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Governor Lewis Morris
7th Great grandfather
Edward Antill
7th Great grandfather
Sidney and Elizabeth Breese
6th Great grandparents
Major Henry Livingston
5th Great grandfather
Henry B. Gibson
Henry B. Gibson
3rd Great grandfather
Gen. Lansing
Brig.Gen. Henry L. Lansing
2nd Great grandfather
Gen. Burnett
Brig.Gen. Henry L. Burnett
Great grandfather
Catharine Burnett
Catharine Burnett
Jack Bell
Jack Bell
Major Van Deusen
Major Bradley T. Van Deusen

Ash and Eucalyptus,
Chinese Elm and common Plum;
Bark of generations built from
Lansing, Bell and Livingston.

Each spring will see them waken
To their pulsing blood-red sap,
And set upon their outstretched hand
A leaf.

A leaf.

A small and fragile promise
To the wind and to the sky
That dreams of long dead leaves
Can live again and never truly die.

To trust there will be warmth again.
To trust there will be birth.
To trust that fallen leaves
Are not forgotten on the earth.

I never knew my father
And yet I've come to know him well
Through the stories writ in crumbled leaves
And the tales our old tree tells.

He was a soldier, and a poet,
And a lover and a man
And I feel his passion flood my veins
As I hold his phantom hand.

Mary S. Van Deusen

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My Ancestral Poets and Writers

The Education of My Ancestors

A Military Family

Mother left father when I was six weeks old, and I grew to adulthood in the frustration of not knowing the person whom my father was, or what of himself he gave when he created half of me. She said they never fought and, knowing mother, I can well believe that was true. Mother was never one to make her needs known until she was at her own edge, a precipice not always easy to discern.

He was an alcoholic, as were so many of his Army friends, and at my birth she felt afraid for the care my brother and I would receive surnamesshould she ever become too ill to care for us herself. When father suggested she return to her parents' home for a short time since his next Army posting was still uncertain -- the second World War was beginning to wind down -- she made a decision to leave for good.

Mother said that on the train platform father began to realize that something was wrong and begged her not to go, but she felt that some point of decision had been passed and so we boarded the train. He never knew as he watched the train pull away that we would never come back.


Learning that my high school search for my father had been fruitless (he had died years before), had ended my attempts to find out who he really was. I had nothing to hold in my hand as a talisman to make him stand before me. His poetry, his medals -- all were gone, packed up and sent away long before I could protest their loss.

letter fragment

But one day, in a half-forgotten file of mother's, I found photographs and letters he had written in the hopes of winning back his family. And there between the lines I found a voice so like my own, and a pet name that I thought I had created for my husband. A name my father wrote to try to call my mother back. A name she must have used in love for me so many years before.


There was another paper in that old file that kept pulling at me to take it out and turn it over, as though some new writing might appear over words I had come to know by heart. It was a small piece cut from a newspaper. An obituary for my father's mother, Catharine.

There were several pieces of information that dangled as threads crying out to be pulled. One was that her pallbearers were the governor of Colorado and three generals -- a level of visibility that increased the possibility that her passage through the world would leave behind her traces to be found. street sign

Other threads were the names and places of two of her marriages, to Bell in Canon City and to Van Deusen in Denver. The obituary also noted the name of the great-grandfather whose wife, I later learned, raised Catharine -- Henry B. Gibson.


That short notice started me on a quest that has led me to Canandaigua, New York and through labyrinth pathways across the Internet. At the time I first put up this website, I had not yet found my father's poetry, but I had been able to discover much that helped me make sense of who he was and what he passed down to me.

Outcast men of the world are we,
Sunk in the depths of iniquity
Detested by all and loved by none.
A blot on the face of the kindly sun.
Men of training and breeding and birth
Who knew full well what the game was worth
Who played their hands -- and lost --
-- and then
Lost themselves from the world of men.

We hid ourselves in the Island world
Where the flashing coils of the "Snake" are curled
We sought the depths to hide our shame.
The "thing" we had made of an honored name.
We swam the Bay in the early dawn
But the Shark came not, and we lived on.
We sought the end in the bolo's steel
But hearts wounds live, while flesh wounds heal.

