Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Three 18th century survivors --- all in a row

It's relatively rare in the Chariton Cemetery to find a lot where more than one of the occupants were born during the 18th century, but here --- on the Thomas E. and Ann (Wilson) Palmer lot --- you'll find three at rest in a companionable row at the back.

Phineas Palmer, 1785-1883, was Thomas Palmer's father; John (1795-1866) and Ann (1790-1866) Wilson, the parents of Ann. As was not uncommon in the 19th century, the younger Palmers moved west, then brought their aging parents to Chariton so that they could be taken care of in old age.

The Palmers once were a leading Chariton mercantile family but their monuments are surprisingly modest --- low white marble markers, single and double. There's certainly room here for a grand family tombstone of some sort, but perhaps their aspirations did not include conspicuous consumption of marble or granite.

Thomas and Ann Palmer moved west from Brooklyn, New York, during 1855 to open a general merchandise store on the north side of the Chariton square; his widowed father, Phineas, and sister, Julia, joined them prior to 1860.

But the family trail west apparently was blazed by another of Phineas Palmer's sons, Oliver L., who joined the gold rush to California ca. 1849-50, while enroute home to New York a couple of years later stopped in Burlington to open a store instead, then moved soon thereafter to Chariton. He built the brick building just north of the alley on the east side of the Chariton square that still stands, although with a newer facade --- the oldest in Chariton. Oliver eventually moved west to Atwood, Kansas, where he died during 1908.


If you go looking in Chariton newspapers for obituaries for John and Ann Wilson or Phineas Palmer, you won't find them. Back editions of Lucas County newspapers prior to 1867 did not survive and the edition of The Chariton Patriot in which Phineas Palmer's obituary appeared has vanished (there is, however, a brief death notice for Phineas in The Democrat of Feb. 21, 1883).

But quite unexpectedly, I did find a death notice for John Wilson in The Brooklyn (New York) Daily Eagle of April 14, 1866:

"WILSON --- At Chariton, Iowa, on Monday, March 26th, at the residence of his son-in-law, T.E. Palmer, John Wilson, in the 71st year of his age. Mr. Wilson was a native of Yorkshire, England, but for many years a resident of Brooklyn."

It's possible to learn a little more about John and Ann Wilson in a report of the 60th wedding anniversary of their daughter and son-in-law, the Thomas E. Palmers, Published in The Patriot on Oct. 3, 1912.

"Anna Wilson, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Wilson," the report reads, "was born in York, Yorkshire, England, on January 4th 1825 and is now nearly 88 years of age. Her birth place in England, which was owned by her father, was within a stone's throw of York Cathedral. When but seven years old she came with her parents to America. Later, she went back to England on a visit. Thus, she has crossed the ocean three times. Her mother's maiden name was Anne Joice, and she was born in Warwick, England."

John and Ann Wilson still were living in Brooklyn during 1860, but apparently moved west to join their daughter and son-in-law in Chariton not long thereafter. As their tombstone indicates, both died in 1866, but there doesn't appear to be a published account of Ann's demise.


Although Phineas Palmer's obituary did not survive the various indignities bound volumes of The Patriot were subjected to over the years, it was quoted in The Des Moines Register of Feb. 23, 1883, so we have at least a fragment of it, as follows:

"Phineas Palmer died at Chariton on Monday, aged ninety-seven years, having been born in Stonington Connecticut, in 1785. In announcing his death, the Patriot says: 'He was a man of sterling worth and marked force of character. Seldom indeed is it given to any man to have lived such a long and useful life. He was contemporary with the nation. When Mr. Palmer was born the war of the revolution had only just closed, and the nation bleeding from the wounds of the fearful struggle was facing the future with the untried problem of self-government. Rarely has a single lifetime witnessed such vast changes as have taken place during the life of this venerable man. Coming from that earnest old Puritan stock who gave practical lessons to the world of the doctrine of liberty regulated by law, he was always an ardent lover of his country, a quiet, unobtrusive citizen, and Christian man."

So next time you're headed west on the Chariton Cemetery entrance drive, look to your right about 30 rows in and pay your respects to John, Ann and Phineas --- all three among our 18th century forbears.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Letter from the West when Chariton was "The West"

I came upon this odd little letter regarding Chariton while looking for something else and while it's neither great literature nor a particularly effective promotional piece for Lucas County, thought it worth noting.

It was published in The Monongahela Valley Republican, Monongahela, Pennsylvania, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 1866. Monohagela is located some 17 miles south of Pittsburgh in Washington County alongside the river of the same name. It was published in a year just after the Civil War when many in Pennsylvania were casting about for places in the West to resettle, the westward impulse having been held in check since the early 1860s by the vicissitudes of war.

My Redlingshafer family already had left Washington County behind, settling in Benton Township, Lucas County, during 1856, some 10 years earlier. But they still had relatives and former neighbors in the vicinity who might have read this with some interest. Here's the text:


Chariton, Lucas Co. Iowa,
October 30, 1866.

Dear Republican --- I believe you requested me to write to you some of the peculiarities of this country. As far as our observation has extended the habits, mode of living, and society of the people of this country are quite different in some respects to those of the East.

First, they live principally by eating, as do the Eastern people; but as a general thing, they do not live so luxuriously, owing principally to the inconvenience experienced in procuring supplies; situated as a great many are a distance from trading posts. As the country settles up, the people advance in civilization and extravagance in living. The advance of enterprise and energy is at least three hundred percent greater than in the East. It is not unusual for a town of 2,500 inhabitants to spring up here in three to five or seven years.

