I grew up knowing I was the descendant of pioneer stock. I heard the stories of the wagon trains, the land claims, and the families of long ago. My interest expanded as I read other authors’ tales of life in the last two centuries. I decided to explore my own history and chose the patriarch—Cornelius Joel Hills—my great-great grandfather who crossed the plains on horseback in 1847 at the age of 29.
My search led me to the Oakridge (Oregon) Pioneer Museum and its now retired curators, Del and Rachel Spencer. Over the years, Rachel had made it her personal project to research and maintain records of the Hills family. Today I met with her over lunch and for almost two hours she shared her files, two big fat whopping brown ones, containing documents, pictures and writings about my family.
As if not generous enough, Rachel took me to the Green Waters Park where a monument marks the crossing of the Lost Wagon Train in 1853. One thousand people and 250 wagons were promised a short cut over the mountains by their leader Elijah Elliot. What they found was a hazardous trail to nowhere. When they were starving, one of their young men left to find help.
At the base of the monument is an article telling their story. My grandfather is mentioned as one of those who rode to the rescue when he learned of the wagon train’s plight. One of the heroes, he and five others carried provisions to the stranded emigrants. Now I not only knew my ancestors were hardy people, they were also people of character, persons who cared for their fellow man.
In that same light, I would nominate Rachel Spencer for the role of heroine. She didn’t know me, yet she gave up five hours of her Saturday to help me uncover my family history. She could have used her time for other things, but instead she surrendered her time to me.
In Matthew 25:35, 40 (NKJV) Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in . . . And the King will answer and say to them, Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
Hats off to Cornelius, a hero of the 19th Century and to Rachel, a heroine for today.