Tag Archives: Kansas

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

Advertisements

The Unexpected Witness: An Application of a Woman Homesteader

I was intrigued when I learned that one of my ancestors had homesteaded as a widowed woman on the Kansas frontier. After reviewing a copy of her homestead application, I was further intrigued to find that, as fascinating as her experience as a homesteader must have been, the application itself contained clues to another story.

When Nancy (Stilley) Hall of Washington County, Illinois ventured to Kansas in 1869 at the age of fifty, she had her mind set on land.1 She had lost three husbands and would not marry again; land would provide the stability needed on the frontier. The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed any head of household over the age of twenty-one to claim one hundred and sixty acres, and women—single, divorced, or widowed—were therefore eligible.2

By the summer of 1872, having become familiar with the area, Nancy chose to settle in Gypsum Township, Saline County, Kansas.3 There, she claimed her quarter section of land and dutifully filed her homestead application at the Salina Land Office.4

After reviewing a Saline county plat map courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society, I turned to Google Maps for a glimpse of Nancy’s former land, located along the winding Gypsum Creek:

Although just five years of residency were required for one to file the deed on a homestead, it was seven years before Nancy submitted her proof of residency.5 As was typical, this was provided in the form of testimony from Nancy as well as two witnesses.

On 27 May 1879, these two witnesses testified that Nancy Hall, by then sixty years of age, had resided upon this land for the past seven years and that she had made the necessary improvements thereon, including: “house stable granary well forest trees &c.”6 In addition, Nancy had cultivated fifty acres and had raised wheat, corn, and oats.7

Interestingly, the witnesses’ statements in their individual testimonies were so nearly identical that it begs the question of whether, despite the notation indicating that witness testimony must be taken separately, they might have testified at the same time. At the very least, they might have collaborated to ensure that their recollections matched.

But why might these witnesses have cared so much about providing flawless testimony?

The first witness, William Stahl, was Nancy’s son-in-law, who had married into the family in 1865.8 While he had claimed land of his own and did not share Nancy’s homestead, he still may have skirted the issue of his relationship to Nancy and his ties to the homestead when he stated that he had known Nancy for just ten years and that he had no interest in her claim.

The second witness, Elithan Davis Hall, was twenty-five years old and recently married.9 Notably, he was Nancy’s own son. However, when faced with the question, “Are you well acquainted with Nancy Hall the claimant in this case, and how long have you known her?” Elithan replied, “I am and have known her ten years.”10 Of course, Elithan had known his own mother for his entire life—not merely for the past decade! He also stated that he had no interest in her claim, when his labors certainly must have helped to bring the homestead to its success.

In fact, it seems quite likely that Nancy might have claimed the homestead with Elithan, her eldest son, in mind. Just eighteen in 1872, Elithan was not yet old enough to claim a homestead of his own—but he would certainly have been old enough to take the lead in clearing, tilling, and cultivating the land while his mother managed the household and gardens. Furthermore, unlike his younger siblings, Elithan would remain on the homestead after his marriage; as early as 1880, he was considered the head of household, with Nancy also residing in his home, and an 1884 plat map clearly named the residence on Nancy’s property as his own.11

While the witness statements provided by William Stahl and Elithan Davis Hall stretched the truth in terms of the particulars of their relationships to Nancy and her homestead, it seems unlikely that any truly nefarious deception was intended. Perhaps the guidelines were misunderstood, or perhaps no witnesses who were not also related to Nancy, whether by marriage or blood, were available to provide the statements. It seems possible that William and Elithan might have escorted Nancy to town and stepped in at the last minute in order to expedite the filing process.

Whatever the case, no obstacles were identified in this final paperwork, and the patent was successfully filed with the General Land Office on 29 April 1882.12

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
Continue reading

The Best (Early) Christmas Surprise

Christmas came early for me this year in the form of a long-lost antique photograph – thanks to the efforts of a state historical society and a random act of kindness by a fellow genealogist. It was early on a Saturday morning when I sleepily picked up my phone to check the time, only to see a notification that someone had sent me a message via this blog. The first line read, “I thought you might be interested to know that there is a photograph in the online archives of the Kansas Historical Society that I believe shows members of your Fenton family.”1

Interested? INTERESTED? I was up in an instant. The message included a link to a photograph digitized and made available online courtesy of Kansas Memory and the Kansas Historical Society, and while the description has since been updated, on that Saturday morning it was simply titled “Family in Gypsum, Kansas.”

