Tag Archives: historic newspapers

A Birthday Celebration

Several days after Nancy (Stilley) Hall of Gypsum, Saline County, Kansas celebrated her seventieth birthday on 19 June 1889, a large crowd of family members and friends gathered to honor her.1 A warm account of the affair was printed in the Gypsum Advocate:

A Birthday Social

Last Saturday evening about the time the Sun was taking its good night leave, and later on, a good many persons were seen wending their way toward the west part of the city. The residence of E. D. Hall seemed to be the objective point. After about seventy persons had gathered there, consisting of the aged, the middleaged [sic], youths and children Mrs. Nancy Hall was congratulated on having reached the alloted [sic] years of three score and ten. She is still blessed with reasonably good health and clearness of mind. Mrs. Hall came to this Valley 20 years ago when there were but few settlers in it. She was a widow with 8 children, but two of them boys, aged 9 and 15 years, viz E. D. and John Hall. She located on a quarter section 4 miles south of this city with but one or two settlers in sight. The five daughters that came with her to Kansas, now all married and in good and comfortable circumstances, to wit; Mrs. Wm. Stahl, Mrs. McCance, Mrs. Hoffman, Mrs. Gaultney, and Mrs. Geo. Miller were present and most all of their children. Mrs. H. has 8 children, 33 grandchildren and 4 Great grand children. The other portion of the assembly was composed of members of the baptist church of which Mrs. H. has long been a member, and neighbors and acquaintances. Elder Stitt made an address very appropriate to the time and occasion. Several suitabl [sic] gifts were made Mrs. Hall and presented by Mr. Amos, who alluded to the fact that they came mostly from dutiful and grateful children who knew and appreciated her best. Mrs. Hall very feelingly expressed her thanks and gratitude for the evidence and indications of respect that had been shown her. A bountiful supper was served by the daughters and grand daughters. The baptist chior [sic] furnished good music and singing. The occasion was a pleasant one and will long be remembered, as celebrating the 70th birthday of Mrs. Nancy Hall.2

Pioneer Mother Memorial (Kansas City, Kansas) by Chris Murphy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Nancy had indeed ventured from Illinois to Kansas in 1869 as a fifty-year-old widow, and in 1872, she filed for a one hundred and sixty acre homestead nestled against that of the expansive cattle ranch of author and historical figure Frank Wilkeson.3 With the help of her children, she settled into life as a Kansas pioneer at her home near Hobbs Creek, where she farmed crops including wheat, corn, and oats and looked out from her homestead upon a view of the rolling plains.4 She was likely a charter member of the First Baptist Church of Gypsum, the choir of which provided musical entertainment at her birthday celebration.5

Nancy died nine years later due to an accidental fall from a buggy.6 The Gypsum Advocate reported at that time that “Grandma Hall” was “a general favorite with young and old.”7

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved. Continue reading

Disturbing the Peace: A Skirmish at a Secret Society

Two days after the birth of his second child, Henry Joseph Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa got himself into a scuffle. On 26 August 1913, the Sioux City Journal reported:

After the Goat, Maybe

H. J. Adams [sic], 218 Market street, was taken into custody at 10 o’clock last night by Patrolman William Dempsey, who declared that Adams tride [sic] to break up a lodge meeting in a hall near Fifth and Douglas streets. Adams said that trouble started when he forgot the password. When the police arrived at the scene a battle was being waged between Adams and the other lodge members. He was charged with disturbing the peace.1

Henry, a carpenter by trade who was at that time thirty-two years old, was slight of build and no more than five feet five inches tall.2 Any further details of his encounter with the lodge members are unknown, including the identity of the lodge itself. The 1912 Sioux City Directory lists a number of “secret societies,” also known as fraternal organizations, located at or near Fifth and Douglas streets. The night of Henry’s encounter was a Monday, and assuming the locations and meeting times did not change between 1911, when the directory was printed, and August 1913, the only lodge meeting held on Monday nights at Fifth and Douglas streets was the Improved Order of Red Men.3 Why Henry was desperate to gain entrance to the meeting is anyone’s guess; perhaps he had a prior conflict with the organization, or perhaps he simply stumbled upon the meeting when out for a night of carousing away from the squalls of a newborn baby.

