the next eight years—1860 to 1868—Fred's family bounced pillar to post, his mother having babies every two years in a different parts of the country: Frank, 1860; Albert, 1863; Amelia Ellen "Nelly," 1865; Alex, 1867. A year later, in 1868, his dad retired after 21 years in service. Chelsea Hospital housed the retired wounded, the able-bodied were given Chelsea pensions. He became a "Chelsea Pensioner" at half pay, nothing a family of seven could live on, and was described as "39 and 9/12 years old, six foot one inch, fair complexion, dark brown hair and blue eyes" and, remarkably, no marks or scars. My Aunt Penny points out that this means he was never flogged or injured in battle. An amazing accomplishment, given the time. The family moved into 14 Equity Buildings, St. Pancras, Marylebone--one of the poorest slums in London. Charles Booth in 1898 described the Equity Buildings as "a queer little paved cul-de-sac; low one-story two-roomed cottages, with a little wash-house and yard behind...; rents from 6/6 to 7."

Growing up in the army, Fred and his siblings would have enjoyed school. All this stopped when his father retired. Whatever the failings of the British army, it wasn't in the education of their children. Fred and his brothers would have been immersed in horsemanship, music, and the three R's; his sisters in the three Rs plus sewing and household tasks. Now no longer in the army, they would have attended public school...perhaps.

When Dick retired in 1868, family lore says he bought a tavern with some mysterious money of his wife' and burned through it all while Fred and his siblings worked alongside him in the pub. My aunt doubts this; they were too young. However, I've read enough Dickens to know that England's children during this time suffered terribly, especially poor children. They were put to work for long hours, no pay, school a luxury. All the hard work was for nothing. By 1870 Dick was penniless.

Fort Henry, Toronto, Canada 1869
Fort Henry
Across the Atlantic, four Canadian provinces had confederated into the Dominion of Canada. England expected her to take care of herself, and was bringing back all her troops. But Chelsea Pensioners were being sought to train the new Canadian Militia. Dick seems to have jumped at the chance. Free passage his, he left his family behind in the slums to fend for themselves. Canadian census reports put him at Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario, where he served as part of the British military presence in the brand new country—a very necessary deterrent to the aggressive ambitions of a post civil war America.

Pancras Work House, London
Pancras Work House, London
The English census lists his wife with another baby. Other records show her living in abject poverty, eeking out a living in the very worst of London's slums as a dressmaker before finally, at long last, succumbing to the Pancras Poor House.

Fred seems to have refused the humiliation and as a 12- and 13-year-old kid he ran free on London's streets—right up to the day when he was brought into the work house prepatory to their departure for Canada.

Who paid for their tickets?Aid societies abounded, trying to deal with the overwhelming poor in England's economic decline. But why would Catherine Ann even want to join a husband who'd left her destitute? She might well have loved him once, but now? 

Sarmation Passenger Ship
Yet what other choice did she have? Poor Eva was back and forth between the hospital and service, cleaning for a wealthy family; the other children were housed in a different section of the work house, away from the women's ward; thirteen-year-old Fred was on the streets. In May, she somehow got them all aboard the  Sarmartian and set sail from Liverpool for Canada on May 26, 1871. We'll never know her feelings.

In Kingston, Ontario, Canada, the children once again enjoyed a good education--though at fourteen years old it ended. Fred joined Kingston's Battery "A" as a bugler and enrolled in the gunnery school. When recruitment notices for a newly formed Mounted Police Force to police the Canada West went up, his life changed--and he became the Mountie who helped shape Canadian history.

Not that easy, though. He was only fifteen; you had to be eighteen. He hightailed it down to the recruitment office, and lied. Good plan, but he ran into the commandant of his school—Col. French. Worse, French went round to his house to report him to his father and, according to some reports, there was quite the row.
Last of the Mohecans
A self-confessed student of James Fenimore Cooper, Fred yearned to save the Indians out west from the dastardly American whiskey traders and envisioned himself "hobnobbing about with dusky Indian princesses."

In part, he was running away from home. Dick was a harsh man. To punish his boys, he took them out to the gym and boxed them into defeat, then beat them with a belt. Around the girls he managed to keep his fists to himself; nonetheless, they feared the lash of his tongue. So this must have been a hard fight. Finally Dick acquiesced. "Go ahead and take the lad! He'll get over his fascination for buffalo and redskins in short order, I reckon. If nothing else, it'll make a man out of him. But on one condition," he added. "He can only enlist for six months."