Well, I did have family in Gypsum, Kansas, a small community in rural Saline County. Pioneers George W. Fenton and his wife Sarah Ellen Hall married there in 1873 and had three daughters – Minnie Belle, Alpha Doretta, and Anna Leota – before George was accidentally shot and killed by his brother-in-law in 1880.2 Sarah later had a son, Charles Alfred, with her second husband, John Hoffman, whom she married in 1883.3 According to the original caption, based on a handwritten notation on the back of the photograph, the individuals were identified as Charlie, Belle, Alpha, and Ota, but their last name was unknown. Could it be…?

Hoffman_Charles_Fenton_Belle_Alpha_Leota_c_1890

Charles Alfred Hoffman with half-sisters, from left to right, Belle, Alpha, and Ota Fenton, Gypsum, Saline County, Kansas, ca. 1890-1892; digital image 2015, courtesy of KansasMemory.org, Kansas State Historical Society. Used with permission.

It was. Pictured circa 1890-92, half-siblings Belle, Alpha, and Ota Fenton and Charlie Hoffman posed for this cabinet card photograph at Kassebaum’s in Gypsum City, Kansas. I have found little information about the photographer, but local newspapers place him in the county at the appropriate time. A J.A. Kassebaum was a resident of Saline County, Kansas as early as 1890 when a newspaper announced his marriage; in 1893, it was reported in the column “Gypsum City News” that “Kassebaum is kept busy taking pictures of our citizens and residences.”4

Apparently, these four siblings were some of the very citizens he photographed. Minnie Belle Fenton, likely between sixteen and eighteen at the time, is dressed fashionably, and, as the eldest, is the central subject of the photograph. The bodice of her dress is very finely detailed, featuring a high collar and a double row of large, decorative buttons. Her sleeves, as commonly seen between 1890-92, are fitted, but looser at the upper arm and with a modest puff at the top of the shoulder, and she wears a bracelet on her right wrist.5 There are two decorative velvet bands at the cuffs of her sleeves and three at the bottom of her skirt. Belle would marry Joseph Anthony Hoffman, the younger brother of her stepfather, in 1893, at the age of eighteen.6

Alpha Doretta Fenton, reclining against her older sister, was likely between fourteen and sixteen in this photograph. The dark-eyed teenager wears a fitted dress of a much more simple design than Belle, but it is still flattering with attention to detail. There is a bunch of ruffled lace pinned at the bodice and a brooch at her throat, adorning the folded collar. Her hands are curled in her lap, and like Belle she appears to hide her fingertips; perhaps these country girls did not want to call attention to unmanicured nails. Alpha would marry Clare Eugene Gibson in 1895, at the age of nineteen.7

Anna Leota Fenton, standing behind her sisters, was perhaps ten or twelve at the oldest when this photograph was taken, and she stands straight with a direct gaze. Small and slim, she was not yet corseted like her older sisters, although like them her bangs were frizzled in the latest fashion.8 Her dark dress – which features a row of buttons and a lace collar – is almost surely a hand-me-down, perhaps made over to be suitable for her. Ota would marry George Hiram Thoma in 1902 at the age of twenty-two.9

Charles Alfred Hoffman, the little blond half-brother of the Fenton sisters, was likely around six or eight in this photograph. His resigned expression seems to bear evidence of the burden of having three older sisters; his mouth is clamped shut, his eyes fixed purposefully on the photographer, and his small hand is a blur as he was unable to keep completely still. He wears a jacket and his buttoned shoes are polished to shine. Charlie would marry late in life, and unlike his sisters, had no children of his own.10

All of the children bear a strong resemblance to photographs in my collection that picture them as adults, but this is by far the oldest photograph I have seen of any member of this family. In fact, I had previously seen no photographs whatsoever from their years in Kansas, so this window into their lives is priceless. Gypsum was a rural community of just over 500 residents in 1890; for a photographer to be numbered among its businessmen must have been somewhat significant.11 Kassebaum’s studio featured a somewhat amateur painted backdrop of a parlor setting, a carpeted floor, and animal skin rugs, which created a rather rustic yet elegant setting for the Fenton and Hoffman siblings. It seems possible that this might have been the first studio the children had ever visited.