From left: Melanie (Lutz) Adam, son Gerald Joseph Adam, Henry Joseph Adam, and son Leon Francis Adam, Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, circa 1915; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019.

In any case, however, Henry was let off easy. A newspaper headline the next day announced “LENIENCY FOR HUSBAND,” and the subheading stated: “Wife Recently Became Mother, and Man Gets Freedom.” It was reported that Henry had been released the previous day out of “sympathy toward the wife.”4

Henry’s wife of almost eight years, Melanie Veronica (Lutz) Adam, must have been sincerely embarrassed by this turn of events, particularly as she was an upstanding member of a fraternal organization herself. Both Henry and Melanie were also active members of Sioux City’s Saint Jean Baptiste Catholic Church, not to mention the parents of two young children.5 However, if no news—meaning no more headlines—truly meant good news, it seems that Henry may have been able to avoid further trouble with the law for many years to come. As for whether he ever found a place within one of Sioux City’s secret societies, he did, in fact, with the Knights of Columbus.6

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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The Thoma Store: Scribner’s Favorite Trading Place

George Hiram Thoma was not the first in his family to open a general store. Decades before, his grandfather, a Bavarian immigrant, had operated a country store in northeastern Iowa, and perhaps it was stories of his success that inspired George to pursue this livelihood. In any case, George first entered the trade when he was about thirty years old, at which time he lived with his wife and children in Decatur, Burt County, Nebraska.1 This small community with a population under seven hundred was located near the border of the Omaha Reservation. It was likely here that George picked up the Omaha-Ponca language as well as Plains Indian Sign Language, with which he communicated with members of the local tribe.2

(Yet another interesting aside to the story of this ancestor with an alias!)

In 1922, after more than a decade in Decatur, George moved with his family some forty miles southwest to the town of Scribner, Dodge County, Nebraska.3 Scribner boasted a population of just over one thousand—several hundred more than in Decatur, perhaps making it a more promising location for a general store despite, or because, of its remote location. The local newspaper, The Rustler, announced the family’s impending arrival in February of 1922:

“George H. Thoma of Decatur, this state, was in Scribner this week and has leased the building which has been occupied by the People’s Co-Operative Store. He will open up about March 1 with a complete line of general merchandise. Mr. Thoma comes well recommended as an up-to-date merchant with a record of twelve years of successful business at Decatur and twenty in the mercantile business. He has a very pleasing personality and we learn he has always been a booster for his home town. He has an interesting family that will be a welcome addition to our church and school circles; a young daughter in high school and one son who assists his father in their business, who is a band man and a football player, who will find congenial associates here. Mr. and Mrs. Thoma and family will find a hearty welcome awaiting them in our little city.”4

“Scribner’s Favorite Trading Place” token, Scribner, Nebraska, 1922-24; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

It did indeed appear that the people of Scribner welcomed the Thoma family into their fold without hesitation. Regular updates were printed in the local newspaper regarding the opening of the store and the enrollment of daughters Fern, Norma, and later Betty in school. George wasted little time in becoming an active member the community, taking on leadership positions in a new Business Men’s Club as well as the Boy Scouts and the American Red Cross,5 while his wife, Leota, made friends among the Royal Neighbors and the Ladies Aid Society at the local Congregational church.6 Their son, Fenton, was named in the newspaper numerous times as he took part in social and athletic activities; he eventually spent a period of time away from his family in Scribner as he traveled for a summer with the Redpath-Horner Chautauqua and then attended Dakota Wesleyan University, where he served as president of the freshman class.7 Fern, too, received frequent mentions in the newspaper as she engaged in high school activities and gathered with friends, and mentions were even made of young Norma and Betty as they took part in events with their elementary school classmates.8

It seems, however, that the Thoma store did not take off as well as the family’s social life, and although the family embraced life in Scribner, it must also have been a stressful time for them. Less than a year after opening shop, a full-page advertisement appeared in the local newspaper, declaring that “Scribner’s Favorite Trading Place” was being “FORCED BY CREDITORS” to “raise $10,000 cash at once or close up business.”9 The Northwestern Selling System was to be in charge of this cash-raising sale of the store’s stock of $25,000 of “clean seasonable merchandise, only a few months old, consisting of dry goods, notions, women’s and children’s shoes, hosiery, underwear, fancy goods, men’s and boys’ sheep-lined clothing, hats, caps, furnishings, groceries, and queensware.”10 All purchases were to be made in cash or, interestingly, produce.11

