Thursday, May 25, 2017

Memorial Day in a time of war

Lucas County Historical Society collection.
Charles F. Wennerstrum --- district court judge, Iowa Supreme Court justice and a presiding judge during the Nuremberg Trials --- was one of Lucas County's most distinguished jurists.

Also a veteran of World War I, Judge Wennerstrum --- then in his mid-50s --- sat down during May of 1945 to write a guest editorial headlined "Memorial Day --- 1945" for The Herald-Patriot, published in its May 31 edition.

At the time the world was suspended between V-E Day, May 2, which had marked the end of World War II in Europe, and V-J Day, Sept. 2, the date of Japanese surrender.

Take a moment to go back more than 60 years, now, and read his words:


We observe Memorial Day in 1945 with mixed emotions. The cessation of the war in Europe has brought our country a feeling of subdued satisfaction that part of our war tasks is completed. We are all conscious of the fact that the responsibility for the successful conclusion of the war with Japan still is our further obligation. Our job is only half done.

The quiet observance of V-E day gave evidence of the fact that all of us have been touched by the stark realities of the ravages of war. There is hardly a family that has not been affected. And so on Memorial Day in 1945 all of us have particular reason to pay solemn homage to those men and women who have made the supreme sacrifice in the European and Japanese wars. In paying honor to those who have given their all for their country during these later conflicts we are not unmindful of the sacrifices made by many in World War I and the other armed conflicts in which our nation has been involved.

Memorial Day is by its very name a day of memories. It is a day when we give official recognition to the memory of those of the armed services of all wars who have passed to the great Beyond. Although it is primarily a day of memories it is, and should be, a day of dedication. If our memories are purposeful we must dedicate our efforts to the completion of the tasks for which others gave of their lives and efforts in the present and past wars. If we do not make it a day of dedication and high resolve, the observance of this day is a mere formality.

We must seek to gain from this day an inspiration to carry on the work that they who sacrificed left unfinished. The growth of freedom in all nations, the care of the oppressed, the aid to under-privileged children, and last but not least, the care of those ravaged by battle conflict in mind and body is the responsibility of the living. This is our duty to which we should dedicate our efforts. To this task on each Memorial Day we must ever realize that except by our dedication to complete the work they began, the sacrifices of our dead heroes will have been in vain.

The American Legion and other veteran organizations have been organized to carry on the work so sacrificially began by those that gave their all. It is not alone the task of members of these organizations. It is the responsibility of all citizens. Let us all be mindful of this responsibility.


Judge Wennerstrum arrived in Chariton during 1915, a year after earning his law degree from Drake University, then headed off to war two years later. Upon his return, he served as county attorney and, during 1930, was appointed judge of Iowa's Second Judicial District, then was elected to two full terms. In 1940, he was elected Iowa Supreme Court justice and continued to serve in that position until 1958. He also served two full years --- in six-month increments --- as chief justice.

President Harry S. Truman named Wennerstrum a Nuremburg Tribunals judge during 1947 and he served in that capacity until February of 1948 when he returned to Chariton with his wife, Helen, and daughter, Joann, and resumed his seat on the Iowa Supreme Court bench.

After retirement from the bench, he entered private law practice in Des Moines and moved there from Chariton during 1959. He died in Des Moines on June 1, 1986, age 96, and his remains were returned to Chariton for burial beside his wife and son, Roger.


Memorial Day was moved during 1971 from its traditional date, May 30, to the final Monday in May, tagged onto the end of a three-day holiday weekend. Perhaps that's made it more of a challenge to remember the founding purpose of the day.

It was not established as a day to celebrate the return of summer --- or principally to decorate the graves of  all our deceased family members and friends. It isn't a day to honor all veterans (that's Veterans Day, Nov. 11) nor is it a day to honor those currently serving in the armed forces (that's Armed Forces Day, the third Saturday in May). And "Happy Memorial Day" just isn't an appropriate greeting.

It remains a day of solemn remembrance and rededication. As Judge Wennerstum put it, "To this task on each Memorial Day we must ever realize that except by our dedication to complete the work they began, the sacrifices of our dead heroes will have been in vain."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A little courthouse history ...

Here's the little essay I put together to remind myself Monday of what to say about Lucas County's courthouse history as the restored tower clock was rededicated on its 123rd birthday. There's nothing really new here; just a summary of significant dates with a few details thrown in for good measure.


