transcribed and introduced by her grandson
© J T Waterfield 2018
Introduction and notes1
Zowinajo is a travelogue from 1921. As the author Lena Megee introduces it herself, it is "The Account of an Informal Trip across the Wind-Swept Plains of Texas, into Age-Old New Mexico, and over Some of the Least Haunted Portions of the Colorado Mountains".
The original text is typewritten (with a few manuscript corrections and notes) and includes a hand-drawn map and twenty-one photographs. It is a just short of 25,000 words. It is nicely bound in green leather with gold title and author on the spine:
The original typescript is just on one side of each page, which is an apparently non-standard 8 x 10.75 inches, with the photographs mounted on separate unnumbered pages and facing the text. Due to the single-sided production, and also in part the thickness of the photographs, the whole is over an inch thick, a good size. Although carbon-copies might have been made, I believe it to be the only copy.
Lena Megee had one child, Margaret Lee Thomas. The document was among her effects on her death in Somerset, England, and passed to me, her son, James Thomas Waterfield (JTW), transcriber and author of this introduction.
Originally transcribed in 2010-12, the original text has been followed as far as possible, down to font2, line spacing, page and line-breaks.
American spelling has been retained, eg 'color', 'center', and many places where a doubled consonant might be expected such as 'traveled', 'reveled' or 'marvelous', although occasionally some textual oddities have been identified as typographical errors and corrected, as below:
The text inserts typed changes from above the line where these occur (rarely), and incorporates some manuscript amendments, presumably by the author, now showing faded to brown in the original, including some marginal new-paragraph marks. Line breaks following these are necessarily different for some lines if not the rest of the paragraph.
1D:\Daedalus\Dropbox\Documents\family history\MLW\Zowinajo-introduction incl about the travellers.docx
2 In fact 'Dark Courier' (thanks to HP) has been used to improve readability over standard Courier.
The (few) annotations by later generations have been ignored.
The whole was re-proofed in September 2018 with some typos and oversights corrected; any earlier 'finished' copies should be replaced. However, there may yet remain some apparent errors, which are the fault of the transcriber's; the original, allowing for the manuscript corrections and those noted above, is flawless.
Value of document and the case for preservation
The book had been preserved primarily as a family heirloom, a record of one's progenitors; a rather large annotation to the family tree, so to speak. It is a nice object in itself. The transcription was undertaken as a method of disseminating this record for subsequent generations, as well as helping preserve it in electronic form from the vicissitudes of the real world. The paper used for the original, for example, is becoming brittle and is easily cracked on the edges when turning the pages, and it seems likely that the photographs are darkening with age.
As it approaches its 100th anniversary, does it have any additional value? Might there be other descendants of the original travellers? Or might it be of interest to others, maybe those currently working in similar positions in Texas libraries?
Of the text itself, it has to be admitted that my American grandmother's prose is not going to win any prizes. A quiet, careful character3 comes across – through the precise typescript – with a gentle if sometimes dry appreciation of the world and its oddities. Although we hear of wonders and marvels, they are rarely described to convey the thrill itself "–"there is something unspeakably thrilling about" much that is found – but usually "there are no words in our language that can convey the picture of it." Perhaps unfortunately, the photographs taken and included do not always remedy this difficulty, and despite best efforts with contrast and brightness are often more suggestive than evocative.
The style also has a tendency to echo words4 – sometimes rhetorically (eg "the sensation of flying away, away from every care") but not infrequently due, apparently, to some slight inflexibility of diction, as in "through a deep slash in a mountain, through which..."; or, again, illustrating both analepsis and echo-jarring5:
the old, old adobe houses. One could easily imagine one were back in some old-world city.
There is an interesting tension between the planned or imagined and the experience – a sort of inverse to Wordsworth's emotion recollected in tranquillity. This issue is a conscious one, mentioned in the very first sentence: "It was a premeditated trip, so premeditated, in fact, that I sometimes had qualms about its proving as interesting as it might ...had it not been planned so definitely". This tension continues through discussions about diversions and felicitous omissions from the itinerary; and often the experience falls short of the imagined:
we found everything exactly as we had expected, everything in its place precisely as we had read and heard about it. For that reason alone it was vaguely disappointing.
On one occasion, with Dead Man's Hole which is accorded a place in the last chapter's subtitle, there is a vivid description but it is not, in fact, visited – a case where the imagination is sufficient unto itself.
Often, of course, the chance discovery is better than all the planning:
Again we wondered whether we had missed much after all by not following our original plan, for even though Phantom Canyon may have had some features of its own to rival this one in interest, it is not possible for it to have been any more tremendous and thrilling, albeit well-nigh terrifying, than this wild, unknown chasm of ours.
3she met me as a young child, but I do not remember her in person.
4interestingly, this stylistic feature was repeated by the writer's daughter in her (typewritten) letters. it isn't quite palilalia, but Jasper Fforde's 5echolocators are sadly missed on occasion.
