Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Rev. Amos Mason's Top Hat

I'm a big fan of small museums in large part because I like to look at stuff and these community attics pulled together in many cases by local historical societies are liable to have proudly on display just about anything --- stuff larger museums would sniff politely at, then stash away out of signt in some dark place.

But all museums have a tendency, in large part because of time and space constrains, to cut their artifacts adrift from the people who once owned them unless the owner was especially notable. It can't be helped, but doesn't stop me from wondering about the people who onced owned, used and treasured these relics that have long outlived their owners.

Take the Rev. Amos Mason's top hat, which has been displayed in Otterbein Church on the LCHS museum campus here because of its link to a pioneer Lucas County preacher. Reuniting the hat with three pages of Mason family history I'd come across while volunteering, accessioned with the hat, allowed that remarkably well-preserved item, crafted probably during the 1850s in Paris, to speak.

The Rev. Mr. Mason laid down his life for the Union cause in 1863 and was buried far from home, but here we have something remarkable to remember him by.

The Rev. Mr. Mason, born about 1823 in Ohio, arrived in English Township, Lucas County, in 1857 from McLean County, Illinois, with his wife, Jincy, and their four eldest children. He settled on a farm in Section 9, English Township, due north of Chariton at the Marion County line, that remained in the family for generations.

First licensed as an exhorter by the United Brethren in Christ in 1845, he served the newly-formed United Brethren congregation at Newbern, now almost a ghost town. He was ordained in that congregation on Sept. 12, 1859.

On Aug. 14, 1862, when he was 39 and his youngest child only 2, he enlisted as a private in Co. E, 34th Iowa Infantry. A few months later he became critically ill and died of a fever on Jan. 28, 1863, at St. Louis, where he is buried in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

Jincy rose above adversity to raise her young family single-handedly and died full of years, nearly 85, on Nov. 6, 1911, and is buried in the Newbern Cemetery, one of the most dramatically beautiful places in Lucas County with sweeping views of the Whitebreast valley from its high hilltop.

What a story that old hat has to tell! If the artifact count at LCHS is correct, there are more than 40,000 stories like it waiting to be told --- if only we could find the time to listen.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Veterans Affairs, Part One

Old Glory is raised at sunrise and lowered at sunset daily on this hilltop in southwest Chariton. That’s a 13-foot stalk of corn cultivated by Lee this summer in his garden, now attached to his flagpole.

My neighbor, Lee, will be aboard the next Iowa Honor Flight out of Des Moines in early November, embarked with hundreds of other Iowa veterans on a whirlwind trip to and from Washington, D.C., with a visit to the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall as its principal purpose. How cool is that?

In his 80s now, Lee is a decorated combat veteran of World War II. A Purple Heart Medal is emblazoned on his car’s license plate. Every morning, when the weather is appropriate in accordance with protocol, a U.S. flag goes up the big pole in front of his house and near sunset, it comes down. He walks more often with a cane now, partly in deference to his 80-plus years, but also to a leg wound he’s lived with for more than 60 years.

Lee and Bethel will drive into Des Moines the evening before the flight, then arise for breakfast at 2:30 a.m. He will board a bus from the hotel to the airport at 4:30 a.m. after pre-flight security issues have been dealt with and depart at 6:30 p.m. The big jet will return to Des Moines that night. It makes us youthful 60-year-olds tired just to think about the schedule, but doesn’t seem to faze the veterans.

In case you’re not familiar with the Honor Flight program, it is a nationwide grassroots effort funded by private and corporate donors to offer veterans not otherwise able an opportunity to visit their memorials in the nation’s capital. Naturally, preference is given to senior --- World War II --- veterans, but a terminally ill veteran of Korea or Vietnam also would have priority and would make the trip.


One of the oddities of how we remember things collectively is the fact that the National World War II Memorial is the newest on the Mall, dedicated in 2004. That doesn’t diminish the rightness of either the Vietnam or Korean memorials; it just seems odd --- until you think about it.

Then it dawns that every positive thing we see around us and experience in this year 2009 is a living memorial, directly linked to what’s been called the last good war (those who doubt war ever is “good” might substitute “necessary”) and the sacrifices of what’s been called the greatest generation.

It may be a mistake to over generalize and declare Korean War veterans overlooked and Vietnam veterans, constructively noisy, but I think it is not an overgeneralization to call the greatest generation the quietist --- the least likely to call attention to themselves or to demand recognition. Another reason for the lateness of that national memorial.

The fact that the foundation of what we sometimes call the American way survives at all is directly attributable to guys like Lee who literally put their lives on the line to fight for it, and often laid their young lives down on a battlefield, and to those at home who supported them. Never before, or since, has quite so much been at stake. Thank you!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Don't ask ...

