Saturday, June 14, 2014

Guns, doom & the Asbury Collins family (Part 1)

Mind you, I'm not saying that Nebraska is a dangerous place for Iowans --- but if the Rev. Asbury Collins and his wife, Louisa, had known what was coming, they might well have decided to stay in Chariton.

When all was said and done, all that was left was a big tombstone in the Kearney Cemetery marking the graves of the Rev. Mr. Collins and his wife, the niece they raised as a daughter, two sons --- one shot to death by rowdy cowboys and the other in a hunting accident --- and their only grandson, murdered by his wife.

Some might suggest this was a test of faith, but if so --- it was an extraordinarily bitter one; and Louisa lived to see it all.

I'd run across Asbury before --- both he and Louisa were related to many Lucas County pioneers --- but hadn't thought much about him until last week, when a photograph of Lucas County's 1858 courthouse turned up in Minden, Nebraska, and we started trying to figure out who might have carried it west from Chariton.

The Collins are among the candidates, although their home was in nearby Kearney rather than Minden and it seems unlikely we'll ever link anyone specific to the image. But one thing led to another and, once started, I couldn't help but follow their story its tragic end.


Asbury, named appropriately enough for Francis Asbury, one of the first two bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States, was a native of Guernsey County, Ohio, born Oct. 25, 1823, to Elijah and Elizabeth (Grandstaff) Collins. He was the seventh of Elijah's 15 children. Elijah, a native of Virginia and a veteran of the War of 1812, was twice married. His eldest child, Jane, was by his first wife; the remainder, by Elizabeth.

In 1844, Elijah and Elizabeth with a majority of their children removed from Ohio to Jefferson County in southeast Iowa, where they settled near Batavia. Asbury was 21 and single at the time. Within two years, he had joined his parents and siblings.

"Brother" Collins remembered until his dying day the date of his conversion, Feb. 19, 1841. Soon thereafter, he had united with the Methodist Episcopal Church, experienced a call to preach and was licensed in Ohio.

During September of 1846, he was admitted on trial into the Iowa Conference. During August of 1848 he was admitted into full connection and ordained a deacon. And by 1849, he had been placed in charge of the Marengo mission of the Iowa City District. The next August, he was ordained an elder.

The life of a circuit-riding preacher was not an easy one, and Asbury roamed the region around Iowa City and points west and north during those early years, preaching in Cedar, Iowa and Black Hawk Counties, among others. He is recorded as the first to preach a sermon in the new town of Waterloo during 1851.

During a preaching meeting in Marengo during the fall of 1849, the deplorable state of the young preacher's shirt became a matter of such concern that it became embedded in history. According to a history of Iowa County, "the preacher's shirt impressed Wm. Downard more than the sermon, and after service he took (Collins) to his store and made him a present of two shirts and a vest."

By 1850, Asbury had become acquainted with Louisa Fletcher, then living with her parents, Thomas and Rhoda (Britton) Fletcher, on a farm near Iowa City. They were married in Johnson County on August 1 of that year and became the parents of two sons, Milton M., born during 1852 in Johnson County; and David Finley, born during 1858 in Johnson or Lucas county.

Collins was a well-educated and versatile man. During the course of his 66 years he also farmed successfully, taught school, served as a Lucas County official and helped locate towns along the westward route of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad. But preaching was the constant. He had health issues, perhaps tuberculosis, that at times knocked him off the preaching circuit --- but he always returned to it.


When the 1856 Iowa census was taken, Asbury, Louisa and Milton were enumerated in Washington Township, Johnson County; his profession was given as farmer.

At some point during the next four years, the family moved west to Chariton. When the 1860 federal census was taken, his profession was listed as minister, although he also worked here at other things. Some reports list him among Chariton's early school teachers. During October of 1862, he was elected county judge and was returned to that position by increasingly large margins in 1863 and 1864.

It's impossible to say now what drew Asbury and Louisa to Lucas County, but family connections probably had something to do it. Asbury's younger brother, David Y. Collins, a physician, had established his practice in Chariton ca. 1855 and would live and practice in Lucas County for much of the rest of his life.

Asbury's youngest sister, Lucy, had married a young Jefferson County physician, Joseph R. Jay, during October of 1859, and they moved west in that year, also to Chariton, where his brother, Henry Way Jay, had established a medical practice some years earlier.

Other Collins family members who also settled in Lucas County during the early 1860s included Asbury's oldest sister, Jane, who had married Samuel Crawford; and another sister, Zora, who did not marry.

The Collins patriarch, Elijah, also joined his children in Chariton during the early 1860s. Elizabeth Collins, wife and mother, had died at Batavia during 1858. Elijah made his home in Lucas County until his death during 1874.

Also during the early 1860s, Louisa's parents --- Thomas and Rhoda --- moved west from Johnson County, settling in far northwest Lucas County's Otter Creek Township, accompanied by their son, John Cooper Fletcher and his family, and daughter, Lydia, married to Noah Webster Stover.

What now is known as Fletcher Cemetery was established on their land --- and Fletcher family burials were among the first in it.

After Lydia (Fletcher) Stover, died on Dec. 1, 1867, Asbury and Louisa took her infant daughter, also named Louisa and born Oct. 12, into their home and later adopted her.

And so by the late 1860s, Asbury and Louisa were surrounded by family in Lucas County --- but chose to move on. By 1870, they were living at Red Oak in Montgomery County, and the next year, headed for the Nebraska frontier.

To be continued ...

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