The Force pulled out of Kingston in June, 1874. Catherine Ann bid her oldest boy, not yet sixteen, adieu amidst all the fanfare, reminding him to say his prayers each night. She gave him a gold watch and chain and a diary that helped me find him a hundred years later.
Bagley siblings in Toronto 1888
Poor Catherine didn't see him for another fourteen years. The occasion called for this remarkable photo with Fred with his siblings. He didn't stay long and was soon back on the Prairie.

My quest isn't over. Looking for my missing grandmother Leona, I found Fred Bagley. I also found his parents and much mystery in Jamaica. But what about the children of Fred's other daughters? Leona's sisters? My cousins?

Finding Fred 3 of 5: Our Bigger Worlds, His and Mind

Frederick Augustus Bagley, colorized by Brenda Wilbee, his great-granddaughter
Fred Bagley
I DON'T RECALL recall the summer I made the trek back to Banff to see my friend Louis and to track down where the Bagleys and Goodfellows had lived and vacationed. All I knew was that Goodfellows owned a summer cabin. My mother ever the bone of contention between them had me wondering how "inconvenient"  it might have gotten for the Montegues and Capulets of Banff when they ran into each other at the grocery store.

I arrived about 5:00 to a town undergoing what looked like open heart surgery. Banff's Avenue had been fenced off. Huge diggy machines and bulldozers were hard at work along the center. I made a U-turn and headed for Bankhead, the old CPR ghost town Louis had made come alive in my mind and heart. Once a thriving community of immigrants brought in from all over Europe to mine the coal, this once-upon-a-time pristine town was home to about one hundred Germans, Ukranians, Italians, and others...and Chinese. A town of Once Upon A Time.

Main Street, Bankhead AB, circa 1910
Main Street, Bankhead AB, circa 1910
ONCE UPON A TIME, Main Street ran along a steppe of Cascade Mountain, chuck full of coal and sole reason for Bankhead's existence. The mountain rose high to the left, where the town sat on another natural steppe before the mountain really took off, a trail going up and up to three portals reaching into the hiding coal. The mountain dropped off Main Street to the right, down to the slag heaps and mining operations. As Main Street headed north, the one-block commercial street narrowed and took a climb to Holy Trinity Church easily seen on the hill.

Trinity Church, Bankhead AB
Holy Trinity Church, Bankhead AB
While it was a Catholic church, Holy Trinity was typical of pioneering days, sharing the space and resources with other village denominations. Sunday mornings saw two or three services, while on Saturday nights the Polish, British, Irish, Russian, Germans, Hungarian, Slovakian, and Czech took turns hosting community dances. One week, it might be the Hungarians with a waltz. The next week, a German polka. Everyone participated except the Chinese, their way of life and religion far too surreal and mysterious to amalgamate.

Trip Adisor image of Bankhead AB church steps
All that's left today
Photo by Trip Advisor
I was prepared to find Bankhead overrun, each year more and more invasive, but I was astonished by the relentless reclamation. Early pictures of me digging around for laundry tubs and cigar cases in open spaces show a stark contrast to today’s crowding trees and underbrush. I had to scrabble up stony deer paths and push through young birch to find the steps to the old Catholic church I love so much. I did find it, and stood at the top, looking down; down into a basement where different nationalities took turns hosting Saturday night dances. Trees grew up from where women's skirts once swirled, ethnic music nothing more now than the wind.

Two Jack Lake
Evening coming on, I headed down the new road that cuts through Bankhead to Two Jack Lake and got myself a camping spot. While roasting a hotdog, I wondered why the draw to Bankhead, perhaps the same draw for Banff--my great-grandfather. When Fred was stationed in Banff—first in 1888 with the first detachment and then again in 1890 when he married Lucy May—he'd started the Bankhead Band. It was in this old ghost town where a kid named Louis Trono met him as a nine-year-old in knickers.
Your granddad came out from Banff to start a band. I wanted to play trumpet, but no matter how many times I asked he kept saying I was just a kid. Finally, to shut me up, I think, he gave me his own trumpet and told me to take it home for a week, see what I could do. When I finished playing for him the following week, he said to the band members, :Now here is how you play music." But he had enough trumpet players. He gave me a trombone. I've been playing trombone ever since, all over the world.
I settled down with a crackling fire under the black pine, content to be “home,” listening to the music of my great-grandfather reaching through time and playing in the trees--and looking forward to knocking on Louis' door the next day to say hi. Perhaps a dinner at Banff Springs Hotel would be fun, where Louis still played his trombone in what was left of my great-grandfather's "Banff Hot Spring Hotel Band."

