When Della Vandiver was a young girl of nine, in 1895, her parents decided to "go west." This call of western land opportunities was strong in that era, and John Floyd Edward Vandiver, grandson of the famed Adam Poole Vandiver (1787-1876) and son of George Vandiver (1812-?) and Frankie Wheeler Vandiver (1816-?), took the challenge to move westward. As review, you may access my accounts about this family's move westward in previous articles now in The Sentinel Archives online. See, in particular these articles: "From the Memoirs of John Joseph Vandiver” (May 3, 2007); "Continuing the Saga of Vandiver's Life in the West" (May 10, 2007); and "John Joseph Vandiver Settles Down in Washington State" (May 17, 2007).
But this is the fascinating story of John Joseph Vandiver's younger sister, eight years his junior. She was nine years old when her parents loaded the children who were going west with them (two of their children were already married in 1895) into their covered wagon and left the home of John Souther and Mary "Polly" Combs Souther on Choestoe, where Della was born that cold February 1, 1886. In fact, all their married life until this point when they decided to "go west," Rhoda Lucinda and her husband had lived with her parents near New Liberty Baptist Church, Choestoe, Union County. The farm, though containing several acres along Town Creek, was still not large enough to support John Joseph and Rhoda Lucinda Vandiver's growing family.
But this is Della L. Vandiver’s story…and I will move on to highlights in her long life.
Imagine the excitement of a nine year old girl leaving the only home she had known in the shadow of Bald Mountain in Choestoe to set out to unknown places with her parents and siblings. She was sad to leave her friends and relatives, and especially her cousins about her own age with whom she liked to play when they visited at her grandparents' house. But Della had deep anticipation for what she would find as their exciting adventure unfolded.
The family went to Gainesville, Georgia in 1895 where they took a passenger train westward. "Our first major stop was in Asher, Arkansas," Della Vandiver wrote. There her father got work and Della's brother, Jesse Edward Vandiver, was born there on March 17, 1897. This sibling was thirteenth and last of the children born to Della's parents. The Vandiver family remained in Arkansas until 1900. Again the urge to move farther west propelled John Floyd Edward Vandiver to move his family on to Back Creek, Wyoming.
A sad day came for Della and her family on June 17, 1900 when her brother, Thomas Marion Vandiver, died at Back Creek. He had been born, as had Della, in Choestoe, Union County, on March 30, 1884. He died at age 16 on June 17, 1900.
Della Vandiver celebrated her sixteenth birthday on February 1, 1902 in Wyoming. She and her brother John Joseph, to whom she was especially close, decided they would go to Medicine Bow, Wyoming. They got the family buckboard and the horses and started out early on that cold February morning. They had only traveled 15 miles when one of the sudden snowstorms of that part of the west began. The temperature suddenly dropped to about 15 degrees above zero. (How did they measure temperature in 1902?). The snow was blinding them, and the horses could not travel. Besides, Della and John Joseph were freezing in the buckboard, even wrapped up as they were in woolen blankets. Finally, they found a house along the way and the kindly people took the Vandiver siblings in. When the storm abated, not to be outdone by the weather, Della and John Joseph went on to Medicine Bow and celebrated Della's birthday late. She remembered into her old age that her sixteenth birthday was one of the best.
A few years after Della's birthday celebration, she was able to pursue education for the career she had dreamed about. Her beloved brother was living in Washington State at the time. He invited Della to come and begin her nurse's training. She became a student nurse at Seattle's Wayside Emergency Hospital. It was then located aboard a hospital ship docked in the harbor. She enjoyed her training and graduated in the class of 1908 with her nurse's certification. For the next fifty years of her life, she was a caring and hardworking nurse.
Her nursing career was not confined to Washington state. She was called to assist in Treadwell, Alaska when a gold mine there collapsed, leaving several miners dead and many severely injured. She went there as a nurse relief worker and sought to minister to the men whose lives hung in the balance.
During the Great War, or World War I, Della served as a military nurse. She didn't like to talk about this period of her life. Perhaps what she experienced was too traumatic to tell in accounts of her -nursing career. Mainly, she worked in hospitals and as a private nurse in the Seattle area.
Della Vandiver was married five times. Her first three husbands died, leaving her thrice a widow. Her last two marriages, unfortunately, ended in divorce. Her first marriage was January 1, 1913 to Joseph McDonald. After his death, she married Chaney Canning. After his death, she married a Carl Zieske. Unknown to this writer are the names of her last two husbands, unions that led to divorce. When Della Vandiver visited Union County, GA in April, 1986 to see one more time the place where she was born, she was going by the name of Della Vandiver Zieske. Della had no children of her own, but her nieces and nephews loved her, her stories, her zest for life.
She enjoyed fishing and reading. At age 100 she went out in her aluminum boat to her "bigger" fishing boat in Port Townsend Harbor, Washington. Boarding the larger boat, she steered it to the "saltchuck" where the big salmon ran. One of the largest she caught there was a 28-pound salmon. One weighed in at 17 pounds; still another at 11 pounds, and one was a 35-pound lincod that had an 8-pound silver she had hooked, it had gotten back into the water, the lincod swallowed it, and Della hooked the big fellow with the silver fish in its mouth. And these are no "fish tales." They're true experiences of a seasoned seawoman who plied the waters of Straight Juan de Fuca to find and hook the big fish.
Della Vandiver Zieske's 100th birthday cake had this inscription: "Della - 100 Extraordinary Years." She died in Seattle, Washington at age 102.
c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 26, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.