Lucas County has had a courthouse park since the original town was platted during the fall of 1849, but the first courthouse was built on a lot on the east side of the square, just south of the alley. The county had absolutely no money --- the county commissioners had to borrow from a private citizen to purchase the Chariton town site. The first courthouse was paid for from the revenue that resulted from the first sale of town lots.

This was an 18-foot by 22-foot story and a half structure constructed of hand-hewn oak logs, ordered up by the county supervisors during April of 1850. According to their directions, there were to be two hand-made walnut doors facing what now is North Grand --- one into the first-floor room and the other, up a flight of exterior stairs to a platform in the front of the second story --- and five windows, three on the first floor, two on the second. People were shorter during the 1850s, but even so, the second floor had a head-crunching low ceiling in places.

During May of 1850, Beverly Searcy’s bid of $374 for construction was accepted by the supervisors and the building was completed during October. During 1851, the first-floor courtroom was furnished with 16 benches made of hewn and split linden logs with oak legs pegged in --- and a “pulpit.”

During most of its useful life, this was the only large public meeting space in Chariton so in addition to sessions of county court, everything from church services to dances were held here, too. There were very few county records to store so no need for vaults; and most county officials conducted business out of their pockets --- no real need for offices.


During June of 1858, Lucas County voters approved construction of a new brick courthouse, to be located on the spot where our current courthouse stands. Everything about the process appears to have been very casual --- or careless if looked at another way. 

A construction bid of $13,500 submitted by W.T. Wade was accepted and work began, using brick fired down on the Chariton River bottom south of Salem Church and hauled into town by ox-drawn wagons. Ethan Gard, county judge, supervised the process. Some alleged that he made up the plan as the building progressed. The building was first occupied, although still incomplete, during 1860 and its cost, which soared to about $23,000, came close to bankrupting the county.

Despite all its issues, this was a beautiful 60-foot-square brick building topped by a big cupola containing a bell that soared above a hipped room. There were four offices divided by cross-halls on the first floor; two more offices and a big courtroom on the second. There were no vaults --- not enough county records to justify them when the courthouse was built, so these were added in the east-west cross halls at a later date. The court room continued to serve as Chariton’s major assembly room and, in order to generate income, some of the offices were rented out to lawyers and newspapermen.

This was the building that saw more than 800 young men from Lucas County march off to serve during the Civil War and, during July of 1870, the unfortunate Hiram Wilson was thrown out a second-floor window with a rope around his neck after having shot Sheriff Gaylord Lyman dead.

The building had a huge problem, however. Its foundation consisted of log beams laid down atop wood pilings, far less than the support needed by heavy brick walls. Almost immediately, those walls began to settle and crack and as the years passed, more and more iron rods were inserted to hold the structure together. Finally, during 1891, the Lucas County grand jury ordered that the building be abandoned, county offices were evacuated to commercial buildings and the courthouse was torn down during February of 1892, just 32 years after it had been completed.


During August of 1892, Lucas County voters approved a bond issue of $60,000 to construct our current courthouse. Bids were let during October, foundation work began immediately and the cornerstone was placed on May 25, 1893. County officers occupied the new 70-foot by 90-foot building, constructed of brick and Berea limestone in the Romanesque revival style, on Feb. 26, 1894. This time, estimates, bids and actual expenditures tallied and the courthouse was built and furnished for $59, 670.

Although the courthouse tower, which soared to 140 feet, was built as planned, no provision had been made for the clock itself until Jan. 1, 1894, when Smith Henderson Mallory announced that he would provide one as a gift. He had admired the big clock in the Iowa Building at the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893, which he was superintendent off, and ordered a similar one from the Seth Thomas clock works at Thomaston, Connecticut.

The new clock arrived in Chariton by train during February and was duly installed in the courthouse tower, fine-tuned and tested. This building was dedicated officially 123 years ago --- on May 22, 1894, and this clock --- whose restoration was are celebrating this spring --- was fully wound and set to running for the first time on that day as well.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Climbing the tower of Lucas County

The bonus after yesterday's rededication of the restored courthouse clock --- 123 years to the day and hour after it started running at 10 a.m. on May 22, 1894 --- was a chance to visit our collective timepiece in its tower home.

First, however, we listened as the big tower bell chimed 10 o'clock, then Steve Laing, county supervisor who led the restoration drive, thanked everyone involved --- committee members, others who had helped out, Rory DeMesy of Minneapolis who did the restoration work and, especially, the generous donors who made the project possible. I talked a little about Lucas County's courthouse history, commencing in 1850; then it was time for cookies and coffee.