I was saddened to learn the next day from the curators at the Whyte Rocky Mountain Museum that Louis had died three years before, his wife just three weeks ago. Had it been that long since I'd been to Banff? I had to blink a few times.

The good news, the curators were quick to share, was that Banff had renamed the bandstand for Louis and installed a lovely plaque with a bit of Louis’ fascinating musical history. I was not surprised to find Fred mentioned as his mentor and teacher. How rich my life has been by looking for my missing grandmother. First Fred, then Uncle Dale. Louis. Banff feels a little lonely for me now, without my friend.

Banff Rotunda
Getting any information on where Fred and Lucy May might have lived, though, was a bit elusive. In the public library, I found a huge book called I Live In A Postcard, a collection of histories on Banff's families. Fred and Lucy May weren't listed. Next door at the museum archives they were equally surprised, but pictures of his funeral show a long line of friends stretching all down Banff Avenue, many of them stepping into the cortege as the hearse rounded the corner onto Buffalo and out to the cemetery. His hearse was accompanied by six Mountie, three to the left, three to the right, Mounties stationed all along the way, each raising an arm in salute as my grandfather passed for the last time.

A curator found some color slides. Goodness. The day was ablaze with autumn orange leaves and riotous red tunics! I hadn't yet been born but I could smell the day deep inside.

Bagley GravestoneI went straight to the cemetery and had a picnic supper at his grave, where he’d been interned with a Union Jack draped over his coffin. I’d stopped on the way up to see one of Mum's many Goodfellow cousins in Salmon Arm, BC. Sylvia was exactly half way between home and Banff, a convenient stopover. After some lunch she'd sent me on my way with an egg salad sandwich and other hand baked goodies. Now, perched on the Bagley plot's concrete edging, with the chilly granite of the tombstone at my back, I munched it all down, looking up at Sulphur Mt. as it plunged skyward in a blanket of trees. I got to thinking about the entrapment of time—a terrible inconvenience for writers and historians. How is that I was sitting here, alive, with Fred dead and my grandchildren having their whole lives ahead of them? Weird.

My second day it was back in the archives, where Lena, one of the curators, pulled out the old tax records, heavy tombs of boring information like lot and block and assessed value. I learned that Fred never owned his house—there are no records of him ever paying taxes. The Goodfellows, however, had a cabin and property worth $650. Taxes ran from $6 to about $11 or $12.

a Banff cabin
Craig Cabin
perhaps similar to the Goodfellows
The old phone books were the mother lode. Major and Mrs. Fred Bagley lived on the corner of Elk and Beaver; which is now an apartment building. Rats. I couldn't go knock on the door and charm my way in. It turns out Walter and Isabella Goodfellow lived only 3 or 4 blocks away at 422 Marten Street, also an apartment building.

Rats, rats, and more rats. I had my heart set on being snoopy. I did find the answer, though, as to how awkward it might have been for the families--one trying to see their granddaughter, the other determined they not. Answer: Very awkward.

Banff Hot Springs
I ended my third day at Banff—a glorious sunny day with gentle breezes—researching in the public library across from a man I’d spotted the night before at the hot springs.

A friend and I used tell each other stories of complete strangers we’d see. So there I was the night before, reveling in the hot springs that's made Banff so famous, making up stories about the various people I saw. I had this guy pegged for a banker, widower, living in his head and trying to pull himself out of it. At the library we started to chat. Turns out he's researching residential schools in Canada for an online class he was taking. Shows how remarkably creative I can be.

In the morning I was to head down to Pincher Creek to meet my mother’s “missing” cousin, Doug Connelly. By the way, Pincher Creek is where the Mounties raised their horses and where Old Buck, Grandfather's horse, was put to pasture after many years of service. The town that grew up around the Mountie horse ranch is nestled in the Rocky Mountain foothills, and I am quite fond of the rolling, dry countryside, caught as it is between the mountains and plains. I look forward to meeting more Bagley kin, and to learn what memories Doug may have of his grandfather.

For a treat, I stayed my last night at the Banff Hostel, a grand place for little money and all the amenities. Best yet, the old Train Depot hauled out of Bankhead in 1922 sits right next door.