This town embraces about twenty-five hundred inhabitants. At the present time, there are about twenty buildings in process of construction that will be completed by the opening of the Spring trade. The Borough of Chariton embraces one thousand acres of land, six hundred of them already laid out in building lots. The Burlington and Missouri Railroad is in process of construction, and will be completed to this place by the fourth of July next.

Chariton surpasses most any other town of the West, situated as it is, the facilities that it possesses over most other inland towns of the West, as a commercial post, is inducing capitalists to flock here from all parts of the East; the surrounding country has been in the possession of fronteersmen, principally, until within the last year or two.

As soon as people from the East emigrate West to get a home to live in peace and plenty, these unsocial set sell their farms and push farther West, select places, and improve them again; some, to be driven out as soon as the more Eastern portion of the country is filling up. They seem to prefer to be moving farther away, shunning society and civilization.

Some of the finest farms in this State well improved, within from one to three miles of the town, can be bought from thirty to thirty-five dollars per acre. Corn is worth 40 cents per bushel, wheat from $1.90 to $2, but not in great quantities, owing to the almost entire failure of the corn crop in the southern part of this State and Missouri. The farther North, the better the corn crop appears to have been.

Robberies are very frequent here. Last night, the Drug Store of Mr. Moore and jewelry store in Eddyville was broken into, and goods to the amount of $1,500 taken. The same persons halted a man on horseback, crossing the bridge over the Desmoine River, and robbed him of all the money he had, and demanded his horse. The rider did not feel disposed to given up his horse, and put spurs to him and escaped with a few leaden balls as traveling companions.

You can make corrections in this, and publish what you please of it, providing my name is not printed, as I don't expect to become a very

Healthy Correspondent.


There are some obvious factual errors in this. Chariton's actual population in 1866 was closer to 1,500 than 2,500 --- although it still was a substantial county seat town to have developed in an area not yet served by the railroad.

The first Euro-American settlers had arrived in Lucas County 20 years earlier, during 1846, but only 471 inhabitants were enumerated when the 1850 census was taken. Chariton, founded the preceding year but not incorporated, was not enumerated separately.

By 1860, Chariton had 641 residents and Lucas County, as a whole, 5,766. By 1870, these figures had tripled and doubled, more or less. Chariton now had 1,728 residents and Lucas County, a total of  10,388.

The key to rapid growth --- and remember that little if any unclaimed land, the great draw through the early 1850s when government-owned territory could be purchased for $1.25 per acre --- was the railroad, which reached Chariton during July of 1867.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

A little Sunday morning Aretha ....

Here, for Sunday morning, is just a little more Aretha --- recorded during 2014 at the White House during a musical gathering honoring the women of Soul --- performing "Amazing Grace." And that's about all that needs to be said.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Can you identify Sanford Powers?

Ramon Powers of Topeka, Kansas, shared this digital image with the Lucas County Historical Society recently, identifying the subjects as scholars at a country school west of Chariton and dating the image to ca. 1877. One of the scholars probably is his great-grandfather, Sanford Powers, who was born in Whitebreast Township during 1861 and would have been about 16 when the tintype was taken.

Ramon isn't sure which of the older students might be Sanford, but anyone who cares to guess along can compare faces, using the following image of Sanford and his wife, Mary M. (Shepperd) Powers, taken ca. 1890 at York, Nebraska. I found this image online, attached to a couple of Powers family trees at Ancestry.com.

Sanford was among the children of John H. Powers (1819-1874) and his wife, Mary A. Bell (1826-1874), early residents of Whitebreast Township. It appears that the younger Powers children, including Sanford, were taken in by elder siblings upon their parents' deaths during the same year.

Both John H. and Mary, as well as other family members, are buried in Grimes Cemetery, which is located north of U.S. 34 some four miles northwest of Chariton. Now somewhat isolated, Grimes once was on the main road between Chariton and Lucas.

So it seems most likely that the family home was in that vicinity. There were two rural school districts there, at the crest of the Whitebreast hill. Morgan School was located about a half mile northwest of Grimes Cemetery and Center School No. 2, about a mile east. It's possible that these young people were enrolled in one of those districts.

By 1880, Sanford had completed his education and was working as a farm hand for his uncle and aunt, John and Adda Bell, in Warren Township. On Christmas day, 1882, he married Mary M. Shepperd and by 1884 they had moved west to York County, Nebraska. Later on, they moved to Ogallah in Trego County, west-central Kansas. Both John, who died in 1936, and Mary are buried in the Ogallah Cemetery.

If any of this seems familiar to anyone out there --- or if you can identify anyone in the vintage image --- by all means let me know and we'll share the information with Ramon.

Friday, August 17, 2018

"Grave Dug, Monument Ready, He Waits for Death"

It would be stretching it to claim that this story has anything in particular to do with Lucas County, but I did find it on the front page of The Des Moines Sunday Register of August 14, 1921, while looking for information about a Valley Junction murder suspect captured in Chariton. And I'm betting a good many Lucas Countyans did read it that day, since The Sunday Register --- then and now --- was and is the medium of choice for those who read Sunday newspapers.

But the protagonist is a Waterloo man, William T. Whitney, then 86, in failing health that obviously had darkened his outlook on life, but still capable of spinning yarns, occasionally with tongue in cheek, that with an assist from a little golly-gee-whiz reporting could sell newspapers. The reporter, perhaps The Register's stringer in Waterloo, is not identified. 