Well, it's been one of those days --- tracking down allegations of trees poached by an errant logging operation on the old Miller homestead, now owned by my aunt. I had not planned on spending the afternoon trekking through the timber with a very helpful deputy sheriff and the owner of adjoining land, chasing to ground what appears to be a misunderstanding about property lines. The details? Don't ask. I don't want to talk about it, other than to say I'll sure as heck be glad when that place sells.


Every time I sat down to write about something last week I thought of a new way to complain about the weather, and there's really no point to that. It's too wet, there are too many crops that should have been harvested by now still in wet fields and it's been a long time since we've had a full day of sunshine.

But most days the sun does shine at least for a while (it waited until about 3 p.m. to cloud up today) and when it does shine, the fall colors have reached the spectacular point. So I'll post a few leaf photos.


Since there was no point in being outside much of the week, I spent a lot of time under the fluorescents in the commons area of the John L. Lewis Building on the Lucas County Historical Society Museum campus sorting photos and documents.

The messy secret of nearly every local history museum is that somewhere, usually out of sight, is a not-especially-accessible hoard of photographs and papers. We're trying to make ours more accessible, but this is a job designed for obsessive-compulsives and I'm only that part of the time.

The saddest (and perhaps largest) pile is composed of "orphans," interesting photos of interesting-looking people who are completely unidentified except, when we're lucky, by an accession number that can link a photo to a donor who didn't know the identity of the subject either. These aren't thrown away, merely filed as "unknown" in the faint home that some day someone will wander in, ask to check out the orphans and recognize a face or two.

There's a lesson here for anyone who has photographs he or she hopes will survive his or her demise. For heaven's sake, get a pencil or non-smearing pen and write the identities on the back. Otherwise your heirs will do one of two things --- throw them in that big dumpster that will be parked in what once was your driveway into which a good share of your precious pile is going to be tossed or box them up and take them to the nearest museum where people like me will wring their hands as the pile of orphans grows higher.


On a more positive note, headed back to Oskaloosa on Monday afternoon, when the sun actually was shining, I took a slightly more cheerful photo of Chief Mahaska.

What troubles me about Mahaska I decided is that he looks too new, having recently and at great expense been restored, waxed and polished. That should not be taken as criticism of the wonderful people who ensured his survival for another century or more by making the restoration possible. It's just a matter of not seeing what we expect to see, and I expect a piece of outdoor public sculpture of Mahaska's age to have developed a green patina --- like, you know, Chief Keokuk, lording it over the Mississippi in that beautiful park in Keokuk. You just can't make everyone happy no matter what you do.

I also took time Monday to visit the Book Vault, in Mahaska's line of vision just west of city square park in Oskaloosa. Wow! What a great book store for such a relatively small town (having William Penn College just a few blocks away probably helps make it possible). Not only is the selection extremely broad, but the setting on several levels of an old bank makes a visit lots of fun. Besides, it's right next door to the Smokey Row coffee shop and a door connects the two. So stop in the next time you're in Oskaloosa!


Now I'm going to get back to fussing about felled trees, property lines and how I'd rather have spent my afternoon .... On the other hand, I was extremely impressed by the professionalism of the Lucas County deputy along for this odd little joyride, I met some interesting people as the investigation progressed, no harm was done and it really was a great day to be outside.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The unquiet grave of Maggie Corbett

October settles in, moving toward Halloween; time to gather around an open fire and tell stories of odd occurrences, frightful happenings and downright horror. In Lucas County, these tales rarely involve the supernatural --- ghosts and goblins and things that otherwise go bump in the night --- because we are not a superstitious people. Superstition is not necessary. Here, truth at times has been so hideous that embroidery is not required.

This is one of those stories, so be warned --- if you have a weak stomach or a sensitive disposition, do not read it.


The old road south from Chariton 122 years ago, on that late October night in 1887, passed alongside the cemetery, following the route of today’s State Highway 14. But then it was narrow and dirt, cut deeply into a draw leading down into the river valley. The cemetery itself was surrounded by a thick hedge of osage orange, grown large and unkempt in the years after its planting in the 1860s, blocking any view from the road.

Behind the hedge that night, not far from the road, the fresh grave of a 37-year-old woman was disturbed and the body it contained removed, dragged across the grass, pulled through the hedge where hair caught and was pulled from the scalp, then thrown into a horse-drawn wagon and driven hurriedly away.

At the foot of cemetery hill, the old road turned sharply west, then angled southwest across the wooded bottom to a narrow bridge. Here the body was broken, trussed and jammed into a small wooden crate.