Steve then offered anyone interested a tour of the tower, an area of the courthouse not visited that often, and several of us accepted.

The ascent begins with this short flight of stairs, ending at a door, located just off the courtroom lobby on the top floor of the courthouse.

Beyond the door, the long flight of stairs doubles back on itself and climbs to a landing. Straight ahead at the top is the entrance to the courthouse attic, used for storage. To the left, a door leads into a low-ceilinged, windowless room.

This room is located just above the second-floor windows in the base of the courthouse tower, behind the carved stone that identifies the "Lucas County Court House."

As you're coming up the stairs, on your right, generations of people --- mostly students --- have engraved their names in black-painted plaster.

The clock pendulum descends through a slot in the ceiling and swings back and forth in this small room, guarded by new framing that also adds support to the floor of the clock chamber above. The big lead weights that are wound up, then descend to power the clock, travel in chutes built into the corners of this level of the tower.

The metal boxes, probably brought from the 1858 courthouse, contain county records that date at the least back into the 1860s and most likely always have been stored here.

It looks as if this low room originally was open, but has been subdivided and the area around the pendulum, now used for storage, insulated. The pendulum and weights, removed when the clock was electrified during the 1970s, were kept at the Lucas County Historical Society museum and returned to the county when the restoration project began.

The white door, just visible in the second photo above, leads through a newer wall to what once was an open staircase to the clock chamber immediately above. The workmanship on the stairway and other tower details is extraordinary, considering the fact this never was intended to be a public area.

This is a much shorter flight, climbing north along the tower's west wall into the many-windowed clock chamber.

Note that there are few if any cracks in the original plaster applied 123 years ago directly onto masonry in the tower.

The clock chamber, lighted on all four sides of the tower by large windows, is for the most part filled by an elaborate wooden case, entirely as originally built, that contains the Seth Thomas clockworks. There's just enough room around it for the stairs leading up to the chamber on the west and a narrow walkway around the north, east and south walls of the case.

The east windows look out on the courthouse's slate roof; the south windows, out across the finials on the west gable;

the west windows, onto the west side of the square;

and the north windows onto the north side of the square.

Because the clockworks case takes up much of the clock chamber, it's almost impossible to get a decent image of it. Although the case has never been altered, it has been "decorated" over the years with more of those messages scratched into the finish. The viewing window is in the north side of the case.

It is topped by a heavy cornice.

And this elaborate door into the case, which Steve is pushing a little farther open, is on the east side.

Here's how the beautifully refurbished clockworks look.

And here, you can see the pendulum swinging through its slot in the floor.

Rory DeMesy disassembled the clockworks and took them home with him to Minneapolis during March of 2015, then brought them home last November. Alterations made when the works were electrified during the 1970s had been removed, missing parts re-installed and the whole affair cleaned and polished to within an inch of its life. After that, the entire clock was reassembled in its original configuration in the tower and the mechanism that allows it to operate four clock faces simultaneously reactivated. New hand were installed on the clock faces, too.

The only "modern" alterations to the original are electric winders that crank the weights up automatically when the clock needs to be "wound." A hand crank originally was used for this purpose and at some point a bicycle was rigged up to allow leg power, rather than arm power, to be used.

The stairs end at the second level of the clock tower, but access to the bell chamber on the third level (behind those exterior louvers) and the room behind the clock faces on the fourth level is gained by climbing the metal ladder behind Patti Bisgard (who had just climbed down it) in this photo. The ladder, they tell me, is much sturdier than it looks.

Dave Laing and Denny Bisgard climbed all the way to the top; Patti stopped at the bell chamber.

Dave took this shot of the bell, which as you can see was cast in St. Louis during 1883. And that's another little puzzle. Since it's 10 years older than the clock, where did it come from?

There's some possibility that this was a bell added to the 1858 courthouse years after it was built, then recycled when the old courthouse was torn down during January and February of 1892. There was no clock in the 1858 courthouse, but its big bell was used regularly to summon residents to meetings or other events at the courthouse or in its park.

Or the bell may have hung originally in another Chariton building prior to 1894. Or it may just have been purchased elsewhere and imported as the courthouse was nearing completion. We may never know the answer.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Happy birthday courthouse! Happy birthday clock!

Lucas County grand Romanesque revival courthouse is celebrating its official 123rd birthday --- May 22, 1894, the date of dedication --- today. She scarcely looks a day over 100, does she?

