Wednesday, April 19, 2017




  My family, the Montgomery Osterhouts are isolationists. We grew up in a world of Voegelins, Crabtrees, Broas, Suydams, Snyders, and Badaluccos. There were other Osterhouts in town, but we didn't hang with them. Since my Great Grandparents Andrew and Elsie Decker were divorced in 1915, we didn't have much love for the Osterhouts, outside of our tiny orbit. So when I started writing this book, I had no idea how vast and numerous the kin were on the "O" side. Now that the weather has cleared, my research has shifted from the virtual to the actual. If I drive a couple of hours in any direction I can stand on old Osterhout property, granted, bought or stolen in three states. Last week I journeyed along the Susquehanna to the Wyoming Historical Society in Tunkhannock, Pa. to check out that branch and Monday found me in the basement of the old Hurley church facing a table filled with genealogists. I peeked in and they all turned their heads at once, eyes aglow. The only thing missing was the hooded robes and secret handshakes. When I mentioned the name Osterhout they straightened in their thrones, smiled and nodded knowingly. "Welcome my son. What kept you?"
    Turns out you can't toss a spent pack of Newports out the car window without hitting an Osterhout in Sullivan and Ulster Counties. Within three days I had met two complete strangers with grandmothers who were both Osterhouts. The friendly woman in the church basement told me her grandmother was Maude Osterhout. MY grandmother was Maude Miller Osterhout. A man working on his tractor on the Rider farm in Accord told me his grandmother was Sarah Osterhout. The Osterhout homestead, just up the road, built in 1703, remained in the family until 1946. The house is still there, recently purchased and remodeled by "city people." They fucked it up bad. I bought a hand drawn copy of our family tree in Hurley to help me with my research. It looks like a Jackson Pollack drawing....and only covers the kin into the 19th century! There are no lack of Osterhouts to follow.
   I started my story of "O" in the 1650's and will hopefully try to wrap it up by the 1840's. No promises. These were active years for the family. Scalping, kidnappings, murders, and war are commonplace as this bunch breeds,  farms and tries to stay out of jail. Two are calico Indians on trial for the murder of Sheriff Osman Steele and others will become pioneer lawmen and even mormons following Joseph Smith to Missouri. The internet frontier that allows me to make all these family connections on my wall, that's beginning to look like something out of Homeland, can be a friend as well as an enemy. Last night it bit me good.

   The Dutch aborigine I started with back in the fall was named Gysbert Osterhout. There was already a chapter in an old book written by Rev. Charles Rockwell in 1867, that gave me an overview of this "bateaux man" and soldier from Kaaterskill. His attitudes and colorful exploits weren't murderous but they were questionable and not too inclusive of his Native American neighbors. I thought I could work with him, see where he led me. Eight months later I realize he's a saint compared to one of our more infamous cousins. With material provided by the Ulster Genealogical Society I began to follow the matrilineal line of the Accord Osterhouts, and to my surprise and dismay opened the door to one Tom Quick "Indian Slayer," blood drenched, scalping knife in hand.
    I was more than familiar with this serial killer. James E. Quinlan, the 19th century Monticello newspaper man had written a book devoted to his bloodthirsty exploits. Within this book was a chapter on Jacob Osterhout's ordeal, so it already sat on my shelf. Now, with the help of this dense genealogy report I found two Osterhout females married to Quick men and a third, Kryn Osterhout, married to a Decker/Quick woman. Tom was their nephew and our cousin. We are so connected and interbred with the Quicks and Deckers it's a wonder we all don't have tails and seven nipples. This is the risk you run when you open the Osterhout family bible. I won't bore you with who begat who, but I am confident the secret societies would concur, we are direct kin. We are connected through blood to a man whose Milford, Pa. statue was literally torn down in protest by Native Americans in 1997. Tom Quick's bones are still interred in Milford, but the statue thannkfully never returned. There's a historical marker on Rt. 209, not far from the Osterhout farmstead. It reads: "TOM QUICK FARM- Home of Tom Quick, bought from Harmon Hekun, Indian 1676, Quick was killed by Indians and his son slew many a red man in revenge." That's only the half of it.            