Soon, a buggy approached, the driver jumped down, tethered the nervous horse, placed an envelope containing cash at a predesignated spot, loaded the crate into the buggy and then drove away --- or so the driver would later claim.

You can still follow that buggy’s route and there’s still a bridge there, although now approachable on foot only.

It was now late Sunday night, October 30th. At that time, it was possible to board a train at the depot in Chariton with baggage or freight and travel on a C.B.&Q. spur line long vanished through Oakley and Lacona, Milo and Indianola, to Des Moines. The purchaser of that mutilated body paid the freight fee and saw it loaded into a baggage car, then boarded a passenger car himself for the trip from his hometown to the city where he was studying medicine.

Two days later, on Tuesday, Nov. 1, The Des Moines Leader reported what happened next:

In coming up on his train yesterday morning, Baggateman McBeth, running between Chariton and Des Moines, noticed a peculiar and very offensive odor in and about his car, after leaving Chariton. The tenacity with which this nameless smell clung to the car finally awakened his suspicion that some decaying animal matter must have been placed among the baggage, and at once went on a tour of investigation among the sundry trunks and boxes piled around the car. His attention was finally diverted to a box occupying one end of the car, and placing his nose close to the lid he located at once the source of the disagreeable odor. Calling the conductor and brakeman to his assistance, McBeth knocked off a portion of the lid, and in an instant his eyes were greeted by a sight the most revolting to be imagined. Resting against the inside corner was the head of a woman, her half opened eyes staring at him in all the ghastliness of death. As the awful vision dawned upon their sight each of the spectators involuntarily uttered a cry of horror and shrank back startled and dismayed.

The lid was nailed down and an investigation inaugurated to discover the owner of this revolting baggage for it had been shipped as such as was shown by the check attached. The conductor took the check and passed through the entire train asking the passengers individually if any of them held the duplicate check. No one responded and the train came on to Des Moines, where it arrived at 4:45 yesterday morning.

Freight Agent Duchar was called up and the matter laid before him. He in turn notified the officers, and two policemen were detailed to wait around the depot and arrest any person who might call for the box. No one claimed this singular baggage, and at 3 o’clock p.m. Coroner Griffith was summoned to take charge of it. The box was then opened. It was 22 inches in length, 16 inches deep, and 16 inches wide. Crowded into this narrow space, and lying diagonally across its greatest length was the body of a woman, evidently well advanced in years. Her lower limbs were broken and the lower halves forced upward until the feet laid almost upon the breast. The hair, a mixture of black and gray, had been shorn from the head, while the hands were crossed over the abdomen.

McBeath knew he had received the box at Chariton, but, of course, could form no idea as to the identify of the owner. It was at first supposed to be the body of a girl named Katie Dunn, a waiter-girl who had been buried there Sunday, but the evident age of the corpse negatived this supposition. At the conclusion of the investigation Coroner Griffith ordered the remains sent to Shack Bros.understaking establishment for proper care and burial in the event of its identify remaining undiscovered, and it was removed to the rooms, corner Mulberry and Sixth.

In the meantime telegrams had been sent to Chariton asking for information. Marshal Cole, of that city upon receipt of those telegrams, repaired to the cemetery, and discovered that the grave of Mrs. Jesse Corbett, recently deceased, had been robbed and the body removed. He at once instituted active measures to ferret out the criminal, and soon obtained a clue. He discovered that a young medical student named Dr. John A. Gillespie, a resident of Chariton, but attending a Des Moines medical college, had been home on a visit Sunday. He further learned that Gillespie had hired a carriage of a Chariton liveryman on the same day, and finally traced Gillespie to the baggage room, where he had checked a box to Des Moines on Sunday night. He followed the numerous threads of evidence continually accumulating, and located Gillespie as a passenter on the train, where he was recognized by McBeth, who is well acquainted with him as is also the conductor.

Marshal Cole boarded the first train for Des Moines, and arrived at eight o’clock last evening, with a warrant for the arrest of Gillespie. Cole was taken to the undertaker’s where he immediately recognized the body as that of Mrs. Jess Corbett, who had died of typhoid fever about one week ago. Accompanied by Sheriff Palmer, the marshal went to the East Side where he found Gillespie in the offices of Dr. Lease. He was taken into custody, and being unable to give bonds owing to no justice of the peace being accessible, he was confined in jail. When seen by a reporter at the undertaking rooms of Shack Bros. last night, Gillespie was very much cast down and the picture of despair. He claims to have had nothing whatever to do with the affair. His presence at Chariton Sunday, he says, was occasioned by the illness of his mother, whom he went to see that day. The circumstantial evidence against him is very strong, but it is possible he can prove his innocence. Marshal Cole will take Gillespie and the remains back to Chariton this morning at 9 o’clock, the former for trial and the latter for interment.