This also is the day that the vintage Seth Thomas clock in the courthouse tower, a gift to Lucas County from Smith Henderson Mallory, was set to running for the first time after months of assembly, installation and fine-tuning.

Back in 1894, a dedicatory ceremony for both building and clock was held on this date in the top-floor courtroom.

Today, the current county supervisors and courthouse staff, under the direction of Supervisor Steve Laing whose dream it was to fully restore the 1894 clock, will gather on the courthouse lawn to rededicate this beautiful timepiece, still chiming out the hours and quarters after all those years.

After the clock chimes out 10 o'clock this morning, there will be a brief program followed by coffee and cookies. All are welcome!

Everything's coming up roses and peonies

Memorial Day is near and out at the Chariton Cemetery the white rose is blooming again, rambling up the big stone the marks the graves of James and Delia Robbins. To my mind this is the best bedecked tombstone in the cemetery, flanked as it is, too, by pink and white peonies. And it's all natural, courtesy of family members who planted these floral tributes not long after the couple died during 1922.

A couple of years ago, the rose was trimmed back to the ground by groundskeepers and it's taken a while to bounce back. But this year, it's flourishing.

The Robbins moved to Lucas County from Indiana back in 1864 and farmed for nearly 50 years in both Lucas and Clarke counties. During 1910, they retired and moved into Chariton.

After 61 years of marriage, they died a day apart --- James on Sunday, April 30, 1922; and Delia, on Monday, May 1. Joint funeral services were held on the following Wednesday at First Methodist Church and burial followed here.

Here's how The Herald-Patriot of May 4 described them: "The two lives of Mr. and Mrs. Robbins were lived out in peculiarly beautiful harmony. They began life within about three months of each other, and went out into the Afterlife almost hand in hand. Their relations had always been thus. No home could have been more truly knit together than theirs. During the long years of Mrs. Robbins' sickness her husband was her constant attendant and companion. They were an exemplary family in all their relations in the community. A multitude of former neighbors and friends from all the places where they lived testify to the sterling worth and warm goodness of these departed friends."

Here and elsewhere in the cemetery, the peonies are in full bloom right now --- and it looks like they'll be fairly well gone by Memorial Day itself. So if you want to admire them in full bloom, this is the week to drive through.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday morning, Pentatonix & "Imagine"

John Lennon's 1971 "Imagine" appeared, unless memory has failed me, at about the time I was headed home from Vietnam --- disillusioned before, during and now long after by the empty promises of religianity, nationalism and the consumerist faith.

We seem no nearer now than then of realizing the dream, but it's still a good one.

So here's a new Sunday morning version by Pentatonix.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Clarifying Charles Rhineheart's tombstone record

This tiny tombstone in the Chariton Cemetery, looking much larger here in a closeup than it really is, marks the grave of Charles Rhineheart (or Rhinehart) who would, were the inscription on it accurate, be one of the graveyard's oldest residents. According to the inscription, Charlies died Dec. 4, 1903, but his death actually occurred a month earlier, on Nov. 4. And the inscribed age --- 105 years, now below ground unless you dig a little --- appears to be an exaggeration.

When the 1900 census of Chariton was taken three years before his death, Charles was living with Romulus R. and Lillie Richmond and their eight children. According to that record, he was born during July of 1811 in North Carolina and was aged 88 when the census-taker called. So it seems most likely that he was "only" 92 when he died. There's little doubt, however, that he had been born into slavery.

Mr. Rhineheart's death, which occurred at the county home, was reported in The Chariton Democrat of Dec. 12, 1903, as follows:

"Chas. Rhinehart (colored), perhaps the oldest man in Lucas county, died on Wednesday evening, November 4, at the age of about a hundred years. Funeral services conducted by Rev. Press Irwin were held at the A.M.E. church on Friday morning at 10 o'clock and were attended by a large entourage of sorrowing friends."

Charles had entered the county home, also known at the time as the county hospital, when his health deteriorated to the point the Richmonds no longer were able to care for him. They had taken him in after the death of his son and caregiver, Newton, three years earlier. Charles's grave is located near the unmarked final resting place of his son.