I can't believe it. I'm right back to Once Upon A Time!

Bankhead Train Depot, now in Banff AB. Brenda Wilbee on porch
Yup, that's me!

Finding Fred 4 of 5: Answer To A Question

Frederick Augustus Bagley, colorized by Brenda Wilbee, his great-granddaughter
Fred Bagley
I STARTED MY JOURNEY looking for my grandmother Leona Bagley, but Fred's cookie-crumb trail had taken on a life's of its own. I heard about my mother's cousin Doug Connelly, son of Leona's younger sister Marian. A rancher, he lived at Pincher Creek with his wife Sally. And yes, it turns out that Doug and Sally were the couple to donate Fred's badges that my son Phil found in the Pincher Creek Museum several years before. "Cousins perhaps?" was now a solid "cousins once removed." Or is it "second cousins?"

Remember, family lore held that when Leona wanted to leave my Grandpa Les and return home, Fred Bagley had told her yes, but leave the brat behind. It had irked me, but but what I was learning about Fred was that he loved music, horses, and kids. Did he love my mother?

Pincher Creek, photo by Brenda Wilbee
Pincher Creek
PINCHER CREEK LIES in the Porcupine foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Southern Alberta. Here the Mounties of Canada West bred their horses and here is where Old Buck, Fred's pony, was put to pasture in his old age. A singular reward; all the others were unceremoniously sent off to a glue factory. No one had it in their hearts to condemn a famous and faithful pony to such a fate. Old Buck, however, was allowed to roam the prairie at at will.

Old Buck, Frederick Augustus Bagley's Mountie pony
Old Buck
my great-grandfather's pony
He quickly formed a routine, circling between Fort Macleod, Fort Calgary, and Pincher Creek, where he was always welcomed with carrots and apples. But in 1898, at 32 years of age and ancient in horse years, he was "humanely put down." This is the year before master, my great-grandfather, after 25 years of service with the Mounties, resigned. Fred and Old Buck were in it together, beginning to end.

Here too in Pincher Creek is the old homestead and home of my mother's lost-and-found cousin, Doug Connelly, keeper of the Bagley artifacts, manuscripts, and family Bible. Doug's grandfather homesteaded this land and his mother, Fred's youngest daughter, married into this cozy place on the prairie.

Doug and Sally Connelly Gate
Doug and Sally Connelly
Pincher Creek AB
I hardly knew what to expect when I drove up to the gate--though my mother insisted and assured me that Doug and Sally would be happy to meet me. Turns out Mum was right, so right in fact that Doug and Sally let me spend the entire day at their kitchen table pouring through letters and military orders and diaries, and showing me the many artifacts still in their possession. Much of the material has been loaned out to Glenbow in Calgary and the little museum in Pincher Creek, but Doug has retained several of our grandfather's things: a swagger stick; a cane of sorts; a souvenir horse-bit given to him when he escorted Queen Victoria's carriage in her Diamond Jubilee parade through London's streets in 1887; a silver tea set he won in rifle match I believe it was; as well as many other interesting and fascinating things.

The most fascinating, however, was my mother's name recorded in Fred's handwriting in his Bible. There she was, Shirley Elizabeth Goodfellow--Oct. 2, 1928. My mother's name, Fred's pen. I think I loved my great-grandfather at that moment and found it hard not to cry, to see that he did in fact acknowledge my mother. Her brother's story of Fred wheeling a whicker pram onto the train in Banff and off again in Vancouver, a gift to her, came to mind. I no longer had to wonder. Fred Bagley loved my mother.

This much came even more clear as I read his many letters to his youngest daughter Marian. His affection, his humor, his delight in all three of his girls--Kate, Pittising (Leona), and Tiny (Marian)--comes singing off the antiquated pages. And his joy and concern for his grandchildren are equally evident. Did he, each October 2nd, wonder where his eldest grandchild was? Did he wonder how she was doing? Did he look at her name in his Bible and ponder the mysterious circumstances that brought about their separation? Did her absence bring him sorrow?

He was a man who kept track of his brother and sisters scattered about the States and Canada; he kept track of his daughters; he loaded his Christmas tree each year in Banff with gifts for Dale, Doug, and Mick. Did he miss not having presents for Mum?

Leona and Les Goodfellow
Leona and Les
The other discovery that made me happy were three photographs of my grandparents: Les and Leona. All three reveal an affection and energy. Despite what happened, Les and Leona were a couple in love--and in love over a long period of time.

