Friday, September 12, 2008

Finding Major John Beach

Not that the major was lost or anything, but Find-A-Grave failed me a few months back when I decided that I wanted to see the tombstone of Maj. John Beach (below), who succeeded is father-in-law, Gen. Joseph M. Street, as agent to the Sauk and Fox (Meskwaki) upon the latter's death on 15 May 1840 at the agency just southeast of Ottumwa.

Find-A-Grave listed his burial place as "unknown," but of course it isn't. He's buried in the Agency City Cemetery on the south edge of Agency, the town that developed just northwest of the original Sauk and Fox Agency after the Sauk and Fox themselves had been booted out of Iowa and the agency turned over, under terms of the treaty that booted them, to Street's widow.

I walked the cemetery last week to find him --- and it wasn't that hard.

Major John had married the Streets' daughter, Lucy Frances, on 21 August 1837 at Prairie du Chien, Wisc., where Joseph M. Street was posted at that time. Upon his father-in-law's death in Iowa, John had rushed to Washington, D.C., and secured the post of agent for himself.

He served the Sauk and Fox as best he could until 1847 --- leaving Agency with his family when the Sauk and Fox moved west of the Red Rock Line, then on to Kansas. His wife, Lucy, died during that move, on 31 July 1845 at "Racoon River, Iowa," presumably somewhere in the neighborhood of Fort Des Moines. Their infant daughter, Lucy Elizabeth, died three months later, on 12 October 1845, age 4 months. Both are buried between General Street and Chief Wapello within the rather odd fenced and roofed enclosure that guards the old agency graveyard.

According to his third wife, Caroline, John's hearing had failed by 1847 and that caused him to retire as agent and return to Agency, Iowa, where he went into business.

On 21 April 1847 in Wapello County, he married his sister-in-law, Mary Jane (Mayfield) Street, widow of Gen. Joseph M. Street's eldest son, Thomas Posey Street, who had died 15 April 1841 at Prairie du Chien.

John had three surviving children by Lucy, sons Thomas P., William and Alexander T. Beach. Mary had three children by Thomas Street, Ellen P., Thomas J. and William A. Street. Together, they had Mary A. Beach, born about 1849. Then the marriage flew apart.

Major John was married for the third and final time, on 21 October 1851, to 16-year-old Caroline Sprague and they had four sons, Augustus, Cyrus F., Edward and Frederick.

John retired from business about 1863 and spent a great deal of time after that thinking and writing. His accounts of the Sauk and Fox Agency and incidents connected with his work as agent are quoted in virtually every reference to that phase of Iowa history --- and make for good reading.

When all was said and done, Major John was extremely cranky about the philosophy that had guided U.S. policy toward the Sauk and Fox --- that somehow they could be coerced into almost instantly abandoning their own culture and becoming happy farmers. That, he said, (a) couldn't be done and (b) only offered multiple opportunities for mercenary white folks to exploit them.

John died at Agency on 31 August 1874, age 62, and was buried beside his sons Augustus and Cyrus F., who had died young, in the City Cemetery. Another son, Frederick, who died in 1911, and Caroline, who died in 1912, were buried later by his side.

After John's Death, Caroline married a substantially younger carpenter named John Hanawalt (on 2 December 1876). He was born the year she married John Beach and survived until 1934. He is buried, too, on the Beach lot.

1 comment:

harlan.ratcliff said...

John Beach did not retire because of deafness. There are about a hundred pages in a War Department report to Congress that suggest a different story