Sunday, April 9, 2017



  "When WJV Osterhout (1871-1964) was a member emeritus of the Rockefeller Institute, he told me a story during one of my visits to him and his wife and co-worker Marion (Ikky) Irwin, in their apartment at the Marin Biological Laboratories in Woods Hole. I begged him to write it out, for I thought it too interesting and important to be lost, but he never did....I wish to dedicate this essay to his memory."- George Wald, Biological Laboratories,  Harvard University 1982

  Journal entry: I can't sleep. A couple of weeks ago, in midst of that cold snap after having 30 inches of snow dumped on us, I made an appointment with the Byrdcliff Guild up in Woodstock, to do some further research on the Calico Indian Anti- Rent movement. The guild held Alf Evers archives. Alf had written and researched the movement extensively. The woman in charge on the one day a week they are open is Eila Kokkinen. She met me.....oh wait I'm getting ahead of myself.
    Two days before I was to drive to Woodstock to meet Eila, Samm (Shewho can now be named) gave me call. It was our usual catch up at the end of the day ritual phone call. Then, just before we hung up Samm said, "I'm going up to Woodstock on Thurs. I have an appointment to check out the space at the Byrdcliff Guild." What? I've barely been back to Woodstock a half dozen times since 1973, when I lived there. And Samm had maybe been there once. It's the middle of a cold snap, with 3 feet of snow on the ground and we both have appointments, made separately, without each other's knowledge, at the same building, at the same time, in a town 50 miles away. What are the chances? I told what I thought was a very bizarre, crazy coincidence to Hollie Witchey and she didn't skip a beat. "When people ask what's going on upstate, I'll tell them Samm and Mike had an appointment in the same building on the same day. It's wild up there." OK. When you put it that way.
   But wait, there's more. Two months ago my TV blew up. I mean, literally smoke was pouring out of it and it died. So I decided it was a sign and I canceled my DirectTV and stopped watching TV. It helps with the writing, but I miss it. So when Samm said she was also going to Woodstock I stoked up my wood stove and went to her house, offering to drive in the morning in return for a nice evening of food, drink and TV. As we went to bed I noticed the house was a bit cold. It was 10 degrees out, but we both noticed the familiar pipe clicking was suddenly silent. The furnace had shut down. Now the "cabbage" smell Samm had written off as a dead opossum in the wood pile, was making sense. Like the trooper she is, Samm stayed up feeding the wood stove while I snored away, bundled up in the cold.