The centerpiece story is headlined "Grave Dug, Monument Ready, He Waits for Death" and features a  large photograph Whitney's tombstone and a portrait. I've lifted tombstone photographs from Find a Grave. There are a number of accuracy issues with the story, but I'll come back to those later. Here's the original text:


Grave Dug, Monument Ready, He Waits for Death
Has Strange Views On Life and Death
Whitney Does Not Want to Hear Gabriel's Horn

Waterloo, Ia., Aug. 13 (Special) --- Lack of faith in humanity has caused William T. Whitney, wealthy retired farmer and one of the few survivors of pioneer days, to arrange every detail of his funeral when life, which he regards as misfortune, shall have ended for him.

Whitney, for many years a close personal friend of the late Theodore Vail, head of the Bell Telephone company, and of Mark Twain, the humorist, has for years been a well known character in Waterloo because of his strange views of life and death.

"I wish to be laid away so securely that I shall never hear Gabriel when he blows his horn," says Whitney, who personally supervised the digging of his own grave in Elmwood Cemetery.

The grave is of regulation depth, is cemented up with solid concrete sides and bottom to a thickness of eight inches. The men who did the work have been paid and dismissed, but the boss of the job is under contract to construct a cover of cement six inches thick, this in turn to be covered with two layers of brick placed on edge and solidly cemented.

"I am being placed in that hole to sleep," Whitney told the workmen as they prepared his last resting place. "And I am not going to have anybody disturbing me by coming around here and blowing a horn some of these days."

Death Date Paid For

Whitney is an unbeliever in religious matters but he isn't taking any chances on the biblical quotation that the angel shall come some day with a horn to awaken the faithful.

A plain white stone has been placed at the head of the empty grave. On top of the stone is cut the single word "Father," and below it, the date of birth, 1835. A local stone cutter has been paid to cut the date of death when that time comes.

No minister will officiate when the remains of this strange man are consigned to their last resting place. Whitney has already prepared his own funeral sermon. "We cannot say whether death is a wall or a door," he writes in this strange document. He holds out no hope for life eternal but qualifies his remarks by stating that he would take no morsel of hope from those who expect a life of happiness beyond the skies. Music at his funeral, if there be any, must be bright, gay and cheerful.

The funeral document which will be read by a close personal friend as Whitney's remains are consigned to the grave, is as follows:

"If I write what I believe I shall not please my friends. If I write to please my friends I shall be false to myself. So without wishing to be odd or cranky it seems best to die and be buried in silence. I hope this brief explanation will be acceptable to all intelligent folks.

Love the Only Hope

"I have no disposition to criticize others. They have as good a right to their opinions as I have to mine. Only ignorance is arbitrary. Humanity is my religion. I know nothing beyond the skies --- I leave the dead where nature leaves them. The idea of immortality was born of the human heart and it will continue to ebb and flow beneath the mists and clouds of doubt and darkness as long as love kisses the lips of death.

"We cannot say whether death is a wall or a door, the beginning or end of a day, the spreading of pinions to soar or the folding forever of wings; whether it is the rising or setting of a sun or an endless life that brings rapture to everyone. We do not know --- we cannot say.

"If there is a world of joy --- so much the better. I would not put out the faintest star of human hope that ever trembled in the night of life. There was a time when I was not --- after that, i was --- now I am --- and it is just as probable that I shall live again as it was that I could have lived before I did. Let it go. Love is the only bow on life's dark cloud. Love was the first dream of immortality. Love is the morning and the evening star --- it shines upon the child --- it sheds its radiance upon the peaceful tomb.

"Love is the perfume of that wonderous flower --- the heart. Without that divine passion, without that divine sway, we are less than beasts --- and with it earth is heaven and we are gods."


When the prairies of Iowa bloomed with wild flowers of pioneer times, Whitney was among the first to make his way west and build a home along the banks of the Cedar river. He married early in life --- loved his wife and when a son, whom he christened Arthur, was born his happiness was complete.

His Wife Untrue

Then one day the sunshine went out of his life. He returned to his home unexpectedly and found his wife in the arms of another man --- a neighbor whom he had befriended and trusted.

A terrific battle was waged within his heart for days. Honor won the fight and for the sake of the little son, the husband forgave the wife who had broken faith with the man she had vowed before God to honor, love and obey.

Then the final blow which made of him a wanderer for years came as a thunderbolt from a clear sky. The little son was found dead in bed beneath the comforts. He had smothered.

Whitney, broken hearted, had a long talk with his wife. He built her a little home within the city limts of Waterloo, provided her with cash and then set out for the then little known west.

His team brought him to an Indian settlement along the eastern slope of the Rocky mountains. The Indian chief lorded it over an area about 400 miles square. Whitney became a good friend of the redmen, lived their life for years and nearly forgot the past --- nearly, but not quite.

Then the mountain fever struck him twice. He feared a third attack would prove fatal. He decided to leave that part of the country. When the Indian chief heard of his decision he paid the Iowan a visit. He offered valuable concessions if Whitney would stay and ordered that on a certain day every Indian of his tribe be brought together. The Waterloo man was to have his choice of any squaw upon the premises upon this occasion.

Again a battle was waged within him. He hated his former associations because they reminded him of those things he wished above all to forget. He hated his former home because of the heartaches he had experienced there --- and he had come to like his red friends.

Only Human Mates Scrap

Then, as he was about to accept the easy road for the future --- one night he remembered the words of a former friend: "Never mix the blood of your ancestors with that of the savage." Whitney's horse that night carried him still further into the west and a week later he was in Frisco and had engaged a berth on a ship bound for Panama.

