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Ruth Bowie had grown up as a slave during the Civil War. Even after gaining her freedom, she had remained with a former owners until she married Charles Bowie in 1880.

By the turn of the of century, the Bowies were listed as living in log home along Lewistown Pike in Lewistown, which is where they would call home for their rest of their lives. They had had four children together, but none of them lived to adulthood and then Ruth had to deal with the loss of her husband in 1920.

The Frederick News was reporting that Ruth was over 100 in 1946. The newspaper ran a short article noting that Ruth’s doctor had decided that she was too old to continue living alone. Her sight and hearing were still considered normal, but she had hurt her hip shortly after she had turned 100 a year earlier. He doctor wasn’t sure that she could continue caring for herself.

“The first hundred years aren’t the hardest. It’s after the first hundred years that things begin to get tough,” she told the newspaper.

The Frederick Emergency Hospital, which is now the Montevue Assisted Living Center, became Ruth’s new home. She became a fixture there sitting in her low broad-armed chair and relating her quickly fading memories to her friends who would come to visit her.

“For a woman who has had only one day’s schooling in her life, she is remarkably discriminating in her choice of words. There was almost a wink in her smile when she related that she had not gone back to school after her teacher had whipped her on the first day because she was so ‘full of devilishness,’” Mehl wrote.

When her friends visited, they would often bring her treats of chicken, sugar cakes and peppermint candies, which were Ruth’s favorite foods.

“I like peppermint candy best,” Ruth told the Sun Magazine.

According to Diane Grove, administrator at Montevue Assisted Living Center, Ruth was discharged from the emergency hospital on May 22, 1955, at the age of 107.

When Ruth died later that year on November 23, she was the oldest resident of Frederick County. She had also been readmitted to Montevue because of her deteriorating health. The Rev. Charles Corbett officiated at her funeral when she was buried at Creagerstown Lutheran Church Cemetery.

“Every life is important and every story has its place in history but it’s what you do with that life that’s important,” said Dwight Palmer, president of the Frederick County NAACP.

Though Bowie was not a civil rights icon, she represented the goals of the civil rights movement. She had risen from slavery to make a life for herself. She was well loved in the community by people of all colors. Despite the fact that she had no family to care for her, friends had visited Ruth frequently during her time at Montevue. Also, at a time when segregation still existed, Ruth’s pallbearers were all white men who considered themselves her friends.

Creagerstown St John's Lutheran Church 002A JAK

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The Mullinix Farm where Ruth Bowie lived as a slave during the Civil War.

Ruth Bowie was born a slave in Montgomery County, Maryland. When she died in 1955, she was the last person in Frederick County, Maryland, who had been born into slavery.

Slave Life

Letha Brown was a house servant and cook for the Mullinixes while Wesley was a field hand.

“Well she remembers the days of her slavery when custom permitted owners to wield the whip ‘for the least little thing’ and little Ruthie often felt the sting of the switch,” Sullivan wrote.

However, Ruth’s experience with this came from her interactions with Asbury’s wife, Elizabeth Mullinix whom she called “Ol’ Missy.”

Hilton says he has no doubt that Ol’ Missy beat Ruth. “She treated everybody like that not just Ruth,” Hilton said. “Family stories say she was a crazy woman.”

For the most part, Ruth worked in the main house. She was brought up to be a house servant like her mother. She would wash and iron clothes, clean house and take care of the Mullinix children.

“Often she would sit on a three-legged stool, crooning to the baby while her mistress in long hooped skirts worked a spinning wheel across the room,” Mehl wrote.

During Ruth’s childhood, the Mullinix farm switched from growing tobacco to general farming. This meant that fewer slaves were needed to handle the workload.

“Tobacco had blighted the land and general farming wasn’t as labor intensive as tobacco farming,” Hilton said.

So Mullinix reduced the number of slaves he owned. The ones he freed and who chose to remain on the farm help with the raising of corn, wheat and cattle.

The Civil War

As the country split in two during the War Between the States, Ruth had memories of soldiers riding along the country roads in Montgomery County. Some of them would camp near the Mullinix farm, steal horses or just generally frighten people.

Nearly 100 years after the fact, Ruth still remembered the day soldiers broke into the main house looking for food. She heard them coming and hid behind a sugar barrel.

One of the soldiers found her and yelled, “I’m hungry!”

“They’s meat in the pot an’ bread in the box,” Ruth whispered in fright.