George Wald continued Dr. Osterhout's story: "One day in Amsterdam, Jacobus Henries van't Hoff, the "father of physical chemistry," was walking down the street from his laboratory when he encountered his fellow professor, the botanist Hugo de Vries, out walking with his Vries ventured, "The other day I had a letter from Pfeffer." When van't Hoff inquired "Oh yeah? What's he up to?" de Vries replied, "He says he's measuring the temperature of osmotic pressure." "What does he get?" asked van't Hoff. "Well, he writes for each degree rise in temperature the osmotic pressure goes up about 1/270." You are fucking kidding me! True story.
    We both agreed, Samm would cancel her appointment and I would go to Woodstock alone, while she called the gas man. Thankfully they came right out and told her she was out of gas and filled her tanks up. But there was a problem. The system wouldn't maintain pressure, the gas finding the open frontier much more desirable than than containment- the text book definition of osmosis. Luckily she has a good gas man who started poking around. It took him an hour to find the issue. A giant icicle had dropped from two stories up and severed the gas line, a case of solid melting to  liquid then evaporating  into gas. What are the chances? The smell of the dead opossum Samm had been complaining about for a week, as she stoked the wood stove and I lit joints was in fact  200 gallons of propane leaking from her tanks, settling and gathering around her house as we lit fires within a wooden box.
    Did I say I can't sleep? Yesterday I started clearing off my kitchen table of beer bottles and debris. As I went back and forth in the house, I tossed a few cardboard six pack cartons in my stove and didn't fully close the door. I had some coals in the back of the stove and hoped the card board would help get a decent fire going. Then I went outside to feed the roosters, clean up twigs, play with Cheeky in the yard you smell smoke? I looked up from the lion cage and the chimney looked like one of those belching coal locomotives from 100 years ago. I ran. The house wasn't filled with smoke...yet, but the locomotive was in the stove pipe. I could hear it racing down into hell I couldn't imagine, as the pipe glowed red. The extra oxygen had transformed the cardboard into torches igniting the creosote caked inside the stove pipe. Calmly I found the ladder, hooked up the hose, climbed onto the roof and and sprayed a steady stream of water down my chimney depriving the flame of fuel. I'm lying. I was frantic as hell, firing on a 1000 cylinders. The osmosis of fear was erupting from every sweating pore.
    So this morning I was wide awake at 4:00 am reading about cell permeability and electrical conductivity in plant cells. Dr. WJV Osterhout was a brilliant botanist and researcher along with his wife Dr. "Icky" Irwin Osterhout. WJV was the son of Rev. John Osterhout and the grandson of Daniel O. Osterhout a lumberman and farmer from Lackawack, that is now under water at the bottom of Roundout Reservoir. I'm not quite up to speed on how that 1/270 degree temperature fits into the big picture, but I know I'll figure it out eventually. In the meantime I'm just trying to piece all these chemical reactions together and get through the day without blowing up or burning down a house. 1/270 huh?


Friday, April 7, 2017



Journal entry: Woke up at 6:00 am with Cheeky squatting on my chest, his stiff little legs pile driving into my breast bone, staring down at me with his beady black eyes. He's usually so cuddly in the morning. What the fuck? Then he jumped off the bed and rocketed down the loft ladder, accidentally turning on the radio. Between pledge drive nonsense on my local NPR station I learned that Trump had bombed Syria. Could this be what had Cheeky so riled up? When I mentioned this, he headed for the litter box and squatted. I told him to relax, maybe it won't lead to nuclear war. "It'll all be OK Cheeky. We've been through worse." By the smell emitting from the box I gather he's not buying it. In either case, it's barely light out and way too early for disarmament policy discussion.
    I make coffee and open up the lap top. First I check Uncensored Sullivan County for hate mail. Thankfully things had calmed down. After proposing a name change for Sullivan County on this right wing hater site, I received the predictable discouragement. "Go jerk-off and kill yourself, asswipe." was a popular response. A lot of likes. The only way to deal with these knuckle headed Republicans is to dismiss or condescend, and neither is much fun for long. So I let that rest. Next step is to read over what ever I wrote last night and see if any of it holds up. Some does, some doesn't. It's been a tough couple of weeks for people being sick and dying. My good friend Eyse Steinman, who had been fighting a sickness succumbed and yesterday I got word of Sal Sigia going into hospice. Both of these people are beautiful, funny, dear members of the CLGM family. It sucks. Hollie Witchey called from a cab yesterday on the way to visit Sal, and needed a pep talk as she was a little reticent to see him laid out with tubes. As I was encouraging her, telling her how it was kind of a beautiful experience to watch my mom.....and as I say "mom" I complete choked up and began blubbering like a baby. So much for me giving somebody else the strength to carry on. I'm not much of a pastor.
   All of this is leading up to the knock on the door I had about two hours ago. A man I didn't recognize introduced himself. He said he was a neighbor down the road and he had a problem. A family who were too upset to come out of his car and too bashful to ask me needed a favor. I had no idea where he was going with this. "Their rabbit died and they needed a place to bury it. I didn't know where else to go," I thought the guy was pulling my leg. But he looked like he was going to cry too. My first reaction was to laugh. "I don't want a dead rabbit in my yard." He just frowned. Then as he was turning to go I said, "Wait. I have a spot down the road." I remembered I actually have a cemetery with only one resident, Jerry Williams. I don't know how Willie felt about rabbits, but he loved cats. Close enough. I gave the man instructions and told him they could bury their rabbit in the CLGM cemetery.
    A hour later I received a phone call. It was the mother of the little girl who buried her rabbit. She said her daughter would've called me, but she was too upset. She told me the rabbit "La Bella Luna" turned out to be a boy rabbit and had traveled all over the world. They were from Germany and she said Osterhout means "Easter skin" in German. "Luna" was a member of the family and was the smartest, most loving creature any of them had known. Then she started to cry, which once again got me choked up. I told her that her family could go visit Luna's grave any time they wished. In between sobs, she thanked me repeatedly and said her daughter was going to place flowers on the hollow log where they laid Luna to rest. I guess I'm not too bad of a pastor after all. Like the sign says- all are welcome.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017