"The three girls," Doug told me, speaking of his mother, my grandmother, and our aunt Kate, "were very close. They kept Leona's secret all those years--at least until Kate spilled the beans on her deathbed." Doug speaks and I stare at these images of my grandparents, so in love, so happy, sharing their lives in a way I've never experienced--and I wonder, what happened to them? How did this all fall apart?

I know Les had invited his best friend to live with him and Leona. I know my grandfather was an alcoholic. He liked to party and was probably very much the Roaring Twenties playboy. I'm not sure how all this sat with Leona. But at some point Les moved out of the little home she'd bought with her own money to go live with Marguerite. He left Philip behind. What was that all about? We know Leona was alone when Mum was born.

So what happened in that little house in Vancouver? And why did it mean I lost my grandmother? And Fred?

After saying good-bye around five o'clock, I drove west to Fort Macleod and the open prairie. I camped along the Bow River, a place I'd taken my sons one year. Sleeping in the back of my jeep, listening to the river play over the rocks, and then the rain, I thought of families and how when we do the best we can and still do lose.

Some people easily sum up the story with a shrug and "it's all for the best." I don't think so. We just don't have the luxury to line up "what was" and "what could have been" and declare a winner.

All I know is this. Fred lived a life of adventure, intrigue, and faithful duty, surrounding himself with love, music, and family. From his perspective, it wasn't my grandmother and himself who'd gone missing. From his corner, it was my mother who was lost.

October 05, 2018

Brenda Wilbee's Statement On Dr. Dennis Hensley

I was 31 years old when I first experienced Dennis Hensley at his worst. He tried to seduce me, accosted me, and assaulted me. 
IN 1983, I WAS TEACHING a workshop at Seattle Pacific University's writers conference. I had one book out and was writing a lot of articles. I volunteered to pick up editors at the airport and see them settled in. Dennis Hensley was one of my charges.

He asked if I had the time to take him to some waterfront. I was deep into my second novel on Seattle's pioneers and was happy to show off my city and explain some of its history. We also talked a lot about publishing. Being pretty new in the business, I was eager to talk about the industry and how it worked.

When I dropped him off at SPU, I went with him to his assigned apartment to make sure I'd delivered him to the correct spot. I had. He invited me in to continue our conversation. No problem. I had half an hour to kill.

I took a chair kiddy-corner to the sofa, where he immediately sprawled with legs casually stretched out and hands behind his neck. Instantly uncomfortable, I tried to figure out how to extricate myself. The quicker, the better. My anxiety increased when he began telling me how important he was: editor here, editor there, on this faculty, on that one...how I could look at any masthead and see his name. He went to all the conferences, his wife had lupus, he could get me on the writers circuit if I agreed to rendezvous with him. He pulled out his keys and—still prone on the sofa—began swinging them back and forth on his left index finger like some cheap B-movie, promising me publication in any magazine I wanted, as often as I wanted, and workshops at all the conferences.

He'd take me right to the top, he said, make me a best-selling author. Without him, I had no hope of succeeding. It was all about who you knew and he knew everybody. The threat was clear.

I said no.

He flew across the room. Next thing I knew, he was on his knees in front of me, face in my groin, hands and arms around my back, begging. I can't recall the exact words, I was in total shock. This wasn’t happening. Then fear snapped in. I shot up the back of the chair and ran for the door. I wasn't fast enough.

He slammed it shut, pinned me against the wall, trapping me between his arms, and started kissing me. I thrashed. He persisted. Nauseous from his hot breath, his touch so revolting to me—and electrifying fear buzzing head to toe, I gave him a hard shove and got outdoors. I ran through the labyrinth of downhill sidewalks to my car on the street below. I jumped in just as he jumped into the front seat on the passenger side. I'd hardly had time to insert my keys in the ignition. Terror ignited.

He leaned over and grabbed me by my neck, pulling me toward him. I reared back as far as possible, hugging the door, the old-fashioned door handle digging into my spine. Trapped. I couldn't access the handle and a way out. Though I knew if I ran, he'd chase me down, and no one was on the street to help. He again seized me, dragging me across the seat. I was spared the groping only because it took both his hands to forcefully hold my head in place. His tongue in my mouth and choking me, I gasped for air and kept saying, "Stop. Get out of my car."