The soldiers took the meat and bread and left without causing any more problems except that the family went hungry that night.

Though Ruth could remember the incident past her 100th birthday, whether the soldiers had been Union or Confederate escaped her.

Another day that Ruth never forgot was April 14, 1865, the day Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

What’s less certain is whether she attended the Gettysburg Address two years prior.

“Now she doesn’t know, but young friends say years ago she used to talk about that great day in Pennsylvania and they’re prone to believe that she was there,” Sullivan wrote.

Ruth stayed with the Mullinixes until she married Charles Bowie in 1880. He had fought in the war on the Union side. After the war ended, he had returned to Frederick County to work for Dr. T. E. R. Miller until he fell off a wagon, injuring his right arm so badly that it had to be amputated.

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Ruth Bowie, “Miss Ruthie”, in the 1950’s.

To most people, Ruth Bowie, or “Miss Ruthie” as she was called, was just a friendly old lady with a sense of humor and a sweet tooth. What they didn’t realize was that she was also a historical figure in the county.

When she died in 1955, she not only was the oldest person in Frederick County (anywhere from 105 to 110 depending on which account was used), she was also the last person in the county who had been born into slavery.

As old as…

No one made an official record of Ruth Brown’s birth in the mid-19th Century. The 1900 U.S. Census listed her as 40 years old, but by the 1920 census, she had aged 25 years.

“Nobody knows just how old Miss Ruthie is, least of all Miss Ruthie herself,” Betty Sullivan wrote for the Frederick Post. Sullivan also noted that Ruth couldn’t remember ever celebrating a birthday as a child.

She is believed to have been born on the Asbury Mullinix Farm in Montgomery County. However, Kay Mehl wrote in the Sun Magazine in 1955 that Bowie was born elsewhere and “’just a toddler’ when sometime before the war she was sold in Montgomery County to a family named Mullinix.”

The Asbury Mullinix farm was located at Long Road off Long Corner Road in Damascus. It was part of a small community called Mullinix Mill, but the buildings burned down long ago.

Ruth’s parents were Wesley and Letha Brown.

Marilyn Veek, a research assistant at the Maryland Room in the C. Burr Artz Library, found the description of Asbury Mullinix’s slaves in the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules. In these documents, slaves are listed by their description and owner rather than their name.

In 1850, Mullinix owned seven slaves, including female aged 28 years, 14 years and 6 months. On the 1860 Slave Schedule, he owned nine slaves, including three females ages 11, 8 and 4.

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The Asbury Mullinix Farm where Miss Ruthie was born and lived. Family stories say that the little girl on the left behind the fence is Miss Ruthie.

“Since Ruth Bowie’s obituary indicates that she may have been born between 1845 and 1850, it is theoretically possible that she could be the female slave aged 6 months in the 1850 and the female slave aged 11 years in 1860,” Veek wrote in an e-mail.

Veek also noted that Ruth’s parents were listed in the regular 1860 census, which implies that they have may have been freed. That census also only lists them as having a single daughter, 1 year old, named Ann.

“One possibility is that they had been freed by Asbury Mullinix, but that their older children had not, and remained as slaves on his farm,” Veek wrote.

Bob Hilton, a great-great grandson of Asbury Mullinix, suggested another possibility. The Browns may have been freed slaves who still worked for the Mullinixes.

“Asbury had a habit of freeing slaves at 30 years old,” Hilton said. “They just never left the place.”

This had to do with Mullinix’s view of slaves. Hilton has a set of letters exchanged between Mullinix and a doctor in Virginia. In the letters, the doctor argues that slaves aren’t even human while Mullinix says that, yes, they are human, but they are like children who need to be taken care of.

The Browns were still living in the same area in the 1870 census. They are listed as having three daughters, Ellen, Mary and Susan. Ruth Brown doesn’t appear in the 1870 census associated with them.

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WWII veteran Guy Stern returns to Fort Ritchie to speak about his experiences there. Photo courtesy of the author.

Cascade may be a small community nestled in the mountains, but what happened there 75 years ago helped changed the world.

Guy Stern fled Nazi Germany in 1937 as a young man of 15. He left behind his parents and two siblings.

“I made efforts to get the papers for my family to emigrate and I almost succeeded, but in the end it did not work,” said Stern in an interview with the Waynesboro Record Herald. Stern’s family eventually perished in the Holocaust.

Meanwhile, Stern attended St. Louis University and was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942. Only a few months after his basic training in Texas, he received secret orders to transfer to Camp Ritchie in 1943.