Here's Newton's obituary from The Patriot of March 1, 1900:

Died, at his home in this city, Friday, Feb. 23, 1900, at 10 o'clock a.m., Newton Rhinehart, aged 21 years. Funeral services were held from the colored M.E. church Saturday afternoon at 2 o'clock, conducted by a colored minister from Osceola, and the remains interred in the Chariton cemetery. Newton had been sick for a long time with a complication of diseases, but notwithstanding the fact that he was scarcely able to be about, he worked faithfully at the depot hotel and supported his aged father, Charles Rhinehart. A short time ago he took the mumps, which, with other diseases, culminated in his death. His aged and almost helpless father is deserving of pity, for by the death of his son he has lost his only support. Mr. Richmond, a colored friend, has kindly offered him a home, which act of charity and love are certainly commendable.


Charles and his son and perhaps other family members seem to have arrived in Chariton about 1890, but I've just not been able to track them down before that. So for the time being, this is about all there is to report about the family.

Charles and Newton are buried on lots that appear to have no other occupants, but cemetery records show that this is not the case at all. They have a number of neighbors who rest in unmarked graves, including a murder victim --- but that's a story for another time.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Henry Gittinger and "the black cloud"

The little essay that follows, written during December of 1919 by Henry W. Gittinger, editor and publisher of The Chariton Leader, is neither definitive nor especially accurate history (dates --- and some of his assertions --- are skewed). But I found his brief review of coal mining history in western Lucas County interesting. Plus, I'd never seen the black miners who began arriving to work in Lucas-area mines during the early 1880s and subsequently formed the base of Lucas County's black population referred to as a "black cloud."

The essay and other Lucas-related news appeared in The Leader of Dec. 18, 1919, on a page headed "Lucas Ledger." Henry had acquired rights to the Ledger name as well as the old newspaper's subscription list back in 1911 when its former editor folded his tent, packed his press and headed for greener pastures.

Gittinger revived the The Ledger name in The Leader during December of 1919 as the Iowa-Nebraska Mine was being developed in the hills southwest of Lucas --- now within Stephens State Forest. This was to be the last major effort to revive the coal mining industry in the Lucas area in a big way. Although the new mine did not live up to expectations, it continued to operate into 1923.

Henry continued to include a "Lucas Ledger" page in his newspaper well into 1920, when he sold out and moved briefly to Des Moines to pursue other interests. The new owners discontinued the Ledger and although Henry rejoined The Leader in 1922 as editor but no longer owner, it was not revived.

The political references in the essay are no longer relevant --- although it's worth pointing out that black miners and their families dominated Lucas County's political scene during the 1880s and early 1890s only in the East Cleveland precinct so the influence attributed to them here is overstated. 

Nor did either unionization or black miners --- recruited in Virginia during the summer of 1883 by the Whitebreast Coal & Mining Co. to show white miners who was boss --- kill mining in Jackson Township. That was a factor of mined-out coalfields and management decisions. As mining declined in western Lucas County, it rose and flourished in central and northeastern parts of the county.

Henry's reference in his opening paragraph to the "first of November" refers to the nationwide United Mine Workers strike called by Lucas native John L. Lewis, then acting president of the UMW, on Nov. 1, 1919, that was ended by an injunction obtained by President Woodrow Wilson, which Lewis obeyed. Lewis went on to be elected UMW president during 1920.


Owing to the locating of the new coal works, just west of Lucas, it would appear that the pristine glory of Lucas is to be restored, not that the town has waned, but once it was quickened by the activities of those who delved deep into the earth and exhumed the black diamonds, the value of which we have realized since the first of November. The switch out to the mine has been delayed owing to the cold weather, but Glenn Roberts, the contractor, will push the work with all haste when weather conditions will permit, and by the time the next summer coal demands begin, Lucas will be furnishing a large daily output.

And, by the way, why would it not be profitable to turn to the retrospect for a brief moment. This is the westermost coal field in Iowa (deep vein) on the line of the Burlington, and therefore will have the advantage of a shorter haul.

It was as far back as 1876 when the first coal was discovered near Lucas, and soon the great activities began and Cleveland came into existence and became the headquarters of the Whitebreast Coal company, at that time the largest works in close proximity of Lucas, and there was "quick coming to and fro," for there was life all along the line. This was the outgrowth of a prospecting company composed of G.C. Osgood, L.R. Fix, Wesley Jones, of Burlington, and William Haven, of Ottumwa, the same William Haven who developed the Inland mine near Chariton, and who was instrumental in getting the Central Iowa Fuel Co. in to develop the field, so to him is properly due the entire coal development in Lucas county.

But what is past is past, the future has not been revealed and the present pressages much.