He would not. I thrashed and ducked and pushed. He simply seized harder.

Finally, somehow, I managed to honk the horn. He jerked to a stop. If he didn't get out of my car, I told him, I'd start driving and honking until someone came to help me, preferably the police.

He debated. Then eased to his side of my car. He put his hand on the door handle but wouldn't get out.

He stared at me. I stared back. I would not blink. I knew if I did, it would be all over. Fear burst into rage. "Get out of my car. Get out of my car!"

A full minute passed without blinking, a dark game of power, and I wasn't going to lose.

He finally sighed and pulled up on the handle. "It's all your fault," he said, parting shot. "You're wearing that pretty white dress."

At that I blinked.

ALL THROUGH THE CONFERENCE I avoided him and fretted about having to take him back to the airport when it was over. I kept trying to minimize the whole thing in my head because it was too audacious and violating to be real. He didn't rape me. I was okay. He didn’t mean it. It was my fault. But the whole minimization effort was useless; he had hurt me and I was scared. The day before the conference ended, I finally went to my friend and assistant director, Nancy Iremonger. I told her what had happened and asked if she could ask the director, Rose Reynoldson, to reassign DH to someone else. The whole idea of being at his mercy again made me crazy. “Don’t tell anyone,” I said. “It’ll hurt his reputation. I only wanted to be relieved of my responsibility.” Most of all, I feared retaliation. The man had threatened me with career oblivion.

Nancy, however, said several women had been complaining of the same thing; that Rose was aware of it; and that I needed to speak to her since my experience exceeded anything they'd heard so far. If I told, Nancy urged, I could help keep other women safe.

Rose was distressed to put it mildly. She listened and told me that he’d
never come back to Seattle, and that she would take him to the airport herself and explain to him why.

An aside: Rose is the only person in authority who ever believed me, took action, and protected me. Up until this year, it’s only been Rose to take action, risk a lawsuit, her moral principles totally intact.

She was concerned and called me afterward. When she confronted him, no names mentioned, he seized on me. “Brenda came on to me, happens all the time. Women are always throwing themselves at me and I have to fend them off. They retaliate. You know, 'the scorned woman' and all that."

She explained she was speaking of several women, not me, and reiterated he was not coming back, ever, to Seattle Pacific.

He then threatened Rose and SPU with a defamation lawsuit and loss of income. Rose therefore called to caution me; and to tell me that she was convinced he was not yet done with me. She was right.

He began writing in such a way I dared not ignore him. I had friends on the board of the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference (Association now) and he wanted me to get him invited to speak. I called Rose, read her the letter. She told me he could, and would, destroy my career if I didn’t comply.

"You have your children to think of," she told me. "We have to wean you free of him. Wait a week or ten days, then answer as briefly as possible. I’ll help you. The next time he writes, we'll wait two to three weeks. Each time, wait longer. Each time, get briefer, until he moves on and leaves you alone.

She also advised giving him my friends' numbers—and to then call my friends and tell them the pickle I was in. They of course did not call him back. In fact, they put me on the board instead, in charge of the summer program, a rather ironic development.

Hensley kept it up for over a year. Finally, as Rose predicted, he quit.

Flash forward a few years to Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference.

I WAS A FREQUENT ATTENDEE but one year I noticed that DH would be there. I knew the director well enough to call and ask if something could be done to keep me safe. Dave Talbot, with apologies, said he first had to verify my story with Rose Reynoldson. A few days later, he called back. Four things happened.

1) Rose confirmed my experience. Now he believed me.

2) He asked if Hensley had approached any married women. An accosted married woman, he said, is a more serious offense because it was adultery. My marital status made me less sinned against?Hensely’s sin less offensive?

3) Dave offered no protection. I was on my own.

4) Dave concluded by telling me that if I came, I was not to speak to or confront Dennis Hensley on Mt. Hermon grounds. I was not to be protected, yet Hensley was to be protected from me. 

At that moment I decided I would do just that: I would confront Hensley. On or off the grounds, I didn't care. I didn't need Mt. Hermon’s permission, and my therapist felt it imperative to confront him, name the crime, and walk away. As long as I went with someone. Abusers always re-victimize by accusing their victims of lying, being crazy, and/or sinisterly motivated.

Once at Mt. Hermon, I found no one willing to help. The response among friends and colleagues was one of shock at my audacity. It was unChristian of me to "shame" him, I would "get him into trouble," I had "to suck it up." Those who didn't care about keeping him safe or comfortable declined because it would hurt their careers. He was too powerful. I was to "lick my wounds" and "get over it."