Because of his German heritage, he had been selected as part of a military intelligence training program. Using the knowledge of the German language and culture that men like Stern had, they were trained in interrogation, psychological warfare, and counter-intelligence. About 9,000 mostly Jewish soldiers went through the training and became known as The Ritchie Boys.

Stern was trained in interrogation techniques, the evaluation of enemy documents, psychological warfare, German propaganda and ancillary skills that every soldier needs. The training could also be physically demanding with long, nighttime marches.

“I earned by Ph.D. at college, but nothing I had done at college was as difficult or intense as training at Camp Ritchie,” Stern told the Catoctin Banner.

However, Stern was also able to appreciate the beautiful mountain setting. He enjoyed swimming and canoeing in the lake.

The training at Camp Ritchie lasted for three months. His group was then sent to Louisiana for maneuvers that tested whether they had learned the skills they would need in Europe. Stern and other Ritche Boys were then shipped across the Atlantic. They initially landed in Birmingham, England.

While in England, the Ritchie Boys participated marginally in the D-Day invasion planning. Stern said that they were in charge of how prisoners captured in the invasion would be handled. Once the invasion began, the Ritchie Boys landed three days later to begin their prisoner interrogations.

“Within the first half-hour of being on the beach we began interrogating people and tinkering with psychological warfare,” Stern told the Record Herald.

One of their tactics was to play on the fears of German prisoners. When the Ritchie Boys discovered that German soldiers feared being turned over to Russians, Stern began dressing up in the uniform of a Russian officer. Another Ritchie Boy would lead the prisoner into a tent decorated with Russian posters and mementos. Stern would then interrogate the prison in character as a German.

One of Stern’s coups was when an Austrian deserter gave him a diary that the deserter had kept from the Battle of the Bulge to his capture at the Rhine River. Stern said that between his interrogations and the diary, he believed that the information was correct and useful. It contained information on German morale, plans for troop retreats and hints to the dispersion of other units.

“We could use the information to form the basis of how we directed our propaganda,” Stern told the Catoctin Banner.

Stern returned to Camp Ritchie on Sept. 21, 2013, and found it very different at least until sunset. At that time, Lakeside Hall returned to look very much the way it had when it had been an officer’s club during World War II.

As part of the Sunset on the Mountain event, the hall was given a period makeover. USO Canteen style food was served and 1940’s music played. Sunset on the Mountain also featured an auction with Fort Ritchie and World War II experiences including a ride in an open-cockpit PT-19 trainer aircraft courtesy of the Hagerstown Aviation Museum, a catered dinner at Fort Ritchie’s famed Castle, and autographed memorabilia.

The proceeds from the event benefitted the Fort Ritchie Community Center, which is seeking to get a permanent exhibit in the center that features the Ritchie Boys and Camp Ritchie’s history.

coverMy mother-in-law gave my son The United States of Strange for a present one year. I think I read it more than him. It’s filled with lots of odd facts. If you love Mental Floss, you’ll love this book. Anyway, here’s some weird history that I pulled from the book.

  • During the Civil War, Frank C. Armstrong was the only general officer to fight on both sides, as a captain for the Union army and a brigadier for the Confederacy. Talk about a split personality!
  • As of 2011, the 10thS. president, John Tyler, who was born in 1790 still has two living grandchildren. I’m still trying to figure out how that is possible.
  • Until 1977, the U.S. nuclear launch code was 00,00,00,00,00,00,00. This makes those people whose computer passwords are “Password” look like geniuses.
  • Thomas Edison held 1,093 patents during his lifetime. As a side note, the first copyrighted film in the U.S. was Edison’s assistant sneezing. I wonder if it made as much as The Avengers?
  • In 1989, a man bought a painting for $4 at a flea market. When he got it home, he found a piece of parchment wedged into the frame. He pulled it free and opened it to discover that he had what turned out to be an original copy of the Declaration of Independence worth $8 million. My son goes to yard sales and only brings home broken stuff that we wind up throwing out.
  • July 1744, British colonists paid the Iroquois Indians $2,400 for land that it turns out the Iroquois had no right to. This led to a war between the colonists and the Native Americans who did own the land. I guess that was payback for the Dutch getting Manhattan for $24.
  • When returning from the moon, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and Neil Armstrong had to go through customs. I wonder if they had to fill out forms declaring why they visited the moon and if they had anything to declare.