The things of which we speak were in the "good old days" before labor unions had become so well organized and "chips" were issued in the company stories. On the first forenoon that the Osgood store (for miners' trade) was opened, $3,000 worth of goods had been passed over the counters before dinner, and the profits were good, because company stores were not in business for the proprietor's health, or as an act of benevolence.

Then there came the big strike and things were never the same as before, although the men went back to work after a time, but the company had invoked a black cloud from Virginia, and within that black cloud was the African who became a competitor in the under world diamond field, and a city was built for him at East Cleveland --- and here he flourished like a green bay tree ---- and was courted much by the local politicians who used to recline on the hillsides just before election time, catch the "fathers of the first families of Virginia" in their nets and flatter them into promises of support, for they were very "promising" sovereigns --- and sometimes they did and sometimes they didn't. It is said and believed that the political history of Lucas county would have read differently had the Hon. George Boggs, who was an aspirant for the state senate, been able to clinch the colored promise, but he was oppressed and chagrined to see the procession pass by, carrying his opponent's transparence and gayly singing:

"We lubs you, Marsa Boggs.
But yo' maybe won't be dar!"
Neither was he at the wind up.

And the East Cleveland precinct blighted many ambitions as well as starting numerous other fellow citizens on their pilgrimage to preferential glory, for the East Cleveland African was a mighty political force as well as a strike buster.


In those days when one came down from the table lands on the train from the east --- down the steep grade, the steepest on the Burlington route in the state, his eyes scanned the base of the hills and beheld the triple cities --- East Cleveland (where hovered the black cloud), Cleveland and further to the west, Lucas, with their turrets and spires; their domes and steeples --- and the tall stacks and the shafts where the smoke floated out and upward towards the sky --- and his ears heard the rumble and roar of activity. But like the cities of antiquity the white Cleveland has been obliterated and the black shadow is gone. But Lucas endures, active, vigorous and supreme as the central mart of a fertile country ---- with this new mine soon to open.

But even in the palmy days of the Whitebreast Coal Company near Lucas --- or near its beginning, there was tribulation. On the third day of August, 1878, the top works were burned and a number of men were at the bottom of the shaft in various parts of the mine and there was danger of suffocation. It was then that T.J. Phillips, the superintendent, proved that he was a hero. He fastened a wire cable, dropped it into the pit, braved the falling debris, and entered the shaft, going hand over hand to the bottom, 338 feet, to the rescue, rendezvousing the men at the air shaft and starting the fans. Had he not done this they would have perished. As a man he was of peculiar makeup --- austere and even tyrannical at times, and yet underneath it all he would brave any hazard or personal risk when a fellow mortal was in danger. And as a concluding thought --- he feared not to enter the pit through fire and descend to a great depth on a wire rope in order to rescue doomed men, yet he had not power to be elected governor of Iowa on the democratic ticket years later. This is a mere reflection and has no connection with the incident narrated.

But we have not set out to write a history of Lucas or the west end of the county, still it is brought to our mind that the first known settlers to locate in Jackson township was in the year 1850, and among these were Joseph Mundell, E.C. Rankin, Adrain S. Yoakley, all coming together. William Quinn came in 1851, Nathan Dix in 1852, and Moses Marsh in 1853, and John Mundell, S.W. Prim and the Worthings pitched their tents here in 1854. How many, or how few, of their descendants are now numbered with her citizens. Lucas was not yet --- not until H.S. Russell, trustee for the Burlington railroad company, established the station and town in 1868 --- May. And gave the town of Russell, in the east part of the county his own name. E.C. Rankin became a big land owner and later conducted a store and kept the post office at Tallahoma, to the north or northwest --- all passed away and forgotten.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Moses N. Marsh and the Tallahoma post office

Artifacts related to Tallahoma --- one of three Western Stage Coach Co. stops in Lucas County and U.S. post office from 1853-1875 --- are few and far between. But, somewhat remarkably, the certificate confirming the appointment of Moses N. Marsh as postmaster on March 10, 1863, has survived in near perfect condition and has been on display since the 1970s at the Lucas County Historical Society museum. 

It was donated during 1971 by Theo Lang Wilson, then of Indianola, a descendant of Marsh.

If you were traveling through Lucas County by stage coach during 1853, your coach would have stopped to change horses first at Lagrange, on the Lucas-Monroe county line, then at Henry Allen's log hotel on the southeast corner of the Chariton square. Exiting northwest Chariton on the stage route to Osceola, Tallahoma would have been the next stop --- on rising ground just west of White Breast Creek in Jackson Township, a couple of miles northeast of Lucas. The latter town did not appear until after the railroad passed through in 1867.