“Scribner’s Favorite Trading Place” token, Scribner, Nebraska, 1922-24; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

Apparently, this sale merely bought time. Another cash-raising sale was held that August,12 and in February of 1924, just two years after The Rustler had announced the opening of Thoma’s Store, a two-page spread appeared, announcing, “We’ve Decided to Quit Business in Scribner,” adding, in all-caps, “THOMA’S $20,000 STOCK JUST GOTTA GO!”13 A personal note from the proprietor himself was central to the advertisement:

“Here Are The Cold-Blooded Facts: You’ve heard and read about merchandise sales and bargains until your faith in them has been shattered, but your idea and our idea of a sale and a bargain are the same: It has been the custom of some stores in announcing a sale to give it some fancy decoy name and attempt to justify it by some plausible excuse. We are BLUNT about it – the reason for this sale is that we are sick and tired of business, physically and mentally and we’re just a going to get out and do it quick, and if low prices were ever an inducement this stock will be sold in a jiffy. Please understand, WE ARE CLOSING OUT! THIS MEANS IT ALL GOES! Signed GEO. H. THOMA”14

In May of 1924, The Rustler reported:

“George H. Thoma last Saturday moved his family and household effects to Sioux City, where they will make their future home. Their daughter, Miss Fern, remained here to finish her school year. Mr. and Mrs. Thoma have made many warm friends during their residence here, who regret to see them leave this city, and wish them all the good luck in the world at their new location. Mr. Thoma is now on the road selling electrical appliances. Friday afternoon the ladies’ aid of the Congregational church held a farewell reception in honor of Mrs. Thoma in the church basement. The manner in which the ladies dressed and made-up for the affair caused much merriment and an enjoyable afternoon is reported.”15

Sioux City proved to be a more promising destination for the Thoma family, and despite the close friendships they left behind in Scribner, they thrived in this city of nearly eighty thousand. George put his experience as a merchant to good use and found success as a wholesale fruit salesman for the Haley-Neeley Company and, for many years, the Palmer Fruit Company. He remained in Sioux City for the rest of his life, never again returning to the general merchandise business.16

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Goodly Bit of Romance

The newspaper headline must have brought a few chuckles: “OLD FOLKS HAVE ROMANCE.” The story continued, “Romance is not all reserved for young people, as the marriage of Isaac N. Holman, aged 70, of Decatur, Neb., to Mrs. Sarah E. Fenton, aged 51, of Springdale, in Sioux City, will testify. […] This is the third marriage for each of the contracting parties. Both are well along the avenue of life and to them the marriage represents good judgment as well as a goodly bit of romance. They have known each other a long time and the mutual admiration they have entertained has grown gradually until the marriage yesterday placed its happy seal upon their growing affection.” Following their marriage on 24 August 1908 at the home of the Reverend W. H. Montgomery of the Haddock Methodist Episcopal Church in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, the couple was to visit Omaha. They would settle in Decatur, Burt County, Nebraska, where Holman, “said to be quite well to do,” made his home.1

That evening, their story appeared in another Sioux City newspaper: “LOOKING FOR LAND HE FINDS HELPMATE.” This version of the story was written with a level of flowery detail that, while entertaining, I don’t quite trust:

“I.N. Holman, a wealthy retired farmer of Decatur, Neb., came to Sioux City several months ago on a land deal. At the office of a real estate dealer he met a charming black-eyed widow, Mrs. Sarah E. Fenton, who had chanced in there on business. When they were introduced, he immediately lost all interest in Sioux City property or any property for that matter, and devoted all his time to the widow. Holman is 70 years old, and he pressed his suit with such ardor that before he returned to Decatur he had made a contract for something which he wouldn’t trade for all the farms in Iowa, namely the attractive widow. Today he returned to close the deal, which he says is the best he ever made. A license was issued this afternoon, the bride giving her age as 51. They will be married this evening and after a two weeks’ wedding trip will make their home at Decatur. “Maybe people think we’re foolish,” said the bride, blushing like a school girl, “but we don’t, we’re too happy.”2