Back in Chariton, as the story of what had happened spread rapidly, outrage erupted and fears for the safety of Gillespie grew among authorities and the class of people to which Gillespie belonged --- merchants and lawyers, county and city officials and physicians.

Several remembered and some had participated 17 years before in the lynching of the man who killed Sheriff Gaylord Lyman, Hiram Wilson, tossed from a courthouse window with a rope around his neck.

Gillespie's parents, James and Clarissa (Anderson) Gillespie, operated a general merchandise store on the square and moved in those circles; and John himself, among young men of the town who considered themselves to be its elite.

Maggie Corbett, on the other hand, was poor and Irish. Her family had arrived in Lucas County before 1870 as day laborers to build railroads and mine infrastructure and when she died, only Chariton’s black population ranked lower in the pecking order than the class of people, now rising in anger, to which she belonged. In 1880, her husband, Jesse, and been enumerated as a peddler of pumps. She left young children, now motherless.

So as a precaution, the noon train returning Gillespie to Chariton on Tuesday was stopped at Indianola Junction, about three miles west, and he was taken to the county jail from there by carriage.

Maggie’s body arrived at the depot by train, was removed to the undertaking establishment of Bradrick & Son, identified by her family and then reinterred.

The county grand jury happened to be in session when Gillespie was returned to Chariton and so it began to consider his case immediately and continued its investigation into Thursday when he was indicted on a charge of grave robbing and bond was set at $2,000, then a considerable amount.

His bond, according to The Chariton Democrat of Nov. 3, “was promptly furnished by men good for twenty times the amount. And had his bond been fixed at twenty times $2,000 it would have been just as promptly furnished.”

Gillespie, for his part, maintained silence. His family and friends, however, retained Chariton’s leading lawyers, Theodore M. Stuart and the firm of Mitchell and Penick, to represent him. The county attorney, Col. O.A. Bartholomew, would prosecute.

The Democrat, in concluding its Nov. 3 report, opined that when all was said and done “it will appear that Dr. Gillespie wanted a corpse and was willing to pay for it; other parties wanted a little money and were willing to furnish the corpse.”

The Chariton Herald, in its Nov. 3 report, noted that “all kinds of rumors, some that seem almost unnatural, are afloat concerning this crime, a crime that most people shudder to think of, and are loath to excuse in others even in the interests of science.”

The case against Gillespie came to trial before a jury in the old brick courthouse during early January of 1888.

During it, according to a Democrat report of Jan. 12, Gillespie --- who had at first denied any involvement --- changed his tune. He testified that he had “received an anonymous letter proposing, for a certain consideration, to furnish him a corpse, on Sunday night, at the bridge south of the city. He took a team, went there, desposited his money in a designated place, took the box, and returned to Des Moines.”

“The evidence,” according to the Democrat, “failed to show any guilty participation of the doctor in the actual fact of the grave robbery. Under the law he was perhaps guilty of an offense for purchasing the body. But that was not the crime for which he was indicted and under the instruction of the court he was very properly acquitted.”

Ah, those technicalities.

The grave robbers were never identified, and while Gillespie may have been telling the truth, it also is quite possible he was a liar, that at most he participated in the desecration of Maggie Corbett himself or, at the least, commissioned men whose names he knew full well to do it for him.

He completed his medical education, practiced for five years at Coin, Iowa, then moved west to Fresno, California, where he established another practice before his trail faded into obscurity.

Maggie’s grave, just inside the main cemetery gate and south, is peaceful now, overlooking passing traffic on Highway 14 and the wooded hills beyond.

At the base of the hill, just beyond the entrance to the south cemetery drive, a lane turns right along the road’s old route into a small parking area. Here not that many years ago a desperate man hanged himself from a massive oak, since taken down.

Beyond, the grass-covered trail follows the route of the old road west, then southwest to the bridge. It’s a lovely walk on a sunny day, but not I think on a dark night in late October.


This account is based primarily upon reports found in The Chariton Democrat of Nov. 3, 1887, and Jan. 12, 1888, and The Chariton Herald, also of Nov. 3, 1887.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A little time with Mahaska

OK, so what I really wanted to do Friday afternoon was play with the carillon at St. James Church, although I’m told it can’t really be called a carillon because there are only 10 bells and therefore a somewhat limited repertoire. Still, I’ve wanted to hear those bells ring out over downtown Oskaloosa --- and still do. Episcopalians just have no sense of play some days.

What I did instead, before the South Central Chapter meeting at St. James began, was to visit old friend Mahaska in the city square park. It’s probably been 15 years since I’ve done that and in that time the old boy has been restored, polished up and looks brand new. If I remember correctly, he had turned distinctly green by the last time I saw him, desirable in an environmental policy but not necessarily so in a work of sculpture.