Tallahoma was a joint commercial enterprise of East Tennessee natives John Branner and his protege, Edwin C. Rankin, who arrived in Lucas County during 1853 with military land warrants purchased at discounted rates from Mexican War veterans and, using them, acquired thousands of acres of land. Branner, who located in Chariton, was the major player; Ranken, acting on his own behalf and as Branner's agent, located at Tallahoma.

The name was derived from a town in Tennessee, Tullahoma, familiar to both Branner and Rankin. But the postal department inadvertently spelled the name with an "a" rather than a "u" and Tallahoma it became.

In addition to the stage stop, stabling for horses and a blacksmith shop, the Rankins also operated a small general store at Tallahoma. Beds and meals were available for travelers, too. It was never a town, however, and vanished a few years after the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad was built a couple of miles to the south and the new town --- and post office --- of Lucas established alongside it.


Rankin was named postmaster on Aug. 23, 1853, and held the post for 10 years before passing the torch to Marsh during 1863.

Marsh, a native of Massachusetts, arrived in Jackson Township during the same year Branner and Rankin, did --- during 1853 --- along with his wife, Maria, and their older children, and settled just southwest of what became Tallahoma. By 1860, he was prospering --- the owner of real estate valued at $7,000, a considerable sum at the time.

Sadly, Moses had very little time left to serve, once appointed, as postmaster. He died at age 42 on Sept. 8, 1863, and his remains were brought into Chariton for burial in the new cemetery just established on the south edge of town.

Without a postmaster, the Tallahoma post office was discontinued on Oct. 16, 1863, but re-established on Nov. 28 of that year when David Webster was appointed to fill the vacancy. A year later, on Dec. 15, 1864, Edwin Rankin was reappointed and continued to serve until June 7, 1875, when the Tallahoma post office was discontinued for good. He packed up his family and headed farther west.

By this time, Lucas was a thriving village and the Norwood Post Office had been established, too. Passengers who once traveled by stage coach now traveled in considerably more comfort aboard trains. Those who once had purchased goods at the Tallahoma store now shopped in Lucas --- or Chariton, or Norwood --- instead.

And Tallahoma became little more than a footnote to Lucas County history.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Alfred Anderson's bumpy road to eternal rest

Chariton's cemetery is the final resting place for many whose stories have been long forgotten, including a considerable number who died as strangers among us, then had no choice other than to stick around --- permanently.

That was the situation in Alfred Anderson's case, along with a few added complications. The poor guy died tragically, then was misidentified, buried, exhumed, identified correctly and buried again before settling down to eternal rest.


Anderson, an itinerant laborer nearing 60 --- although he apparently appeared to be considerably younger --- arrived in Lucas County during the summer of 1911 with the grading crew of Donald Jeffrey, a sub-contractor on the Rock Island rail line then being constructed to connect existing railheads at Carlisle and Allerton, a project completed during 1913.

His accidental death a few weeks later, on Sept. 14, 1911, was reported in The Herald-Patriot of  Sept. 21 under the headline, "Man Killed in Railroad Work: Trestle Breaks and Andrew Anderson is Killed; Three Other Men Injured."

Note that the victim is identified as "Andrew" Anderson, rather than Alfred. That misidentification was carried forward in future reports, Lucas County death records and Chariton Cemetery burial registers. The misunderstanding may have developed because those who knew him called him "Andy" and there were at the time no driver licenses, databases or other identification tools to consult.

Here's the text of the Sept. 21 article:

While unloading a train of dump cars on a trestle at the first camp of Donald Jeffrey, about five miles northeast of Chariton last Thursday afternoon at two o'clock, part of the trestle collapsed, throwing the cars into the ditch. Andrew Anderson, one of the men working on the trestle was killed, something striking him in the face as he fell. Two other workmen named John Miller, but no relation to each other, were injured, one having his right arm broken and the other his nose and cheek bones broken. Both were brought to Mercy Hospital and are being cared for there. Another man, Andy Horan, was bruised in the face, but did not go to the hospital. Only part of the trestle collapsed, and on the end that did not fall there were six other men working. Had the whole trestle given way there would probably have been others killed or badly injured.