This is far from the whole story. First, there are, in fact, two stories presented by these competing news articles. Did the couple meet at the land office, or had they been acquainted for years? This we may never know for sure; it seems unlikely, but not impossible, that the couple had crossed paths before meeting in Sioux City. Second, the “attractive widow” most likely did not have the black eyes of Bess the landlord’s daughter, charming as the description may be.3 And was she even a widow? Well, yes and no. Her first husband, George W. Fenton, died tragically in 1880 when accidentally shot by her brother-in-law.4 Her second husband, however, was still alive and well at the time of her third marriage; Sarah had divorced John Hoffman in 1902 citing his drunkenness and death threats.5 However, it would have been far from unusual for a woman to claim widowhood over divorce.

SarahEHall

Sarah Ellen (Hall) Fenton Hoffman Holman Eklof, Iowa or Nebraska, ca. 1908; digital image 2001, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2015.

Finally, would Isaac and Sarah live happily ever after? Unfortunately not. Isaac was granted a divorce from Sarah in 1914;6 a probate petition filed by his son the previous year, while suggesting that Isaac “indulged in intoxicating liquors to excess” and was “changeable, forgetful, and stubborn,” also stated that “the amount of money demanded from him by his current wife annoyed him considerable.”7 Oh dear. Isaac did not remarry before his death in 1922,8 but Sarah would marry – and divorce – once more.9 She resumed the use of the Holman name and at the time of her death in 1930, she was referenced as the widow of Isaac Newton Holman. Her short-lived marriage to this “wealthy landowner” was, perhaps, her one claim to local fame and financial stability.10

Lesson learned? Never assume. I had assumed that because this was the couple’s third marriage, and because they married in a community with a population greater than thirty thousand, that no mention would be made of their marriage in the local newspaper. In fact, I didn’t bother to check until their names turned up in the Findmypast database featuring a newspaper from across the state, and then learned that more than one version of the story existed. As it turns out, you never know what details of your ancestor’s experience might have made a compelling story deemed worthy of reprint!

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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The Proud Owners of a New Piano

You never know what might have made the news a century ago. In Iowa, for example, news might have been made when someone acquired a piano. Although mail-order catalogues like Sears, Roebuck & Company made owning a piano more affordable than ever thanks to convenient financing options,1 such a substantial purchase was still of great interest to those in rural communities and small towns across America.

These were the years before Victrolas became widespread.2 Pianos were a ready source of music and entertainment, and people of all ages might have enjoyed gathering at the home of a friend or family member with a piano for an evening of playing and singing.

pianoloc

“A Pleasant Evening at Home,” Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, Prints & Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/90709337 : accessed 5 August 2015).

In the northwestern corner of Iowa, The Sibley Gazette reported on 24 May 1900:

John Hoffman and family are the proud owners of a new piano.3

And in the northeastern corner of the state, The Guttenberg Press reported on 25 June 1909:

Miss Roselyn Thoma is the happy and proud possessor of a new piano.4

John Hoffman was the second husband of Sarah Ellen Hall; married since 1883, they would undergo a tumultuous divorce in 1902. At the turn of the century, however, they were still married with a twenty-year-old daughter and a sixteen-year-old son at home.5 Their acquisition of a piano adds a bit of brightness to what was painted in their divorce proceedings as a rather dim time. Although Sarah led a difficult life, her granddaughter remembered that she had loved fine things; this piano was likely a prized possession.6 As she was said to be a religious woman, perhaps she enjoyed hymns played on the piano either by herself or her children.

Roselyn Thoma was the daughter of Fred and Matilda (Hammond) Thoma and was seventeen years of age in 1909.7 She was the last of four surviving children still at home, her younger sister having been lost to a diphtheria outbreak three years prior.8 Perhaps it was with a newfound appreciation to seize the moment that her parents supported such an extravagance for their daughter, or perhaps the same inheritance that had recently spurred them to purchase a farm made the purchase of a piano possible as well.9 Roselyn would marry two years later, and one can imagine that her piano might have accompanied her to her new home.10

Whether the Hoffman and Thoma families enjoyed idyllic moments crowded around their pianos à la Little Women or not, it is clear that the addition of a piano to a household in their humble Midwestern communities was worthy of note – and pride. However, even in these rural areas, it would be only a matter of time before new forms of entertainment overtook the novelty of owning a piano.

