Saturday, July 09, 2011

A poor house story: Ishmel Myers

Lucas County Poor House records have many stories to tell, but in an oblique sort of way --- by implication rather than direct statement. One of those stories involves an uncle of mine, Ishmel Myers, who was born Ishmel Ward.

Ishmel was 5 years old when he entered the poor house on Oct. 17, 1872, with his mother, Nancy Ward, 35, and two younger siblings, Martha, age 3, and Samuel D.M., age 1. An older woman, Mary Wallas, age 66, entered the poor house on the same day and may have been Nancy Ward’s mother, although that cannot be proved.

The death of Mary Ward’s husband would have been a logical reason for this family to have found itself among the poorest of Lucas County’s poor. That is an explanation that cannot be documented, however.

But a single woman left with no resources, three young children and perhaps a dependent mother would have found it almost impossible to support herself and her family --- still the case today, although a broader range of social welfare programs are available to help out and it is less likely a family would be broken up and scattered because of poverty.

Entries in the earliest “Poor House Register” state that both Mary Wallas and Nancy Ward had arrived in Lucas County during 1855, but I cannot find them in census records. The register implies that Ishmel, Martha and Samuel all were born in Lucas County by stating that they arrived here during the years of their birth.

Physical descriptions contained in the register tell us that Mary Wallas was a tall woman, 5 feet, 10 inches, with fair complexion, gray hair and blue eyes, weighing 110 pounds; and that Nancy Ward was shorter, only 5 feet tall but still weighing 110 pounds. Her hair was dark; eyes, black; and complexion, dark.

Ishmel had a fair complexion with light hair and blue eyes; Martha, a dark complexion, brown hair and black eyes; and Samuel, light hair, dark eyes and a fair complexion.

The family remained together in the poor house into 1873, but the record states that all five were discharged during 1874. Specific dates aren’t given, however.

Mary and Nancy seem to have left the home to live independently during that year, but without the children. They apparently became convinced --- or were convinced --- that it was financially impossible to keep the family together. Perhaps there was pressure from county supervisors, who administered the home, to leave the poor house. We just can’t know.

Martha, then age 5, was “bound” to A.D. Minshall; Samuel, then age 3, was “adopted” by “Mr. Walters”; and Ishmel, then age 7, was “taken” by Jacob Myers, my great-great-grandfather and a county supervisor at the time.

Jacob and his wife, Harriet (Dick) Myers, raised Ishmel as a son on their Benton Township farm, although there is no sign he ever was adopted. His daughter-in-law, Maude (Danner) Myers, told me many years later that Ishmel never spoke of his birth family, saying that the Myers were the only family he had known. He believed his birth date to have been July 11, 1866, Maude said.

Although the Poor House Register gives 1874 as the year of Ishmel's discharge, he had joined the Myers family prior to 5 May 1873, when "Ishmael W. Ward," age 6, began the spring term at Myers School (Benton No. 4). "Ishmael Worthward," 8, also was enrolled for the 1 December 1873-2 March 1874" term at Myers School. It seems likely he attended school regularly after that, but I happen to have records of those terms only.

"Ishmel Ward," age 13, was enumerated with other members of the Jacob and Harriet Myers home when the 1880 census of Benton Township, Lucas County, was taken.

Although Ishmel apparently retained his birth name for a few years, he soon adopted the surname Myers. He was married as Ishmel Myers and lived as Ishmel Myers until his death.

Following Jacob Myers's death during 1883, Ishmel continued to make his home with Harriet and to farm with Abraham and Daniel Myers (my great-grandfather), who considered him their brother.

On 23 May 1894, Ishmel married Elma Frances Redlingshafer, daughter of Benton Township neighbors George and Frances Caroline (Lewis) Redlingshafer, and they moved in with Harriet.

Their first son, Lester Earl Myers, was born while the couple lived in Benton Township with Harriet. Gerald R. Myers was born on 17 May 1907, after they had moved to a farm of their own in the Rabbit Ridge neighborhood southeast of Lucas.

It reportedly was little Lester who lighted the firecracker inside the Myers home on July 5, 1900, that caused the fire that burned the original Myers homestead to the ground --- a fire with considerable drama because of the volume of ammunition, perhaps even explosives, stored in the house.

During the 1920s, Ishmel, Elma, Lester and his wife, Maude, and Gerald moved from Iowa to settle near Forest Hill in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, where Ishmel farmed and Elma became Forest Hill postmaster. She had been, by profession, a teacher until that time.

Lester and Maude returned to Iowa during 1934 and farmed until retirement in Clarke County, but the rest of the family remained in Louisiana. Lester and Maude had no children.

Gerald married Alma Squires in Louisiana and remained there until his death. They had a daughter, Kathy.

Elma died in Louisiana of throat cancer on March 16, 1944. Ishmel died there at age 97 on March 8, 1964. Both are buried in Greenwood Memorial Park near Alexandria, Louisiana.

I wish I knew more about what became of Mary, Nancy, Martha and Samuel, but so far I don’t.


Anonymous said...

It is good to see a bit of information on "Grandpa" Ishmael Myers. My mother has a few memories of him you might enjoy hearing sometime. I would like to clarify my grandfathers' birth date. Gerald Redlingshafer Myers was born May 17, 1907. My grandmother's name was Alma Squyers and they had one daughter Frances Kathleen.

Frank D. Myers said...

How good to hear from you! And thanks for clarifying Gerald's birthday --- I'll make the correction. Your mother must be Kathy and I'd really like to learn what she remembers about her grandparents. Thanks again.