Friday, August 22, 2008

James H. Jordan's Bones, Part I

You might be a genealogist if … Your heart begins to pound wildly when you see a familiar surname on a tombstone across a crowded cemetery and then, after flying to its side and discovering that Great-great-granny’s inscription still is crisp and clear after 150 years, you place your right hand over your heart and sing “God Bless America.” Seriously. I like to know where the bodies are buried.

So it was frustrating to know that James H. Jordon had been buried in the Iowaville Cemetery but to not be able to find him there.

Trader Jim had lived long and prospered in his fine house upstream from Iowaville and downstream from Eldon along the Des Moines River. He had acquired as many as 1,800 acres of fine land and tended them well. He was honored by his neighbors and sought out for his stories about Black Hawk, Keokuk and the old days of Iowaville and its environs.

On the other, darker hand he had watched his wife and three children die before him.

Finally, on the 15th of July 1893, after almost 60 years an Iowan, most of them spent along the Des Moines, he was called home himself at age 86. Here’s the brief obituary published in The Ottumwa Weekly Courier of 18/20 July 1893:

“Eldon, July 17: We are called upon to chronicle the death of another old settler Saturday evening, the 15th inst., at 8 o’clock, James H. Jordan died at his home farm. He emigrated to Iowa in 1833 and settled near Eldon. He was married to Frances M. Williams Nov. 17, 1838. There were three children born to them who lived to raise families, but all, including the wife and mother, have passed away to the great beyond and now the last of the family is laid away in the Iowaville cemetery.

“Mr. Jordan was personally acquainted with the great Indian chiefs, Black Hawk and Keokuk. Black Hawk was buried near Mr. Jordan’s house. As an Indian trader he had many of them at his home for years and they considered him their friend, as indeed his life has always been a friend to the poor.

“His acquaintance was large, for who, for the last 60 years, far and near, has not known of Jim Jordan. He owned many hundred acres of the finest lands the sun ever shone on, so productive that corn raised on his farm took first premium at the Philadelphia centennial in 1876.

“At 4 o’clock Sunday the roads were lined with vehicles going to his funeral, which was preached by Rev. Bogdston, after which the remains were followed to the beautiful cemetery on the hill side and deposited by the side of his family to await the call of the master at the last day when all shall be judged.”

It’s necessary to talk a little about Jim Jordan’s family here, since all are involved in what turns out to have been Van Buren County’s biggest, although perfectly legal, case of body snatching.

As the obituary states, Jim had married Frances Melvina Brent Williams (born 22 June 1817 in Kentucky, raised in Missouri but visiting Bonaparte when they met) in the fall of 1838. They became the parents of three children, all born in Iowaville or on the riverside farm: Henry Clay Jordan on 25 September 1840; Sarah Frances “Sally” Jordan on 8 February 1844; and Victor P. Jordan on 2 November 1846.

Jim also had a brother, Thomas Jefferson Jordan, who fits into this story. He was living across the Des Moines River in the neighborhood of the Soap Creek Mill when he died on 20 April 1850 at age 45 leaving a widow, Katharine, only 22, and two young children, Peter, 3, and Thomas Jefferson Jr., 1. The mortality schedule attached to the 1850 federal census of Davis County states that Jefferson died of “C,” and I think that probably translates as cholera --- the 19th century equivalent to today’s big “C,” cancer. He was buried near the mill. It’s not clear what happened to Katharine, but Peter and Jefferson, “orphans,” were living with Jim and Frances across the river when the 1860 federal census was taken.

As the years passed, the Jordan children grew up on the riverside farm and married.

Sally married Abram Hinkle, a West Virginian (born 1 July 1835 in Pendleton County) who had distinguished himself in the Union army during the Civil War. His brother, Isaac Hinkle, was an early settler in the area of Selma in Van Buren County, living variously in Davis, Van Buren and Wapello counties, and Abram probably was visiting him when he met Sally. They were married on Christmas Eve, 1866, then moved back to West Virginia to live for a few years before selling out there and coming back to settle permanently on a farm along the river just south of Selma in 1871. The Hinkles prospered, too, and Abram became one of Van Buren’s largest farmers, acquiring as many as 1,100 acres. Abram and Sally had six children: Lora Jordan Hinkle, born 15 January 1869; Arthur E., born 1871; Harry Harper, born 1872; Nellie Brent, born 1874; Melvina May, born 1877; and James Erwin, born 1883.

Victor P. Jordan and Mary Rebecca Taylor were married 23 June 1873 and they had one daughter, Keo May Jordan, born 4 September 1874.

And Henry Clay Jordan married Alice Moore of nearby Eldon, a native of England, about 1884. Their only child, Grace B. Jordan, was born 22 May 1885.

The dying began in 1880 when Jim’s son, Victor P., died on 12 December at age 34. He was the first of nine family members to be buried in the Iowaville Cemetery (and the only one still there; photo above).

Jim’s wife, Frances, died seven years later, on 14 October 1887. The next year, their daughter (and Abram Hinkle’s wife), Sally, died on 10 February 1888 of tuberculosis at age 44 and the Hinkles’ youngest son, Erwin, followed two months later, on 7 April, age 5.

Henry Clay Jordan, the only surviving Jordan child, died on 15 March 1890, age 49; and Abram and Sally Hinkle’s daughter, Nellie B., followed on 10 April 1890.

Abram Hinkle survived his father-in-law by little more than 7 years, dying on 7 February 1901 at the age of 66. Ten years later, on 14 April 1911, his daughter, Melvina Mae Hinkle, died at age 34. She was the last of the family to be buried at Iowaville.

During these years, the family tree had taken some odd twists. Prior to 1900, Victor P. Jordan’s widow, Mary Rebecca, had married her brother-in-law, Abram Hinkle, And Henry Clay Jordan's widow, Alice E., had married Robert Isaac Hinkle, some 10 years her junior and Abram Hinkle’s nephew.

After Abram Hinkle’s death, Mary Rebecca and Keo May moved west to Hutchinson in Reno County, Kansas, where members of her family lived. Mary Rebecca died there on 8 October 1925. Keo May, who never married, continued to live at Hutchison until her own death on 2 December 1952. They are buried in Eastside Cemetery in Hutchinson.

Alice (Jordan) Hinkle’s second husband, Robert Hinkle, died in 1908, but she continued to live in Eldon until her death on 24 May 1930. She is buried in the Eldon Cemetery with Robert. Grace married Van V. Baldwin about 1909 and they continued to live in and around Eldon until after her mother’s death when they moved to Chicago and then to California. They seem to have had two sons, Richard V. and William. Alice died 30 April 1968 in Los Angeles and it she, after all the dust had settled, who owned the old Jordan homeplace and her grandparents’ fine house when it was demolished in 1964.

Trader Jim’s three surviving Hinkle grandchildren, Lora, Arthur "Bud" and Harry, became the keepers of the family flame, however.

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