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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A Fatal Scratch: The Death of a Pioneer Woman

Anna_Margaretha_Poesch_Thoma_Obituary“After almost a week of extreme suffering, caused from blood poisoning, Mrs. Margaretha Thoma, one of Garnavillo’s oldest residents, passed away at 4:00 o’clock last Saturday afternoon. About two weeks ago the lady accidentally scratched the back of one of her hands with a pin. The scratch at the time was a mere trifle and was given no further thought by her until a few days after when the hand began to swell and cause more or less pain. A physician was called and found it necessary to lance the hand, but desired results did not follow and twice later the lance was employed, and still no relief came to her sufferings, but instead the wound continued to grow worse and the swelling commenced extending into the arm. Everything possible was done to allay the pain and comfort her in her unendurable suffering, but nothing could be administered that would combat with the situation and the result was death came as a relief after nearly a week of incessant torture.”1

Anna Margaretha (Poesch) Thoma was born in Weißenstadt, Wunsiedel, Bavaria, the daughter of Wolfgang and Barbara Poesch.2 She came to Iowa with her family at a young age, and was later deemed “one of the venerable and loved pioneer women of Clayton County.”3 Margaretha married William Henry Thoma, a local merchant, in 1857, when she was still in her teens.4 They had eleven children before his death in 1876; Margaretha never remarried, and in fact continued to operate his mercantile in the years following his death.5 Perhaps it was this role in her community that brought her the recognition to be remembered so fondly in the years following her death from blood poisoning on 9 November 1907.6

Margaretha’s unfortunate plight might remind some of Caroline Ingalls’ encounter with a rusty nail in a particularly drama-filled episode of Little House on the Prairie. Indeed, albeit tragically, little could have been done to relieve Margaretha’s suffering at this time and place. Her age, estimated at near seventy, might also have contributed to her susceptibility to infection, whether she in fact suffered from sepsis or tetanus. Although not soon enough for Margaretha, it would be just a matter of time before the use of penicillin – and the tetanus vaccine – would become widespread. 

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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The Country Store: Family Groceries, the Best of Brandy, and Excellent Beer

The Bavarian William Henry Thoma of Garnavillo, Clayton County, Iowa, was a businessman by the age of thirty.1 In 1859, the Clayton County Journal reported:

“William Thoma, Grocer, Main Street, Garnavillo, Iowa, keeps constantly on hand all kinds of family groceries, such as Coffee, Sugar, Tea, Milasses, ice, &c. The best of Brandy and excellent Beer is also always to be found at this establishment.”2

William must have found success as a grocer and purveyor of alcoholic beverages, as his business was apparently in operation for at least two decades. He was named a merchant in the 1860 census,3 and in the 1870 census it was noted that he was the keeper of a “country store.”4 This must have allowed him to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his wife and eleven children; in 1870, he owned real estate valued at $12,000 and personal estate valued at $3,000.5

William_Thoma_1870

1870 U.S. census, Clayton County, Iowa, population schedule, Garnavillo, p. 13 (penned), dwelling 87, family 86, Wm Toma; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 April 2014), citing National Archives microfilm M593, roll 383.

After William’s death in the summer of 1876,6 his widow, Anna Margaretha (Poesch) Thoma, with a handful of young children still at home, took over as merchant. She maintained the business for a number of years, while her eldest son assisted as a clerk in the store.7

I like to wonder whether William’s store was anything like that featured at Iowa’s Living History Farms, which boasts the fictional 1875 Town of Walnut Hill. Images of the picturesque Greteman Brothers General Store can be seen here. It’s well worth a visit if you find yourself in central Iowa and have ever wondered what life was like for your Midwestern ancestors in the years following the Civil War. The impact of the Industrial Revolution on rural communities is visible, although, according to the Living History Farms, “The railroad will always be a few years away for Walnut Hill.”8

Of course, I also have to wonder whether William and Anna Margaretha (Poesch) Thoma were anything like Nels and Harriet Oleson of Little House on the Prairie. Let’s just hope that their children weren’t as spoiled as the infamous Nellie and Willie!

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