After lamenting some time ago the shortage of Ioway place names, markers and monuments in that tribe’s namesake state, I overlooked the statue’s 100th birthday in May. So now I’ve revisited this rarity in a land dominated by remembrances of the Sauk and Meskwaki. Too bad the sun wasn’t shining. Mahaska would have looked much better on a sunny day with autumn-colored leaves in the background.

Organized in 1843, less than 10 years after Mahaska’s death, Mahaska County was named for him, the chief also called White Cloud. Although born near the Iowa River ca. 1784, Mahaska reportedly spent some of his youth along the Des Moines in what became the county that bears his name. Some say he is buried along the Des Moines, too, although farther upstream.

Mahaska’s story is a relatively familiar one in Iowa, where few of us actually are familiar with our Native American heritage at all. When young and inexperienced, his father, Chief Mauhawgaw (or Wounding Arrow), was killed by Sioux. Foregoing his hereditary right to claim the title “chief,” Mahaska set out to avenge the death and proved his skill and courage and worthiness.

Some years later, while imprisoned in St. Louis for killing a French trader, Mahaska reportedly promised William Clark, then superintendent of Indian affairs, that he would not take up arms again and eventually did precisely that.

After becoming a man of peace, he did his best to live companionably with the flood of Euro-American settlers who pushed his people west and to live as those Euro-Americans thought Native Americans should --- in a cabin on a farm on Ioway land in extreme northwest Missouri --- and to encourage other Ioways to do the same.

He and his wife Rantchewaime, or Female Flying Pigeon, were part of an 1824 delegation of Ioways, Sauk and Meskwaki to Washington, D.C., where they met President James Monroe and had their portraits painted by Charles Bird King. Although the portraits were destroyed in a fire, lighographs survive so we actually know what Mahaska looked like. He reportedly was tall, perfectly formed and remarkably handsome and Rantchewaime, of great beauty.

But Mahaska came to a sad end 10 years later while camped on the banks of the Nodaway River in what now is Cass County. After discouraging young Ioway men from seeking revenge against Omahas who had killed members of the tribe, he helped the Euro-American authorities capture six Ioways who had ignored his advice. One of those young men escaped from prison at Fort Leavenworth in 1834, tracked Mahaska to his camp and assassinated him.

According to some reports, Mahaska’s body was brought back to central Iowa and buried near the confluence of the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers in what now is Des Moines city.

Quite naturally, Iowa’s rapidly-growing Euro-American population thought all Native Americans should behave as Mahaska had, giving away gracefully to their advances and attempting to live as they did. His death at the hands of a fellow Ioway came to signify for whites the perceived contradiction between savagery and nobility in these strange not-white tribes they fully expected to disappear before too many more years passed. Naturally, the Euro-Americans conveniently overlooked that contradiction in their own natures.

By the turn of the 20th century, although Native Americans had not disappeared and would inconveniently decline to do so, abstract sentimentality among Euro-Americans about Native American nobility was peaking, so it isn’t surprising that James Depew Edmundson, casting about for a way to commemorate his father, William Edmundson, a Mahaska County pioneer, alighted upon the idea of a statue of Mahaska in the county seat of the city named for him.

The commission went to Sherry Edmundson Fry, a young Creston, Iowa-born sculptor then studying and working in Paris. Fry no doubt studied the 1824 King portrait, but also returned to Iowa to sketch, since no Ioway were conveniently available, Meskwaki at their settlement in nearby Tama County.

The cast bronze statue, dated 1907, was displayed in Paris and won prizes, including the Prix de Rome, before it was shipped to Oskaloosa, installed in city square park and dedicated on May 9, 1909.

Native Americans apparently were not invited to participate in dedication of Mahaska’s likeness. Instead, members of a local chapter of a bizarre fraternal organization (still in existence) called the Improved Order of Red Men, which at the time denied membership to anyone who was not white, were featured.

As the years passed the statue of Mahaska became endangered by the air that had surrounded it --- pitted, discolored and corroded. Oskaloosa in the 1990s invested much time and many thousands of dollars in its restoration and the result is there at the west edge of the park, facing west, for all of us to see.

Despite the peculiarities of its conception and dedication, the statue is a beautiful piece of work and I want a better photo of it. I like to think of Mahaska as a man of honor and integrity attempting to live and promote peace in a world where then as now peace is rarely given a chance, especially by white folks.

