Friday, February 23, 2018

Miss Capitola Dukes among the heathen ...

I like to think that the typesetter who formed the headline "Heathen at the Baptist Church" for The Chariton Herald back in February of 1898 at least grinned a little as he was doing it. Chariton's newspaper editors back in those days tended toward heathenism themselves and occasionally were taken to task for it --- most often, however, from the Methodist rather than the Baptist pulpit.

The headline introduced a brief story about a missionary program at First Baptist Church  organized by the worthy Miss Capitola Dukes, then heading up the congregation's Mission Society: "The Baptist missionary society had charge of the services at the First Baptist church last Sunday evening during the hour usually given to the evening sermon. The missionary cause was presented in an unusual but effective way. Genuine costumes, such as are worn by the heathens, were procured, consisting of Chinese, Hindoo, African and Japanese toggery. Capitola Dukes acted as Missionary and other members of the society adjusted their complexions to suit the particular parts they took and donned the garb of the mongolians and blacks of the east. With this "make-up" they formed a scene so striking that the audience could with ease imagine they were face to face with the natives of heathendom. After a program had been rendered a collection was taken for the benefit of missions."

I'm trying to envision distinguished Baptist matrons in blackface cavorting around the platform at the old First Baptist Church in native costume --- and failing. But it certainly must have been "striking."

Capitola, born during 1863, would have been 34 in 1898 --- and with her sister, Miss Daisy Dukes, was acting as a companion to their venerable father, Harrison L. Dukes (their mother had died some 15 years earlier).

Although a heathen himself, Harrison Dukes was widely respected in Lucas County and had encouraged his children to pick churches and attend, if they wished. Miss Capitola and Miss Daisy settled on First Baptist. Capitola led mission efforts; Daisy became the church organist.

Capitola had trained as a missionary at what was described as a "Baptist training school for missionaries" in Chicago, 1891-93. During 1899, a year after the reported upon missionary program in Chariton, she set off to work for a year and a half as city missionary among the heathen of Tacoma, Washington. Later on, she worked briefly as a missionary in the Dakotas, too.

Sadly, her career was cut short when she suffered a stroke on May 10, 1905, age 42, and died at home in Chariton. She was Sunday school superintendent at the time. Her father died two years later, leaving Miss Daisy as the sole survivor among siblings who had once numbered seven.

When she was 39, Miss Daisy married George Fancher, but he died in less than a week after the ceremony leaving her his abstract business, which she operated for the next 12 years. In 1923, she married Philip A. Rockey of Russell, and that marriage lasted for 20 years. Following his death, she moved in with Miss Jennie Haywood, who operated the Russell switchboard, and they lived together companionably until Daisy's death in 1956. Daisy ended her musical career as pianist at First Presbyterian Church in Rossell.

All of the Dukes, including Capitola and Daisy Dukes Fancher-Rockney, are buried in the Chariton Cemetery.

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