 Journal entry: I'm writing a book. I know it sounds stupid. Who the fuck writes books these days? People barely have the patience to read a blog. And to add insult to injury the book is about my family. Groan. I admit it, I'm not proud. I joined and am now spending my time chasing down bloodlines, wills and land deeds, riding the genealogical bandwagon off the cliff. This is why I stopped writing HWS. I didn't have anything left after seeing to the slaves, making sure the still was fired up, building gallows and girding myself for the next Indian attack. How did I get myself into this mess? Well, let's see. I think it was about the time of the election........
    Since our twitter troll commander in chief took office I've read about family members being murdered, hung, scalped, kidnapped, arrested, and elected governor.....only to be stabbed in their bed. What started out as a little jaunt into the historical weeds, turned into a full time obsession. I barely had time for deer season and long before the inauguration  I'd given up sweeping my floor and all hope of a super hero swooping in to save America from the menace that is Trump. It was much safer for me to concentrate on 1717 than 2017. So that's what I did. With the Jennings I started with a murder conspiracy and with the Osterhouts a conspiracy to murder. Both sides of the family have been blood thirsty since the get go. Way more so, than I ever imagined. If it wasn't for the internet and piles of books I now have scattered all over my living room, I never would've known any of this. Eight months later and I feel I've barely scratched the surface.
    As an artist and quickie song and column writer, I'm not used to such laborious process. I like to have an idea, approach it head on, come up with a plan of attack and expedite the conclusion. Win, lose or draw, it's usually over in a matter days, if not hours. But this is different. This is dragging on into fucking eternity and I see no end sight. The more relatives I find, the more I realize I haven't invited the right ones to the family reunion. The Jennings are bad. The Osterhouts are worse. WE (both families) had slaves, killed and were killed by many different Indian tribes, all the while swindling them and each other out of land and selling everybody booze. We watched as slaves were tortured, churches burned and family members were hung. What I thought was a purely Dutch and English lineage, turns out to be heavily infiltrated by German and Irish. And if we have any Indian blood it runs calico. I want to be able to say something insightful about all of this, but I don't know what. I'm in a quandry.
   So I've come back to HWS to take a breather and hopefully get a little distance, Turkey season is coming up and I can't wait for the first gobble and the stomach flutters that come with seeing a red head appear bobbing through the spring woods. In the meantime, after educating myself just who Sullivan County was named after- Maj. Gen. John Sullivan (google it) I've initiated a campaign to change the name of the county. It's a lost cause. Nobody is taking me seriously, but that doesn't matter. After eight months of self- inflicted internet class I know what side of history to be on. Like a friend said, "If it doesn't happen in ten years, it will happen in twenty." You can't ignore atrocity. I have the bloodlines to prove it. We Jennings/Osterhouts are some crazy, tough, crooked, murderous, stubborn, brilliant, pathetic and resilient fuckers. And if there's one thing I've learned from all this reading, we don't give up easy. The war has just begun.