"During my many years in the west among the wild animals," says Whiteney, "I have observed their habits and methods of living. I have never seen the male of any of these animals engage in a fight with the female of the species; it is only man and woman, the highest order of creation, that fights and quarrels."

Whitney eventually landed in Waterloo. At the age of 58 years he met and married a farmer's daughter, then 28 years old. She was 30 years younger than he.

May and December

"Youth and old age can never mate," he remarks. "I was too old to rear my children when the time came for them to be born," he laments. "I would have it taught in every school in the nation that there can never be anything in common between an old man and a young woman --- springtime and autumn can have nothing in common; it is one of nature's laws. The first is the budding of a new, a vital life, the latter is but the passing of a worn out hulk, of that which has been but can never be again."

"Life is a disappointment. I consider it a misfortune to have been born," he tells those who visit him.

Ready for Death

Whitney was born in Maine, on a small, barren, stony farm. It was not only stony but stumpy as well. Bears, wolves, fox and other wild animals were plentiful but the Whitney family lacked money.

"My father took more interest in religion that he did in tilling the soil," he says. "He believed the Lord would provide. His whole ambition was to pray and go to meeting. He had so much faith in the Lord that when the crisis came, to save his faith from weakening, the Lord took him home and left the poor, hopeless widow to fight the battle with her starving children alone.

"Faith had fled --- hard work and plain diet saved us and we children grew strong while mother gradually weakened and died. With all the harrowing experience there comes one consoling thought. Death and the priesthood have no terrors for me. I must go soon. I am not afraid. I am waiting to welcome death as I sit here on my porch. But death mocks me --- it laughs at me and seems to say, "I am in no hurry for you, for I am sure of you when I want you."


As I said earlier there are a number of inaccuracies in The Register story. I suspect that these are more a matter of inaccurate reporting than anything else, although we're unlikely ever to know for sure.

Whitney indeed was born in Penobscot County, Maine, on Sept. 19, 1835, and came west to Iowa during 1857, when he was 22. The trek west to San Francisco was made during 1859, however, long before he married for the first time.

It is entirely possible that he did encounter Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) during his travels, but there's no indication that they were friends; and there's something (or a good deal) fishy about his alleged encounters with Native Americans.

Whatever the case, he returned to Waterloo via Panama during the Civil War and opened a livery business, which was the foundation of his modest fortune. He also acquired farm land within what now is Waterloo, another source of affluence.

He married Josephine E. Brott (1846-1923) in Black Hawk County during 1868 and they became the parents of a son, Arthur, born during March of 1871. Arthur died --- at the age of 11 on 15 May 1882 --- in Waterloo and is buried near his father in Elmwood Cemetery.

In 1892, perhaps after years of separation, William and Josephine were divorced and he married as his second wife, Lucy Canfield, many years his junior. They became the parents of two daughters --- not mentioned in The Register story --- Malinda, born 1893, and Lucy, born during November of 1903. Lucy, wife and mother, died during January of 1904, less than two months after baby Lucy's birth and the infant was taken in and raised by Carrie Hitchcock Goodrich, but supported by her father who continued to take an interest in her life.

Although William declared himself ready to go in 1921 he actually lived four more years --- until Jan. 20, 1925, when he died at age 89 at the home of his daughter and son-in-law, Malinda and Frederick C. Letsch. Daughter Lucy was a student at the University of Minnesota at the time.

Described by The Waterloo Courier as a "picturesque figure" of the city and a 68-year resident, his passing was reported upon extensively. And it would appear that the directions he left behind for last rites and final disposition of his remains were carried out precisely as he had directed.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Dry Flat kids take a field trip

The last Dry Flat country school field trip that I remember happened some time in the 1950s when parents drove students into Des Moines for a day of sight-seeing, then delivered us to the Rock Island depot and we boarded a passenger train for Chariton --- something that still was possible way back then. I think I was in "primary" at the time.

Anyhow, Linden Allard met the train in Chariton and some of us rode home to the Dry Flat neighborhood on the Lucas-Wayne county line with him. Linden smoked, the car smelled of it, this was outside my range of sensory expectations and once home and out of the car, I threw up. I remember that better than the train trip, actually.

Sadly, all of the Allards are gone now, but there are quite a few Dry Flat kids still around and five of us got together Wednesday morning at Doris and Ron Christensen's home near Chariton for a tour of some of the amazing things they have created there, including a scaled version of Doris's homeplace (above).

Doris grew up with her parents, Carl and Margaret Cottrell, on their immaculately maintained hilltop farm perhaps a quarter mile north of the Myers farm, on a rise in the valley to the south. Our farmstead still is there and occupied; sadly, the Cottrell place has vanished without a trace --- other than this reproduction.

The most prominent building on the Cottrell farm was a magnificent red barn --- one of the best in Lucas County --- that was left to deteriorate when the farm passed to other owners, refused to give up, but finally was bulldozed and burned just a few years ago when the land passed into the hands of out-of-state owners.

Here's how the farmstead looked in its glory days with the barn holding pride of place. The recreation is at the top with the addition of the Cottrell windmill, which pumped water from the creek valley to the south in tandem with the Myers windmill nearby and the flagpole that once stood in front of Dry Flat School.

And here's the Cottrell house as I remember it.

And finally, the Dry Flat kids who enjoyed Wednesday morning's tour (from left): Doris, Frank, Jacob Vincent, Dianne (Vincent) Mitchell and Elzan (Vincent) McMurry.