This tension is of course now particularly familiar to the tourist, though it may be of historical interest to find it so firmly rooted in 1921. Other material in the text is also piquantly of its period. The motor car is an established thing, rather than a novelty, yet roads are patchy (and gasoline not always easy to find); the countryside truly wild, yet with evidence of a nascent tourist industry; and the women on the trip are independent professionals well before such a phrase was thought necessary to characterise such. Particularly striking is their independent spirit and practicality, from dealing with mechanical issues down to developing their own photographs. Just who were they?
More about the travellers...
Just who were they indeed? There is little clue in the travelogue itself.
Although not explained explicitly in the narrative – perhaps such things were expected to be obvious to the intended readers? - the author's daughter recounted how the travellers gave their names to their Dodge car. Miss Allen only appears as such in the tale, and Zona too lacks a second name; so tracing these required a bit of research. As fully reconstituted as possible, the travellers are:
1. Zo: Zona (Peek)
2. Wi: Miss (Winnie) Allen
3. Na: Lena Meghee – the author and first person in the narrative
4. Jo: John, the freshman (though apparently to be pronounced '-ho' in the car's name).
Marvin, Zona's brother, should also be mentioned: 'another youthful freshman', he 'substituted for Miss Allen as far as Snyder' – ie for the duration of 'chapter one' – but although useful in this 'most disastrous' part of the trip, his name did not contribute to the car's.
Professor Melvin Oakes, unofficial historian of the Physics department of the University of Texas (see his website at http://www.ph.utexas.edu/utphysicshistory), was particularly helpful in producing most of the connections and pictures assembled below. Dr. David W. Ross restored and printed the diary photos. He also estimated the length of the trip, 3000 miles.
One thing perhaps surprising for the casual reader is the respective ages of the travellers; what would be expected to be a 'gap year' or perhaps graduation frolic is nothing of the sort. In 1921, Zona was 34, Miss Allen was 26, and Lena was 36; though John, of course, was a freshman. One wonders at their association.
As well as wishing to find out a bit more about those on the trip - the narrative tactfully eschewing much personal comment and portraiture in favour of the actual sights and experiences - one of the objects of this research was to find out about any descendants of the travellers6.
Alas, the conclusion has to be that the only such descendants – unless and until 'John' is identified, anyway - are Waterfields. For of 'John' (once, 'Johnny'), no more can be ascertained beyond his status as freshman 'in the University' – presumably Austin – and that he was 18 in June 1921.
6who might be supposed to be interested in the text...
1. Zo: Zona (Peek)
First up, identifying her surname:
Note the date (year) of the publication - the same as that of the trip; and a librarian: pretty conclusive! And now for some background (ignore the first chap):
Sadly she appears not to have had children; she did not marry, her death certificate (Austin Texas, on 23 Feb 1974 aged 86; she was born on 6 June 1887) shows her full name of Lora Alzona Peek and was registered by her sister Lillian Peek.
She came from a large family, as shown on the 'virtual memorial' above; note too her brother Marvin, on board for part of the trip.
2. Wi: Miss (Winnie) Allen
Miss Winnie Allen's (presumed) self-assessment in her year-book7 indicates a self-deprecating studiousness:
Dated... c 1921? So just what are, or were, 'goat feathers'? Briefly, time-wasting distractions; from a short piece written by one Ellis Parker Butler in 1918.8
Miss Allen was a teacher for a while and thus 'the pedagogue' of the Zowinajo narrative, before becoming librarian and archivist:
"Miss Winnie Allen was a native of Henrietta, where she graduated from high school in 1917. She went on to the University of Texas, interrupting her academic career several times to teach school, and received her AB in 1920 and her master’s degree in 1925. She immediately went to work as an assistant in the University of Texas Archives, which at that time consisted of the Stephen F. Austin papers and about twenty other collections, mostly Spanish documents relating to the history of Texas. In 1936 she became the chief archivist, a position she held for thirty-five years. She built the University of Texas Archives into one of the major depositories in the United States for material relating to the history of the Southwest; when she retired in 1960 it contained about 4,000 collections.