So I’m going to go back one day soon when the sun is shining and the leaves have turned and try for better photos, taking time this time for a cup of coffee at Smokey Row and a visit to the Book Vault. I suppose it’s unlikely they’ll let me play with the carillon during that visit either.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Remembrance of things past I'm afraid

It looks like the growing season will end decisevely tonight with a low of 22 degrees in the forecast after a day in the low 40s with strong winds. The overnight low here was only 32, so some of the plants closest to the house, especially those covered with blankets, may have survived. But that survival will be brief. At least there has been nothing more than a flurry of snow here, but more has fallen to the west and north. Brrrr.

It has been a wonderful growing season, especially for the New Guinea impatiens, and I've enjoyed every minute of it, but we'll not see anything like these flowers flourishing a week or so ago in front of the house again until next year. All that will remain next week will be to start clearing the debris and emptying the planters. There are about a dozen of these, my favorites of terra cota and manufactured in Vietnam. They're fairly thin, however, so must be emptied in order to survive the winter freeze-and-thaw cycle.

I got home last evening at dusk after a meeting in Oskaloosa thinking I was ready for the big chill. I'd brought into the garage Friday morning four plants I'll keep through the winter, including a unique white geranium found at the Grace Lutheran bazaar in Hanlontown a year or two ago. The last of the tomatoes (some of the best of the season for some reason) and peppers are sitting in a big basket in the garage awaiting attention.

But at the 11th hour I stumbled around in the dark hauling in two small planters and cutting enough asters and marigolds to fill the altar vases with garden-fresh flowers one more Sunday.

So I guess I'm as ready for the end of the season as I can be. Even the grass has been cut extraordinarily short so most of the leaves will blow down the gulch into the Woodlawn Apartments grounds where someone else will have to deal with them. Very late in the season, the big pin oak up on the corner will finally let loose of its leaves and many of those will blow down here and stick, but that's something to worry about another day.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Just passing through: J.W. and Maria Wilkerson

The badly weathered tombstone above in the original part of Chariton Cemetery marks the graves of “babes,” infant children who died in the 1860s of once-prominent attorney Joseph W. Wilkerson and his wife, Maria Louisa, and is the only physical reminder in Lucas County of them. Their surviving child, Joseph A., who died in 1889 at age 23 probably is buried here, too, although is grave is unmarked. J.W. and Maria are buried in Aspen Grove Cemetery at Burlington, her hometown. Like many others who played a part in Chariton’s founding, the Wilkersons as it turned out were just passing through. In their case, death was the vehicle by which they departed.

I got to thinking about Chariton’s old elite not long ago after glancing over at the Copeland mausoleum while on a genealogical errand at the cemetery. “Howard Darlington Copeland” is writ large in stone across the fa├žade of this classic little granite structure in a manner intended to ensure that no one ever forgets him. But clearly nearly everyone has.

Double-checking a minor H.D.C. fact, I stopped by the Lucas County Genealogical Society’s library later to look for the Copeland book. Errr. What Copeland book? Couldn’t even locate a copy of the guy’s obit in the card file. Not a single “Copeland” in the index of the latest Lucas County history, published in 2000. How the mighty have fallen!

When I say old elite (and new elite, too, I suppose) I’m thinking of Charitonians who are important, are thought to be important or who think of themselves as important --- or some combination of the above. You’ll find relatively few of these types on the jam-packed shelves lining the walls of the library’s main research room. They’ve died out, dried up, lost or spent their money and/or gone away.

Who you do find on those shelves are the ancestors of hard-working farm and small business families who stuck around and whose descendants have laboriously compiled data about their forbears into genealogies great and small.

But it’s fun to think now and then and write about the old elite even if in most cases they seem to have been just passing through in one way or another. Aren’t we all, after all?

Take the organizing vestry of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, for example, elected on 13 June 1867, less than a month before the first train reached Chariton on the newly-constructed Burlington & Missouri River Railroad tracks (later Chicago Burlington & Quincy, now the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe). On that fine summer day, Chariton still was the wild west. Sheriff Gaylord Lyman still was patrolling the streets. On the 6th of July three years later, he would be gunned down on the square and his killer, Hiram Wilson, tossed from a courthouse window with a rope around his neck by a lynch mob..

Chariton’s elite at that time tended to be Presbyterian, Methodist or Episcopalian. Pity the poor Baptist, or Catholic, or Lutheran, or Disciple of Christ.