We also were able to walk among and admire several of the pieces of scaled equipment that Ron --- a hugely talented metalworker, welder, mechanic and carpenter --- has created over the years.

Including a hay baler ...

... a hayloader of the sort I remember walking behind ...

... a seeder cart ...

... tractors (Ron favors John Deere) and more.

One of Ron's most recent projects is the bobsled found in the Barker-Vincent barn just a mile south across the fields next to Dry Flat School. He acquired the running gears from the Vincent kids, then built and added the box.

That's Ron (second from left) joined by Harold Mitchell (far left) Dianne, Jake, Elzan and Marilyn Vincent (far right).

It was a great way to spend the morning and I'm glad I was invited to tag along.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

And now a few notes from Aretha ....

Aretha Franklin sings at President Obama's 2009 inauguration.

Comes the sad news this week that Aretha Franklin, now 76 and unchallenged as Queen of Soul, is seriously ill and under hospice care at her Detroit home.

Which brought to mind, among many others, an amazing performance by Ms. Franklin during the 1998 Grammy awards of the Puccini aria "Nessun Dorma."

Acclaimed tenor Luciano Pavarotti had made the aria --- intended for a tenor voice --- from the final act of the Puccini opera "Turandot" his signature piece and was scheduled to perform it at the Grammys that year, but fell ill.

Ms. Franklin had performed the piece elsewhere, so was familiar with it --- but had only something like 20 minutes notice before agreeing to "give it a whirl" when asked to stand in for Pavarotti during the ceremony, broadcast live.

Here's what happened --- and keep in mind that recording technology just 20 years ago was far removed from what it is today.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

1918 ---Five men die in a Lucas County rail disaster

Drivers headed east from Lucas to Chariton on U.S. 34 these days probably aren't aware that the big hill they're climbing just beyond the Whitebreast Creek bridge has a name --- Whitebreast Hill --- and a reputation that goes back to the county's earliest days. Modern highway engineering has lessened the grade and turned what once was a precipitous incline into a far gentler curved one.

Although the double tracks of the mainline Burlington Northern & Santa Fe --- one of Iowa's busiest railroads --- parallel the highway across the Whitebreast bottoms, the rails curve north before the bridge and disappear into woodland, dividing into separate tracks to climb the hill parallel to the highway. One track follows closely the original route established during the mid-1860s; the other, built during the 1930s, swings to the north before following a gentler, less precipitous grade up the hill and rejoining the other track near a point once known as "Indianola Junction" before heading into Chariton.

Back in those woods during the early morning hours of Saturday, Aug. 17, 1918 --- a century ago now --- five men died near a telegraph relay station called "Troy" in what was described as the "worst wreck ever witnessed" in Lucas County. As it turns out, that's a slight exaggeration, but reporters of the day had forgotten that five men also died in Chariton during mid-June, 1875, when a speeding freight train slammed into the rear of a stationary freight near the depot. Here's a report on that earlier disaster.


It's a little difficult to understand, from the report that follows (published in The Herald-Patriot on Thursday, Aug. 22, 1918), exactly what was going on, so here's a little background: The trains involved were two halves of what was known as a double-header freight --- each with its own engine --- traveling in tandem across southern Iowa during the darkness. At the time, because of the grade on the single track that then climbed Whitebreast Hill, an auxiliary engine was needed to pull heavy freights up.

The auxiliary engine, waiting east of Lucas, was attached to the first half of the double-header and the twin engines began to pull it up the hill, but the towbar linking the first and second freight cars pulled loose, stranding the rest of the cars on the incline. Air brakes set automatically when this happened, so all seemed well as the locomotives pulled the first car into Chariton, then returned for the rest. The second time around, the twin engines made it almost to the top of the incline when another towbar pulled loose, separating the lead cars attached to the engine from 22 others, including the caboose,  near the top of the incline. This time, the air brakes set but did not hold. Those 22 cars rolled backward at an ever-accelerating rate and slammed into the engine of the second part of the train waiting at the bottom of the grade. 

At that time, it was customary for farmers sending livestock to market in Chicago to accompany their stock, riding along in the caboose --- my dad did this on occasion when he was a kid, invited to join the excursion. So four of those killed on Aug. 18 were stockmen riding in the caboose when it slammed into the engine of the second train. The fifth was the train's brakeman. Here's The Herald-Patriot report. The somewhat battered images of the aftermath are from the Lucas County Historical Society collection.


Twenty-two Freight Cars Demolished; A Big Wreck at the Foot of Whitebreast Hill Saturday Morning

The worst wreck ever witnessed in this county was that which occurred on Whitebreast hill Saturday morning at 2:37 when four men were instantly killed and another was (so) seriously hurt that he died shortly after arriving at Ottumwa for medical care. The men who were killed, with the exception of Brakeman Boltz, never knew their danger and were hurled into eternity without warning of any kind whatever. Their mangled bodies were mute evidence of the awful crash, and even at this time there are portions of human flesh in the wreckage which will never be recovered.

Whitebreast hill is one of two places on the C.B.&Q. railroad through this state which is not double-tracked, the heavy grade making it necessary for trains to have a helper engine in going up the hill. When this engine was attached to the stock train, No. 70, the drawbar pulled out of the first car, the balance of the train being left on the track while the damaged car was hauled into Chariton.