We went unarmed to the Moro's "jil"
But they called us "mad" and they would not kill.
And the Padre came with his tale of Grace
But we knew better, and laughed in his face.

We twined our hearts in a woman's hair
Then tried to forget in the din and glare
Of a "tienda down on the opal bay
Where many men come and some men stay.

We lost ourselves in the Army then,
Our identity merely "Enlisted Men"
But in the dusk, when the shadows start to crawl
In their weird, wild dance on the barracks wall
A ghastly pageant that comes to stir
Our memory again to what we were
And we bow our heads and stifle a cry
For we don't know how and we'll never know why.

El Tigre.
Nov 7, 1928

Father's name at birth was Bradley Evans Bell. When his mother married Robert M. Van Deusen (born abt. 1868 in NY), Bradley used his stepfather's name informally until, as an adult, he legally changed his name to Bradley TenEyck Van Deusen. He was born in 1905 and, at the age of 16, ran away to join the Army. Both of those acts make so much more sense when looked at in young soldier the context of his background.

Catharine's father was Brigadier-General Henry Lawrence Burnett, a Civil War army lawyer who served as assistant special judge advocate for the Lincoln assassination trial. Her father's father, Brig.Gen. Henry Livingston Lansing, commanded a National Guard unit in Buffalo, and her granduncle, Colonel Henry Seymour Lansing, later another Brigadier-General, commanded the 17th New York Infantry. And ninety years before that, there were Lansings in the Revolutionary War as well. Bradley's family was a military family and he was pointed to an Army career from his youngest days.

Father was not the first of his line to leave home at so early an age. Both his grandfather Burnett and his 2nd great grandfather Gibson had run away from home to follow their own dreams rather than the dreams of their parents. General Burnett, the son of a farmer, ran away to gain an education in the law. Henry Gibson ran away from his father, a lawyer, to learn business in the store of Judge Cooper, the father of James Fenimore Cooper, Henry Gibson's lifelong friend.


Creating with words was a family tradition. My many times married grandmother Catharine and my grandfather, her middle husband, Jack Bell, published the Canon City Cannon, a paper that "went off once a week." Grandfather also published mining articles, as he had won and lost fortunes from Alaska to Central America. Grandmother was known to write children's stories, but I've been unable to find them under any of her names.

  • Catharine Gibson Burnett
  • Catharine Burnett Mercur
  • Catharine Burnett Bell
  • Catharine Burnett Van Deusen

Going back further, writing and reading seem to have been lifelong family loves. Catharine's maternal grandfather was widely praised for his Besides Catharine and Jack, Catharine's grandfather, Henry Livingston Lansing, was renowned as a literary correspondent and one of the most famous documents, the Declaration of Independence, was created by a committee including Catharine's great...n granduncle, though Robert Livingston was recalled by New York before he could sign the document.



A Search for his Books

I know that father was part of the forces sent to the Philippines and that, while there, he wrote poetry in some dialect of the Philippine language. I know that there was at least one book of poetry written before 1934. Mother was forced to leave U of Chicago because of the Depression and finished her bachelor's degree at Texas State Women's College. It was there, as a big fish in a small pond, that she was able to go to dinner with Frank Lloyd Wright and Robert Frost while interviewing them for the college paper. I know that she gave a book of father's poems to, at least, Robert Frost. But whether the volume ended up in the hotel trash or in his library, I cannot say.

I know that father and mother lived in Greenwich Village for most of the ten years of their marriage. Father was part of the literary set of the time. I know he valued his relationship with Red Grange, a football player. I know that the wall behind mother and father's sofa was marked by the hair cream of John Rose Gildea, a journalist and poet from Arizona. And I must assume that these, and others, were recipients of father's books.

Red Grange John Rose Gildea

But what happened to those books has been lost in the fog of time.

He must have left copies of his books with his family -- his mother, his half-sister, his niece. But along with those medals and long-ago books, mother also sent back his family and so I know nothing of anyone once close to him.

Suggestions of possible paths for me to follow are gratefully accepted.


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