Anyway, The United States of Strange is a fun book that claims to have “1,001 Frightening, Bizarre, Outrageous Facts” between the covers. I know I’m amazed each time I read a couple pages.

This is a short excerpt from The Last to Fall: The 1922 Marine March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg.

marines-recruitingThe Marines had fought valiantly in World War I like in the Battle of Belleau Wood in France. After the deadly fighting there to drive the entrenched German troops from Belleau Wood, Army General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, said, “The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.”

However, that didn’t stop Pershing and others from wanting to disband the Marine Corps after the war had been won.

“Right after World War I, when John A. Lejeune was appointed commandant of the Marine Corps, there was a push by General Pershing and President Wilson to have the Marine Corps abolished,” said Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Williams, executive director of the United States Marine Corps Historical Company.

It wasn’t the first time such an action had been considered, nor would it be the last. However, Major General Lejeune was a Marine through and through, and he wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

Lejeune understood that this was a political battle that would be fought on the battlefield of public opinion. He devised a campaign to raise public awareness about the Marine Corps just as the government had rallied public opinion behind the troops during the war.

A number of things evolved from this effort. Celebrating the birthday of the Marine Corps as November 10, 1775 was part of the public relations push by the Marine Corps. Also, elements of the Marine uniform were tied to iconic battles or moments of Marine Corps history.

Gen. Lejeune also wanted to improve the skills and abilities of the Corps by applying lessons learned from WWI to introduce new tactical doctrines. He realized that he could do this and use it as a means of increasing public awareness about the Marine Corps.

“Instead of going to obscure places to conduct war games and learning lessons learned and learning how to integrate armor, artillery, and aviation into war fighting, he would do it at iconic places and put the Marines out in front of the public,” Williams said.

At the time, the national military parks, such as Gettysburg, were still under control of the U.S. War Department, which meant the Marines could use the parks as a training ground. Lejeune chose to do just that with a series of annual training exercises, which commenced in 1921.

Bedford

An old postcard view of Bedford, Pa., where Officer Young met an owl and a cow one night in 1950.

It sounds like the opening line for a joke. A policeman, an owl, and a cow went out one night. However, while not funny, it is certainly odd.

Bedford Police Officer James Young was station near the corner of Pitt and Julianna streets in the town one early morning in April 1950. Around 2 a.m., he watched a large owl dive out of the night school and crash into the window of Murdock’s Jewelry and Gift Shop.

The store had been around since 1910 when J. F. Murdock took over the J. W. Ridenour dtore. “His gifts are especially well known for their unique and pleasing qualities,” the Bedford Gazette said of Murdock’s.

As Young watched the large owl flopping around groggily on the sidewalk, “It occurred to Officer Young that owls are birds of prey with a bounty on their heads,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

He started across the street with the intent of subduing the owl and turning it in for its bounty. Before he could reach it, the owl recovered and took to the air. It flew across Julianna Street and landed on top of the scales in front of Murphy’s Store.

“Unsheathing his night stick, Officer Young slowly approached, shining his flashlight in the bird’s eyes to hold its attention,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

A quick hit with the night stick brought the bird down. Young stretched out the owl’s wings and guessed the wingspan was at least four feet wide.

Because of the size of the owl, Young tried to get help from a nearby taxi driver to help him load the owl into his vehicle.

“But as he and an assistant started to return they saw the durable bird prop itself up, heave into the air and make off in the direction of the Monument,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

And that was the last that Officer Young saw of the owl, but the cow’s story was just beginning. It came ambling down West Pitt Street from the direction of the Ford Garage. Officer Young saw it and went to try and lead it somewhere, of course, he wasn’t sure where that “somewhere” would be. The cow, for its part, had its own ideas of where it wanted to go and it resisted Young’s efforts to move it in a different direction.

At times, it was uncertain as to who was leading whom, but Young finally managed to push the cow into a fenced in yard and closed the gate behind it.

Young was wondering what to do with a cow when the police call sounded. He answered it and the dispatcher told him that a trucker had passed through Bedford carrying seven cows in his trailer. Upon reaching his destination, the trucker discovered he only had six cows. Young looked over at his captured cow and assumed that it must have fallen off somewhere along the journey without being injured.

It was nearly sunrise by the time he managed to return the stray cow to the grateful trucker.

“His owl-bounty had flown away and he was weary from his tussle with both bird and beast. ‘But,’ he said, as he related the story later, ‘at least it was an unusual night,’” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

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