When the engines were attached a second time, a second drawbar was pulled out and though the automatic air brake was set when the engines left the train for Chariton again, railroad men say that there must have been a slow leak in the air hose, the air gradually escaping until the brakes were released and the heavy train started slowly backward, gaining momentum with every foot traveled until it reached a speed of eighty miles an hour. While running at this speed the brakeman was seen to go from car to car twisting the brakes with his stick in an effort to slow or stop the runaway cars, but his efforts were wholly without effect and when the crash came he was instantly killed.

The twenty-two cars traveled perhaps two miles before they met the second section of their own train, No. 78, the latter waiting until the block was cleared before running for Chariton. This second train was standing with all brakes set and when the wild cars hit the engine the latter was completely covered with wreckage, the forward part of the engine being badly demolished, although it never left the track. The caboose (of the first train) was so badly wrecked that it was unrecognizable, while cars were piled 40 feet in the air, all the wreckage being piled in a space perhaps 150 feet in length, both sides of the track being littered with the contents of the cars.

There were thirteen cars of hogs and cattle and one car of live poultry, and the stock could be seen all about the wreck, although much of it was killed. A car of butter, one of black pepper, another of pickles, and a car of eggs were to be seen scattered about, and a car of arsenic and two of merchandise with the caboose made up the total of 22 cars. Experienced railway men say they never saw a wreck where there was as little salvage as this one contained, and scores of dead animals were to be seen on every hand. The stock which escaped death was quickly disposed of, the poultry being sold to the Hawkeye Produce Co., the eggs and butter going to the same concern. Farmers bought much of the livestock at low prices, some animals doubtless being lost during the early hours of the wreck.

Two wrecking crews were early on the job and though they worked hard and had plenty of help it was about 3 o'clock in the afternoon before the track was clear. The bodies of the wreck victims were carefully removed from the debris and taken to the Melville undertaking establishment (in Chariton), where they were prepared as well as possible for shipment to their relatives. One body was completely severed and others were badly mangled, the grewsome bits being found at different places in the wreck; fortunately, however, no fire broke out to make matters worse and method was used in cleaning up the wreck.

The men who were unconscious victims were George W. Houck, of Corning, married, aged about 60, who died in the hospital at Ottumwa; his nephew, Harry Houck, married, aged about 45 years, of Carbon; George McNeill, single, aged about 49, of Bridgewater; Al Rudat, aged about 50, of Hastings, Neb.; and Brakeman Fred Boltz, single, aged 24, of Ottumwa. All the shippers (the two Houcks, McNeill and Rudat) were accompanying their stock to Chicago.

No blame seems to attach to any member of either train crew, though the air brakes are automatic and supposed to hold after being set, until released by the engine drawing the train. It is said that with the shortage of labor now existing in every branch of business it is often impossible to have freight cars properly inspected, though passenger coaches receive strict attention by experts. The wreck and loss of life and money are to be deeply deplored, but accidents of this nature are to be expected occasionally, especially at a time when so many demands are made upon every branch of the railway service. The Burlington has been peculiarly free from wrecks of this sort and when serious losses are reported on this road the public is shocked. It is estimated that the financial loss involved will reach $350,000, and, inasmuch as the government now controls the road (because of World War I), matters must be adjusted with representatives of Uncle Sam. 

The remains of Brakeman Fred Boltz were removed to the home of his father in Ottumwa where funeral services were held on Monday afternoon. Relatives of George Houck, a farmer of near Corning, went to Ottumwa after his remains and accompanied them home Sunday evening on No. 9. Harry Houck's son, J.O. Houck, of Carbon, and a brother-in-law, Mr. Reese, of Corning, came to Chariton and identified his body and accompanied the remains to Corning Sunday evening. The remains of Al Rudat, of Hastings, Neb., who had charge of the car of poultry, were shipped to Hastings on Sunday evening. The remains of Geo. McNeill, of Bridgewater, were shipped to that place on Sunday morning on No.3.

The work of caring for the unfortunate victims and preparing their bodies for shipment to friends was in charge of Clarence Melville and his thoughtfulness and thoroughness is deeply appreciated by relatives. Everything was done which could be accomplished to lessen the shock, and Mr. Melville, Chas. Stanger and those who helped them received the earnest thanks of sorrowing relatives.

The wrecked train, No. 70, was in charge of Conductor Charles Ball, of Ottumwa, who, while he was in no way to blame for the awful accident, was overcome and suffered a nervous collapse and was removed to the hospital in Ottumwa. The second train was in charge of Conductor Geo. Lambertson, who escaped uninjured. His fireman, Arthur Isaacson and the head brakeman, who was a new man and whose name we were unable to learn, had a miraculous escape from death. They were in the cab of the engine when the runaway train crashed into them. The engineer, who was standing on the ground, oiling the engine, heard the rumble of the approaching cars and after shouting a warning to the fireman and brakeman, who stayed with the engine, leaped to a place of safety. Fireman Isaacson was slightly injured and was removed to the hospital in Ottumwa.

Lucas County rail lines as shown on a 1915 railroad map of Iowa. Orange represents C.B.&Q. tracks; green, Rock Island tracks. This map mistakenly reverses the locations of Lucas and Cleveland.


For those interested, Iowa's worst rail disaster occurred on March 21, 1910, near Green Mountain, east of Marshalltown, when 50 lives were lost in a passenger train crash.