The dead man was taken to Froggat's undertaking rooms where Coroner John Stanton held an inquest over his body on Friday, with Frank Darrah, W.C. Largey and Chester Wilson as the jury. They returned a verdict of accidental death, not placing any blame for carelessness on anyone. The body was interred in the Chariton cemetery on Saturday afternoon, with short services at the grave by Rev. Aszman.

Deceased has no family or relatives, so far as is known, except a son who is either in Alliance, Nebra., or somewhere in South Dakota. He was aged about fifty years.

This is the first accident of the kind that Mr. Jeffrey has ever had in his many years or railroad building. He has always been particularly careful to have his trestles even stronger than seemed necessary, and this trestle was inspected only a couple of days before the accident, and seemed sound and in good condition. What caused its collapse is not known, unless it was a defective timber that looked sound. Mr. Jeffrey is doing everything possible for the comfort of the men who were injured.


Efforts to contact relatives of the deceased continued in the days after his burial and The Leader was able to report on Oct. 5, 1911, that attorney Walter W. Bulman had located the son:

Attorney W.W. Bulman located the son of the gentleman, Anderson by name, who was recently killed on the railroad works out north of Chariton by the falling of a trestle. The young man arrived from a Nebraska point yesterday, and asked to have the body exhumed to see if he could identify the dead man as his father, whom he had not seen for several years. The state board of health was communicated with, who gave the local board authority to act, so the body was exhumed and the young man identified the dead man as his father, after which the remains were reinterred. It seems that the deceased had been divorced from his wife, and had not been with his family for several years.

The Herald-Patriot of the same week identifies the son as H.G. Anderson of Alliance, Nebraska, and correctly identifies the father as "Alfred" Anderson, so that misunderstanding had been cleared up. 


At some point thereafter, the modest tombstone that continues to mark Alfred's grave was erected. It identifies him as "brother" in an eroded line across the top and as "father" in a similar line across the bottom, suggesting that two or more family members helped pay the bill for its placement. 

It's nice to know that Alfred, although at least somewhat estranged from his family, still was mourned and that although it's unlikely flowers will appear on his grave come Memorial Day at least it hasn't been lost.


For those who noticed the reference to Chariton's Mercy Hospital and were puzzled by it --- Mercy Hospital was opened in a converted residence on North Grand Street by nurse Ella Smith during January of 1911 and remained in operation into 1912 before being discontinued. It included six patient rooms, an operating room and related service areas.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A dozen years of the "Lucas Countyan"

Most years, I overlook my own birthday. So it's not surprising that on May 4, the date of the first Lucas Countyan post back in 2005, the 12th anniversary of this blog slipped right by without notice, too. Despite the fact I'd made a (mental) note during April that a milestone was approaching.

It began as a venue for local and family history, mostly, at a time when online journaling was in the ascent. Since then, other social media --- Facebook, Twitter and more --- have waxed and blogging has waned. The former are fast and easy, consuming relatively little time; the latter requires more effort. I enjoy --- and sometimes curse --- them all.

For several years, the posts have come daily, almost without fail. Fail happens when I'm sick abed, which rarely happens, or cannot think of an excuse to avoid a very early appointment. This all takes time.

When done properly, feeding this beast is at least the equivalent of a half-time job. It's enjoyable, however. Occasionally, I rise without an idea in my head and throw something together. That's usually evident. On other occasions, days are needed to get something ready for publication.


"It's always been this bad," my dad --- not at all sentimental about the "good old days" --- used to tell folks who were lamenting the decline and fall of everything in general and rhapsodizing about how great it used to be. In general, I've found nothing while digging around in Lucas County's past to prove him wrong.

It's rewarding to discover that our ancestors had senses of humor, too --- one of the reasons I enjoy pioneer newspaper editor Dan M. Baker, despite all his flaws, so much. Love those murder mysteries, reports of mayhem, misbehavior and intrigue, too.


At some point, I started writing about other stuff, now and then, including politics and issues involving sexual orientation.

Political commentary in a public venue is a good deal like preaching to the choir; few hearts and minds are changed. But I do relish annoying the occasional political conservative who wanders in.

And I do think religious conservatives should fall on their knees and thank their gods for those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc., etc. 

I continue to be an avid tourist in Christendom specifically and the world of religion in general. What in the world would Christian rightists, having reduced Jesus to a cipher and given up on saving souls, have to get fired up about were it not for us?


Whatever the case, the last 12 years have been fun --- and I really do this primarily to entertain myself. As long as the fun continues, I'll keep writing.