The following account of that Episcopal vestry organizational meeting is taken from a 1904 newspaper article, written when the parish’s second building --- important, thought to be important and considered by its parishioners to be important --- was consecrated. That building succumbed to construction flaws and poverty-induced neglect in 1955 after a 20-year rough spot 1920s-1940s in parish history when too many parishioners died, dried up, lost or spent their money and/or went away.,

Note that all members of the vestry --- governing board of an Episcopal parish --- are men. Women, at that time, were allowed to form guilds, teach Sunday school, raise money and form themselves into the backbone of a congregation. But serve on the vestry and vote when important matters were to be decided? The very idea would have caused Bishop Henry Washington Lee to swoon. Parish history is a sideline of mine and I can guarantee you that had it not been for Episcopalian women who declined to give up, St. Andrew’s would have just been passing through, too.

“St. Andrew’s Parish, Chariton, Lucas County, Iowa, was organized June 13, 1867, by the election of Edward T. Edgington, C. W. Kittredge, Harmon Heed, R. Q. Tenney, S. H. Mallory and E. B. Woodward as members of the first Vestry.”

In September of that year, attorney Joseph W. Wilkerson, was the first addition to the vestry, perhaps replacing the highly-respected Edginton, who by that time was in disgrace after having lifted for personal pursuits some thousands of dollars in county funds. Some may recognize the name of Smith H. Mallory, for 40 years Chariton’s leading light, but who remembers the others, once thought to be unforgettable?
Just Passing Through

Joseph Wade Wilkerson may have been present at the organizational meeting of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Parish on Aug. 13, 1867, when a six-member vestry was elected. He was added to that vestry on Sept. 2, 1867, perhaps as a replacement (Edward T. Edginton, by then in considerable disgrace in Lucas County, may have resigned).

On March 28, 1868, J.W. and his wife, Maria Louisa, were baptized by the Rev. Isaac P. Labagh, founding rector of St. Andrew’s, along with Margaret M. McCormick, Emmet B. Woodward and Smith H. and Annie L. Mallory.

The Rt. Rev. Henry Washington Lee, first bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, confirmed all those baptized as well as Mrs. Woodward, Laura Elizabeth, during services in the old brick Lucas County Courthouse on Thursday evening, April 2, 1868.

J.W., in his mid-30s during 1867, was a rising young Chariton attorney then in partnership with Napoleon Bonaparte Branner as Wilkerson and Branner, Attorneys at Law and Land Agents. Their office was in the courthouse, too, then Chariton’s principal public building.

Census records 1850-1860 of Jo Daviess County, Illinois, and Lucas County, Iowa, 1860-1870, show that he was born in Indiana. His parents, James and Margaret A. Wilkerson, who were farmers, brought their family west soon after J.W.’s birth and they lived briefly in Illinois and then in Scott County, Iowa, before settling down in Jo Daviess County, perhaps during 1850, the birth locations for their children given in census records suggest. His obituary (Chariton Patriot, Dec. 25, 1872) gives his birth date as Dec. 23, 1833.

J.W. had arrived in Chariton by June 11, 1860, when he was enumerated in the federal census of that year as an attorney boarding in the home of James Baker, also an attorney, and Baker’s family. His assets were modest, $200 in real estate and $200 in personal property, suggesting he had not been in the profession long. His obituary states that he had studied law in Galena, Ill., located in Jo Daviess County. James Baker may have been his first partner.

According to Wilkerson’s obituary, his health had been badly impaired at age 19 by an attack of the measles that affected his lungs. The result was tuberculosis (then called “consumption”). Because of his impaired health, he did not serve during the Civil War but continued a solo practice in Chariton. His 1867 partner, N.B. Branner, had recently returned to Chariton from service in the Confederate army. He reportedly had studied law at Dandridge in Jefferson County, Tennessee, his birthplace, prior to the war. Branner had come first to Chariton in 1853 with his father, John, who had made one of Lucas County’s first fortunes by buying up military land warrants in Tennessee and then using them to enter large tracts of land in Iowa when it opened for settlement, selling that land in turn to emigrants. John Branner had remained in Lucas County during the Civil War, but his wife, Jane Cowan Branner, had never moved from Tennessee.

J.W. married during the early 1860s, probably at Burlington, Maria Louisa Cock. Maria’s father, Oliver Cock, of Burlington, was a brother of Robert Coles, who had changed his name from “Cock” to “Coles” by act of the Iowa Legislature in 1853, the year he settled with his family in Chariton. It may have been that family connection with Lucas County that provided the opportunity for J.W. and Maria to meet.

J.W. and Maria probably had three children during the 1860s, two of whom died as infants. A badly weathered tombstone in the Chariton Cemetery marks the graves of “Our Babes,” children of J.W. and M.L. Wilkerson. The surviving child, Joseph A., was born about 1867 in Chariton, but died at age 23, on June 20, 1889, in Chariton, like his father of consumption.

