Saturday, January 07, 2017

Tracking down the Dunlaps at Rock Rapids

Discovery that digital versions of Rock Rapids newspaper editions back to 1883 are available online via that city's public library has been a bright spot of this otherwise bleak midwinter. Look over to the left on this screen shot of the library's home page and you'll see the link.

And increasing number of Iowa public libraries and some historical societies are providing this service for communities across the state, a tremendous asset not only their own programs but of great benefit to researchers unable to visit in person. Here's a link to a list, not necessarily complete, of historic Iowa newspaper archives currently online via a blog, The Ancestor Hunt.

So I've been fiddling for a couple of days, rather than doing more useful things, by tracking down details of my Dunlap family in that far northwest corner of Iowa.


There always have been Dunlap mysteries (to me at least), primarily because the family of my maternal grandmother, Ethel (Dent) Myers, was broken up when she was 13 by the death of her mother, Susan Elizabeth (Dunlap) Dent, of tuberculosis. Grandmother was sent to Lucas County to live with her aunt, Sarah Minerva (Chynoweth) Rosa, while her father, Cassius M.C. "Cash" Dent, and younger brothers, Homer and Frank, high-tailed it to Wyoming where the rest of their lives were spent in ranching and other livestock-related operations.

Another reason to be intrigued by the Dunlaps is that my namesake, Franklin Dunlap, died at Rock Rapids and is buried in Riverview, the city cemetery. His grandson, Frank Dent, was named for him; my father, Daniel Frank Myers, was named in part for his uncle, Frank Dent; and I was named after my father of course.

Somewhat eccentric burial practices, however, complicated research. For some reason, the family chose not to mark the graves of its deceased members although it certainly could have afforded to do so at the time they died. There is a family stone inscribed "Dunlap" on our Riverview Cemetery lot, but absolutely no indication of who rests near it.


Franklin Dunlap and his wife, Sarah I. (Hunter) Dunlap, had lived since 1860 near Washington in Washington County, Iowa, when in 1882 a group of friends and neighbors became interested in the potential of far northwest Iowa and began to invest in land there. The group was led by Horace G. McMillan (later spelled MacMillan --- after the family had become significant enough to fuss about the appropriate way to spell its Scots surname), a lawyer who went on to become a minor mover and shaker in Iowa politics and journalism.

The Dunlaps purchased a quarter section southwest of Rock Rapids, near the McMillan holdings, during 1882 and moved there during 1885. Their daughter, Susan Elizabeth (my great-grandmother) had married Cash Dent, Horace McMillan's right-hand man, and they already were living there. The seven other Dunlap children accompanied their parents to northwest Iowa and son John W. went on to study law under H.G. McMillan, then become his law partner.

Great-grandfather Cash worked for H.G. McMillan as manager for a quarter century, developing the McMillan "ranch" --- Lakewood Farm --- into one of the most renowned livestock operations in the upper Midwest, specializing in Percheron horses, Shorthorn cattle and Poland China hogs. Some of these livestock operations were developed by the partnership McMillan & Dent although Cash never owned any of the actual farm.

Lakewood Farm still is there, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, although it would be hard to visualize it now as headquarters for an operation that once required 20-30 hired hands to operate. The McMillans, however, went belly-up financially during the 1920s, and several others have owned it since.

In any case, the Dunlaps prospered in Lyon County, too --- but tuberculosis, then known as consumption, began to stalk the family during the 1890s. Daughter Samantha Irene, a school teacher, was the first to die, at age 23 in 1893, and the first to be buried on the family lot. The disease would claim four of their eight children --- my great-grandmother in 1901, daughter Melinda "Linnie," also a teacher, during 1903, and  John W. Dunlap in 1905, when he was 38. Both Susan Elizabeth and John W. also are buried in the family lot in Rock Rapids. Franklin Dunlap, then 72, died of a stroke during July of 1900 and is interred there, too.

The widowed Sarah (Hunter) Dunlap and daughter, Melinda, are not buried in Iowa, however. As Melinda's health began to deteriorate, Sarah took her to Santa Barbara, California, in the hope a change in climate would be beneficial. They had just built a house there when "Linnie" died during 1903 and was buried in the Santa Barbara Cemetery. 

Sarah remained in Santa Barbara, but during 1905 --- after the fourth of her children, John, had died of tuberculosis --- returned to the Midwest to visit her remaining children. She became ill during August while visiting her sons James and Robert near Flandreau, South Dakota, where they had established themselves as real estate and insurance agents, and died there. She then became what we sometimes insensitively refer to as the most widely traveled corpse in the West. After funeral services in Rock Rapids her remains were taken to Cedar Rapids and placed in a receiving vault until winter when it became more practical to ship them to California where they were then buried next to Linnie in Santa Barbara.

Of the remaining children, James died in South Dakota during 1933 and his remains were returned to Riverside in Rock Rapids for burial and Robert died during 1950 in California and was buried in Santa Barbara. Daughter Mary Allie (1866-1932) married Frank Wallace, a Rock Rapids undertaker and furniture merchant, and they raised three daughters, Irene Wallace Weatherly-Daggett; Ida Craig Wallace and Kathryn Wallace Werkhoven. With the exception of Kathryn, who died in California, all of the Wallaces also are buried at Riverside --- but in marked graves. I haven't managed to track down son Franklin Eugene Dunlap, who worked all across the country for various railroads. But I'm working on it.

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