But Allen made another contribution to Texas history. Her thinking about historical evidence went far beyond the documents and letters normally found in archives – she was a pioneer in the use of oral history – and in 1952 she circulated a paper entitled “A Tentative Plan for a State Program of Texas Life” among her colleagues and friends. In it she called for the creation of a state agency to coordinate
7screen shot sent to me by Prof Mel Oakes
8"Goat-feathers, you understand, are the feathers a man picks and sticks all over his hide to make himself look like the village goat. It often takes six days, three hours and eighteen minutes to gather one goat-feather... Goat-feathers are the distractions, side lines and deflections that take a man's attention from his own business and keep him from getting ahead. They are the Greatest Thing in the World--to make a man look like a goat." - Ellis Parker Butler, 'Goat-Feathers'
They include distractions for a writer such as "cleaning the letters “a” and “o” on his typewriter with a toothpick, serving on boards or assisting in fund-raisers." http://richsiegelauthor.com/guest-author-shirley-garrett-goat-feathers-totem-poles/
So, a bit of a diversion - goat's feathers indeed, at least confined to footnote here.
all efforts to locate and preserve records relating to Texas history, including historic buildings and landscapes, and for a privately-funded foundation to support the agency’s efforts. She sent it not only to academics but also to politicians and influential businessmen and then peppered them with letters about it. Governor Alan Shivers was so impressed with the idea that in 1953 he got the legislature to pass a bill establishing the Texas State Historical Survey Committee, which launched an inventory of historic structures in the state and started a program to record and mark them. That committee eventually became the Texas Historical Commission, which is now the state’s major preservation agency and a model for preservation agencies in other states."9
She was living as Miss Allen in 2906 Rio Grande Street in the 1950s, as pictured here (and also see following text):
It is of course possible that she married after this, but she still styled herself 'Winnie Allen' in 1977, in a holograph letter (from 215 Denton Street, PO Box 376, Hutchins, Texas 75141) enclosed in the original Zowinajo book:
She was then just short of 82, for she was born on 13 April 1895. She died on 1 August 198510; it is to be presumed childless.
10https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fal63 gives date of both birth and death, as well as another summary of her career, with particular note of her work as archivist.
Here she is in her role of librarian/ archivist:
And from the Waterfield family archive, admittedly not very clear of Miss Allen but pleasingly showing her in friendly context with Lena:
The reverse of the photo is annotated: "Wimberley Camp. Winnie [Allen] Lena [Megee] Lin [Thomas] Mrs Megee (my grandmother - MLW)" - the square brackets are part of the text11. The photo is undated, but one might guess that it is before the 1921 trip12, but perhaps not by much.
Of course, given her subsequent career, it might be claimed that the Zowinajo trip was stimulating if not formative of Winnie Allen's thinking about archives and oral history, but without more biographical detail this is probably no more than a query, and little more than a footnote to her work anyway.
11written by 'MLW': Margaret Lee Waterfield – Lena's daughter; see family tree at end. JTW
12the reasoning being that Lena married and then had a baby soon afterwards – so would have been living in a different context.
3. Na: Lena Meghee
The Meghee sisters were something of a phenomenon! All six graduated from University of Texas.
Mary Lena is described here as 'Assistant Librarian'. She had previously done a spell assisting the Red Cross in France (as mentioned in the text). Soon after the 1921 trip she married Howard Rice Thomas (in 1922; he was teaching engineering at the University of Texas at Austin), and Margaret Lee was born in the spring of 1923.
The Waterfield family records include an original of the print used by the 'Alcalda', as well as others seen below:
Mary Lena Megee
And, just to be clear, here she is on a family tree, or part of it anyway:
There, then, are the only known descendants13 of the 1921 trip, down in the bottom right of this tree; and the author of this note, and transcriber of the document, is me right there in the corner, James Thomas Waterfield (JTW).
13Though there are further descendants not shown on this tree below John Wm and myself.
The last traveller (with apologies again to 'John') is of course Zowinajo herself, the Dodge automobile. She comes over as a character not unlike my grandmother; determined, perhaps even a bit dogged when faced with horrible quantities of work, doing her best and that with serenity and only occasional a sly remark betraying her sense of humour:
Never once did the engine fail us. We experienced every conceivable condition of road from bad to worse, including mud, sand, rocks, water, and the steepest grades that have ever been travelled by automobiles--and Zowinajo went over them all smiling. What if we did break a few springs, what if the tires did evaporate like steam; did we not go on in spite of all of these so-called troubles...
Again Professor Oakes has done the hard work; here is what he discovered about the vehicle (including a picture of a probable match):
"The car was a Dodge touring car. The Dodge brothers introduced the car in 1914. It changed very little over the years. In 1919 they raked back the windshield. Sadly the photos in the diary are all from the rear. In 1921, it had a base price of $1,285 (Equivalent to $16,329 in 2018). This might suggest they they had an earlier model. It had a thick wooden steering wheel and a 212-cubic-inch, four-cylinder L-head engine. With a 35-horsepower engine it could approach 50 mph."
Possible reconstruction of the trip
It has been a long-pondered idea of mine that the trip might be reconstructed in 2021. What would the intervening years reveal? How much would remain recognisable? Would the division of labour still be a useful arrangement? But I need to find three or four14 others who might be interested – just another reason for putting this document 'out there'...
JTW 2012 (original transcription) - 2018
_____________________________________________14I am getting old enough to consider promoting such a venture without actually joining in personally.
Below is the start of a visual reconstruction of the trip.
Zowinajo Photos- Then and Now