Maria died at Chariton in the late 1860s “suddenly of heart disease,” according to J.W’s obituary. Although her death is cited in published accounts as the first in St. Andrew’s Parish, no year is cited. Her body was taken to Aspen Grove Cemetery in Burlington for burial beside her father, who had died in 1861.

When the 1870 census was taken on Sept. 1 of that year, the widowed J.W. and his son, age 3, were living with several of his siblings, perhaps on the farm adjoining Chariton to the east called Cottage Grove that he and Maria had developed into something of a showplace. Those siblings were his sister, Maria (actually, Emeriah), age 26; and brothers John V., 24, Eugene, 22, and Willard, 17. Although all of the younger Wilkerson males were enumerated as farmers, Eugene had studied law, too, and reportedly practiced with his brother for a time.

Although J.W.’s assets had increased substantially between 1860 and 1870 ($12,000 in real estate and $10,500 in personal property according to the census entry) his health had declined. He attempted to recover in California during 1872, but returned home in the fall of that year and died in Chariton on Dec. 23, 1872. After funeral services in Chariton, his body was taken to Burlington by train and buried in Aspen Grove beside Maria.

Joseph A. Wilkerson, age 5 at the time of his father’s death, was raised in Chariton by his aunt, Emeriah, who never married and remained a Lucas County resident until after 1900 when she moved to California. Although his health apparently had been impaired since childhood, Joseph A. was working as a printer by the time of his death in 1889.

During 1887-1888, Joseph sought relief in California and in the mountains of Arizona Territory and thought for a time that he had found it, but the remission was temporary and he returned to Chariton, where he died.

The Chariton Patriot of June 26, 1889, characterizes him thus: “His natural intellectual endowments were of high order, and with adequate health would have gained him distinguished position. His sense of humor was quick and incisive, and he perceived intuitively the weakness and shams of human nature. He had a wise head for one so young and many a quiet smile will come at the memory of his quaint and pungent wit.”

Lucas County death records show that Joseph was buried in the Chariton Cemetery, most likely beside his infant siblings who had died in the 1860s. His grave is not marked, however.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Three, two, one, ignition, LIFTOFF!

Largely due to my own incompetence, I have turned the furnace on. But after two damp, cold days it seemed chilly and damp and dank in here and quite frankly both my butt and shoulders had begun to ache.

The shoulders ache because of too many years hunched over a computer keyboard, endlessly fingering, plus some damn fool stunts I should have known better than to undertake alone this summer; the butt, because I was for practical purposes born without one. That means there's no padding between bony ends and whatever they're planted on --- unpadded church pews, nearly every sort of chair made available at public meetings and the chair I'm sitting on now, kind to shoulders, not too kind to a bony butt.

Had I been able to find the electric blanket I might have held out another few days, although the long-range forecast looks cold and damp, too. I remember taking it off the bed last spring, unraveling the nest of wires it requires, folding wires and control box neatly within the blanket and then putting it somewhere. I have no idea where. I keep opening the door of the linen closet in the upstairs hall, then looking in the bottom dresser drawer in my bedroom --- just to make sure it's really in neither logical place. It isn't. It'll turn up. Hopefully before snow flies.

The furnace always takes a little getting used to. It has electric ignition rather than a pilot light and since this is a small house it takes a while to get used to a sequence that really does sound at first as if the entire building is about to be launched.


I'm also going to have the first acorn squash of the season for supper, which I suppose means fall is really here. I really like squash and it's really good for me, too, or at least it would be if I didn't cook it the way I do, which of course is the only civilized way to cook it:

Split and seed acorn squash; bake face-down on foil-covered pan until 97 percent done; flip over; insert large pat of butter, fill cavity with either browned bulk sausage or small link sausages, top with brown sugar and cook 10 more minutes.

I'm afraid the butter, sausage and brown sugar neutralize the healthy aspects of squash, but what's a guy to do?


The egrets still are with us, but sensible birds that they are have abandoned their usual roost with the cormorants on dead trees sticking up some distance from shoreline down at the marsh. Instead, they've taken to the trees (with leaves) around a cove at the northeast corner of the main pond, near the river. It'll be interesting to see if they come back to the old roost when the sun shines again --- if it ever does.

The good neighbor and eldest daughter took guns and hiked down the greenbelt trail below the cemetery and across the old river bridge last evening to see if there were geese to be scared off the marsh way back in there. As it turned out there were, but all were spared.

The useful information that came out of that trek is that both the main trail, which follows the original meandering route across the bottoms of the road that now is Highway 14 and shoots straight south toward Corydon, has been clipped, as has the loop on the north side of the river. So that will be good hiking when it dries out a little.

On the other hand, deer season is open for bow hunters so I expect I'd better find something bright to wear. I'd hate to come home with an arrow in that bony butt that already hurts.