Monday, August 13, 2018

A little family history: Abraham Snow Myers

Abraham Snow Myers
I enjoyed a visit last week with Myers cousins who share my interest in family history and, quite unintentionally, imposed a load of guilt. Although I know many of the answers to family history puzzles, and have the filing cabinets full of stuff to prove it, I'm terrible about organizing, writing coherent narratives and filling in the blanks in the "family tree" at Ancestry.com --- a subscription service I've been engaged in a long-term love-hate relationship with.

So I'm going to try --- again --- to redeem myself genealogically and spend a little time filling in the blanks. This is an example, a narrative summary of the life of my uncle, Abraham Snow Myers, who was born in Pennsylvania, lived in Lucas and Wayne counties and died at Allerton during 1917. My great-grandfather, Daniel Myers, was his younger brother.

Both were sons of Jacob Myers, who arrived in Benton Township, Lucas County, during 1867 after a career as a railroad contractor in western Pennsylvania, acquired a substantial amount of land and amused himself, among other ways, by running off to Arizona to prospect for silver. Jacob had two children by his first marriage --- Sarah (Myers) Houck and Abraham Snow; and eight by his second, to Harriet Dick --- Elizabeth Adella (Myers) Simpson, Susan Harriet (Myers) Hickle, Phoebe (Myers) Gookin, Mary (Myers) Gookin, Catherine (Myers) Parsons, Daniel Myers, Anna Clarissa (Myers) Dulin/Angell and Adalaide (Myers) Slattery/Scovel. There also was an adopted son, Ishmel, taken from the Lucas County Poor Farm to raise by Jacob and Harriet during Jacob's tenure as a Lucas County supervisor.


By Frank D. Myers

Abraham Snow Myers, eldest son of Jacob Myers by his first wife, was born 11 June 1836,  near New Florence in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Nothing really is known of his mother other than her maiden name, Snow. If family stories can be relied upon, she drowned ca. 1838-40 in a canal near the family home leaving both Abraham S. and his sister, Sarah, motherless. The late Minnie (Myers) Johnson, in telling this story, said that both Sarah and Abraham witnessed the drowning.

Jacob married Harriet Dick as his second wife during 1842 and in 1850, when the federal census of Westmoreland County was taken, Abraham, age 13, was living with the Isaac Myers family, next door to his father's household in St. Clair Township. Isaac may (or may not) have been an uncle.

By 1860, Abraham had rejoined his own family and was listed, age given as 21, as a resident of Jacob Myers's St. Clair Township family. I believe that his occupation is given as "farm hand," but that portion of the census entry is so badly faded that one can't be sure.

There is no indication that Abraham served in the military during the Civil War. His 1917 obituary stated that instead "he acted as an engineer to carry soldiers to the front." Because his father and uncles were railroad contractors, it's very likely that Abraham was involved in this type of work before the war.

After the war, Abraham accompanied his family in 1867 to Benton Township, Lucas County, Iowa --- where unlike the hilly and wooded area he had known as a child and young man, the prairie must have seemed endless. When the 1870 census was taken, he was enumerated, age 32, as a member of his father's household, occupation given as farmer.

Abraham acquired a substantial amount of land immediately south of that owned by his father, in Section 27 of Benton Township, and he developed with house, barn and other outbuildings what would be known later as the Chester Poush farmstead, south of Myers School on the New York Road. At the time of his death, during 1917, Abraham still owned nearly 400 acres in Sections 27, 34 and 35. Much if not all of this land had been owned originally by his father.

On 28 May 1871, when he was nearly 35, Abraham married Margaret Adaline Keaton, also about 35, in Allerton, Wayne County. The couple probably met while she was teaching school in Lucas County. A native of Gallia County, Ohio, Margaret seems to have been home-based with her sister and brother-in-law, Porter M. and Mary A. (Keaton) Phillips, in Allerton, where her sister, Melissa Caroline Keaton, also lived.

Abraham and Margaret settled down on their farm in Benton Township, where they lived for more than 20 years in a neighborhood where nearly everyone was related in some manner to the Myers family, the school was called Myers and the neighborhood church, Mt. Carmel Evengelical, was built on Myers land.

Margaret's own family had been scattered by the death of her parents, Sarah and Gabriel Keaton, during 1857 and 1862 respectively, while living near Tolono in Champagne County, Illinois. She was the eldest child and it seems likely that the responsibility for holding the family together may have fallen heavily upon her shoulders.

About 1893, Abraham and Margaret decided to move from Benton Township to Allerton. Her health may have begun to fail by this time and it is possible that the desire to live nearer to her sisters may have been a factor. But Allerton was a very promising town at the time, her brother-in-law, Porter Phllips, was a successful general merchant there and Abraham, a good businessman, may also have recognized an opportunity when he saw it. The couple held onto their Lucas County, property, however, and it was rented out.

Family stories suggest that Abraham acquired and operated a lumber yard in Allerton although Wayne County census entries record him, 1900-1910, as "farmer," then "retired." During November of 1894, according to a report in The Corydon Democrat, he constructed a fine new home in Allerton for Margaret.

Sadly, she died just two months later of tuberculosis, on Jan. 6, 1895. Following funeral services at the house, burial was made in the Allerton Cemetery, northeast of town, and Abraham erected an impressive granite monument there in her memory.

Find A Grave photo
Abraham, now in his late 50s, continued to live in Allerton and, for a time, his widowed youngest half-sister sister, Adalaide (Myers) Slattery, 28 years his junior, moved from her farm in Benton Township with son, Fremont, to keep house for him --- eventually moving on to Idaho after her second marriage, to Harry Scovel, during October of 1896.