In addition, I found trying to stay safe exhausting. I constantly had to angle myself into the company of others. I had to know where Dennis was at all times so I could be elsewhere. What buildings would he be in? Which workshop, then, could I take, away from that building? How close would he be sitting to the person I needed to talk to? Such constant calculations and looking over my shoulder forced me to focus on him, reliving the assault, trapped again into that experience—diverted from what I came to do. I was determined more than ever to confront him, with or without help—or permission. I would not live subservient to the power everyone handed Dennis Hensley.

No opportunity presented itself until the very last day. We'd be driving together in a van up to the airport. I thought at first fortune was on my side. Not so. My editor/friend knew the whole story, but she warned me again to keep my mouth shut. By this point I was feeling battered by the conference director's position. His friendly interaction with Hensley throughout the conference (without once checking to see how I was doing) let me know that abusers were easily tolerated and favored over the abused.

I was also, by this point, smarting over the constant admonishment to be silent. For my own well-being and in order to move on I had to speak. I had to say "this happened."

I got my chance to speak up when we arrived at the airport. I blocked access to his suitcase and told him he owed me an apology for his sexual advances and assault. The stunned silence from the van was deafening. DH slammed me sideways and hissed, "You're crazy! You’re sick! You need help!"

The venom, the shove, the predictable outburst I expected. But the silence around me left me shaking in a van full of people. The van drove on and no one spoke to me. No one even asked what had happened. And my editor friend muttered under her breath that I had gone too far. Clearly, I was the one at fault.

Oddly, I felt empowered. In that moment, alone in a van packed with people who thought ill of me, I had confronted Dennis Hensley. He might retaliate, yes, but he'd never again corner me.

I never went back to Mt. Hermon until March 2018. I was too scared, and I was fed up. I felt disrespected and dismissed. Also, I found it unpleasant avoiding the women who fluttered around him year after year. Did they, do they, owe their success to him?

Flash forward to Mt. Hermon 2018.

DENNIS WOULDN'T BE THERE, so I signed up. This is when I ran into Kathy Ide, the new director, and learned that she’d sent a letter of her zero tolerance for sexual misconduct amongst her staff. When I thanked her for it, she asked if I had been a recipient of unwanted sexual advances in the past and my story spilled out. She wasn’t surprised and even guessed it was Dennis. She explained that conference directors had gotten together and had uninvited him to 17 of 18 writers conferences in 2018. I have to say, the respect I found coming from Kathy was a relief. Rather than being shoved aside, somehow flawed, I was made whole.

Quite healing, actually, to come out of isolation. For that's where I have been since 1984.

A chance meeting at the same conference with Susan King, editor at The Upper Room, put me on a long list Dennis Hensley’s victims. I was asked to speak with Taylor University in Indiana—who subsequently allowed DH to resign due to a preponderance of evidence. I was content to let things rest at that, a burden off my shoulders, knowing he’d never again hurt women. However, he came out swinging, saying he’d taken the high road and that we're all lying and hopping aboard the “Me Too” bandwagon. Turns out twenty or more of us had come forward. From all over the country. Over three decades. That's some bandwagon.

As these other stories tumbled into the open, the wounding of the more recent women was raw and grievous—and involved more that just Dennis Hensley. I found myself no longer content to remain silent about the terrible wrongs done. In my book, Dennis Hensley and these other men just don't get to "take the high road" and continue scapegoating me or others. No, not in my book.

I consequently spoke up: Jeremy Bauer-Wolf of the online InsideHigherEd, Sophia Lee at World Magazine, and Ann Byle at Publishers Weekly.

IRONICALLY, I FIND IT PRETTY EASY TO FORGIVE HENSLEY for what he did—he’s driven by his own demons. It's hard, however, to forgive an industry that should have helped me. They were motivated by greed and self-preservation—at great cost to me and others.

It really does have to stop.

Links to publications that push for a higher standard in Christian publishing:

Publishers Weekly -- https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/religion/article/77877-sexual-harassment-uncovered-at-christian-writing-conferences.html

InsideHigherEd -- https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/07/17/former-taylor-university-professor-sexually-harassed-women-decades-survivors-allege

WorldMagazine -- https://world.wng.org/2018/08/crouching_at_every_door