At some point during the late 1880s or early 1890s, a young bachelor farmer named Henry Wohlgemuth had moved from Tazewell County, Illinois, to land he had purchased between Corydon and Allerton, bringing along his younger sister, Anna, to keep house for him. Both were children of Philip Wohlgemuth, a blacksmith native to Germany, and his wife, Katherine, of Washington, the Tazewell County seat. There were two other younger children in this family, Katherine Jr., or Kate, and Emma. Of the four children, only Anna would marry.

Abraham and Anna became acquainted and eventually decided to marry, tying the knot on May 4, 1898, at her parents' home in Washington, Illinois. Anna, age 36, was some 26 years her bridegroom's junior (he now was 62) but their relationship seems to have been an amicable one.

Their only child, Evelyn Maude, was born in Allerton on 11 July 1902, according to Wayne County birth records. Her mother was 40 at the time and her father, age 66.

Abraham, Anna and Maude seem to have lived comfortably in Allerton for the next 15 years, but during the fall of 1917 he became critically ill and died eight weeks later, on 30 November. Here's his obituary as published in The Allerton News of 6 December 1917:


"Abraham S. Myers was born June 11, 1836, in West Moreland (Westmoreland) county, Pa., where he grew to manhood. He then moved west to Iowa, which was a frontier state at that time. He, with his parents, settled in Lucas county, but (Abraham) moved to Allerton in 1893, where he resided until the time of his death, Nov. 30, 1817 (sic; should be 1917).

"During the Civil War he acted as engineer to carry soldiers to the front.

"In 1897 (actually 1898) he was united in marriage to Miss Anna E. Wohlgemuth, of Washington, Ill. To this union one daughter, Evelyn, was born.

"Mr. Myers has had many serious accidents which he could not have survived had it not been for his iron constitution.

"For many years he had been a member of the Masonic Order in good standing.

"The deceased leaves to mourn their loss a wife, daughter, five sisters and one brother, besides a host of friends. The sisters are Mrs. Thos. Gookin and Mrs. Mary Gookin, of Chariton, Anna Angle and Elizabeth Simpson, of Montana, and Mrs. Scoville, of Caldwell, Idaho. The brother is Dan Myers, of Lucas county, Iowa.

"In Mr. Myers' last illness he suffered intensely for about 8 weeks. Death came as a sweet release from pain.

"The funeral services were held at the home, Sunday afternoon at two o'clock. Walter Girdner, pastor of the Christian church, preached the funeral sermon, after which the Masonic Lodge took charge of the service. Dr. Read conducted the music. Interment was made in the Allerton cemetery."


Abraham left a substantial estate, including approximately 400 acres in Lucas County as well as lots in and land near Allerton. One third was left outright to Anna; the balance left in trust for their daughter, Evelyn, to be turned over to her when she reached the age of 21.

Anna and Evelyn continued to live together in Allerton until Evelyn went away to college, reportedly in Chicago. She then taught school for a time, but on 28 April 1923 in Centerville married a young man from Brazil (the Appanoose County village, not the country), John Joseph Bates. They became the parents of two daughters, Gretchen and Louise, and eventually moved to Detroit.

Anna continued to make her home in Allerton until at least 1940 when she was enumerated in the federal census at age 76. She reportedly died during 1952 and some online sources give the place as Detroit, where Evelyn and her family were living at the time.

The graves of both Anna and Abraham in the Allerton Cemetery were unmarked for many years, but during the latter part of the 20th century their descendants placed the the current stone for "Annie E." and "Abe" Myers, just north of the rather grand stone Abraham had erected in memory of his first wife, Margaret, soon after her 1895 death.

Find A Grave photo

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Only a Pawn in Their Game?

An estimated 25,000 Ku Klux Klan members marched in Washington, D.C., Aug. 8, 1925.

Medgar Evers, 1958
I spent some time on Saturday, the first anniversary of Charlottesville, watching Raoul Peck's acclaimed 2016-2017 documentary, "I Am Not Your Negro," streaming on Amazon, and wondering, too, what will unfold in Washington, D.C., today during the scheduled "Unite the Right 2" rally.

The documentary, based on James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript "Remember This House," focuses on three martyrs of U.S. civil rights movement --- Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X.

Evers, I'm sure you remember, was fatally wounded outside his Jackson, Mississippi, home on June 12, 1963, by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith. Initially denied treatment at the nearest hospital because he was black, Evers finally was admitted and died there an hour later --- the first black person admitted to a white hospital in Mississippi. De La Beckwith was not convicted of his murder until 20 years later, in 1994.

Bob Dylan's resulting song, "Only a Pawn in Their Game," came to mind --- revolutionary in its time because it explored the system and society that he believed then --- and still --- facilitates the white supremacy movement that has regained momentum during the current administration. Here are the lyrics and then, a performance:

A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers' blood.
A finger fired the trigger to his name.
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man's brain
But he can't be blamed
He's only a pawn in their game.

A South politician preaches to the poor white man,
"You got more than the blacks, don't complain.
You're better than them, you been born with white skin," they explain.
And the Negro's name
Is used it is plain
For the politician's gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid,
And the marshals and cops get the same,
But the poor white man's used in the hands of them all like a tool.
He's taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
'Bout the shape that he's in
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

From the poverty shacks, he looks from the cracks to the tracks,
And the hoof beats pound in his brain.
And he's taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide 'neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain't got no name
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

Today, Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught.
They lowered him down as a king.
But when the shadowy sun set on the one
That fired the gun
He'll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game.