I am grateful to Kansas Memory and the Kansas Historical Society for preserving and sharing this image in their digital repository and for generously allowing me to display it here. If you have Kansas ancestors, this database is well worth a thorough look. Beyond numerous photographs of people and places, I spotted transcribed nineteenth-century journals (how fun would it be to find a mention of your ancestor?), correspondence, advertisements, and a host of other primary source material fascinating to the historian and genealogist. And if an unidentified photograph happens to pique your interest, consider running a search on the information available as a fellow genealogist did for me – you never know when you might run into a descendant seeking those very ancestors!

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

Continue reading

Tombstone Tuesday: Nancy Stilley

Nancy Stilley was raised on the Illinois frontier, and died a pioneer in Kansas. From what little I know about her life, she’s a perfect example of a “Fearless Female” whose story should be shared in honor of National Women’s History Month.

nancy_stilley_hall

Grave of Nancy (Stilley) Holman Edwards Hall (1819-1898), Gypsum Cemetery, Gypsum, Saline County, Kansas, image date unknown, privately held by V.S.H. [personal information withheld], 2014.

According to her obituary, Nancy Stilley was born 19 June 1819 in Franklin County, Illinois.1 It’s likely that she never attended school,2 although she was said to have joined the Baptist church at the age of thirteen.3 Records suggest that she may have married as many as three times. Her first marriage took place in 1836; she married Thomas Holman of Hamilton County, Illinois.4 Her second marriage took place in 1843; she married Joseph Edwards of Washington County, Illinois.5 Her third and final marriage took place in 1847; she married Elithan Hall of Washington County, Illinois.6 This marriage, too, was short-lived. After her husband’s death in May of 1860,7 Nancy, still just forty years old, was left a widow with nine children at home.8 This time, she did not remarry.

Although it must have been difficult, Nancy seems to have managed her household and farm through the tumultuous years of the Civil War. Following the settlement of her husband’s estate in 1868,9 she relocated to Kansas with her children, including those who now had families of their own.10

By 1870, Nancy had settled in Solomon, Saline County, Kansas, where she held a respectable amount of real estate worth $1100 and personal property worth $600.11 Four children, between the ages of twelve and sixteen, were at home.12 Nancy was to remain in Kansas for the remainder of her life, eventually joining the household of her eldest son.13 She lived to the age of seventy-nine, her death the result of an unfortunate accident during what was likely a routine visit to her children and grandchildren:

“Last Friday morning, October 21, 1898, Mrs. T. G. McCance hitched a team to a buggy for the purpose of driving her mother, Mrs. Nancy Hall, to the residence of her son, E. L. McCance. Just as the ladies started the team suddenly turned the vehicle enough to throw the occupants to the ground. Mrs. Hall struck the ground with sufficient force to tear the flesh from one side of the face, break the cheek bone and inflict internal injuries, from which she died in a few hours.”14

Nancy was buried two days later, her burial attended “by a large number of friends and relatives,” in the Gypsum Cemetery in Gypsum, Saline County, Kansas.15

Continue reading

A Sad Accident: The Death of George W. Fenton

George W. Fenton of Saline County, Kansas, was a young father of three when he was accidentally shot and killed by his brother-in-law on 9 October 1880.1

MarriageRecordGeorgeFentonSarahHall

Saline County, Kansas, “Marriage Affidavits, 1873-1879,” p. 43-44, George W. Fenton and Sarah Hall marriage, 11 June 1873; digital images, FamilySearch, “Kansas, County Marriages, 1855-1911,” (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 18 September 2013).

George, the American-born son of English immigrants, was raised in Ohio and Illinois and was orphaned around the age of ten. He ventured to Kansas as a young man, no doubt seeking opportunity and adventure on this new frontier. In 1873, at the age of twenty-two, George married Sarah Ellen Hall, who was barely sixteen, though she claimed to be a year older.2 They settled near her mother and siblings by Gypsum Creek in Saline County, Kansas, and it was there that they raised three daughters: Minnie Bell, Alpha Doretta, and Anna Leota Fenton.3

The tenth of October 1880 was a Saturday. Farm chores were put aside for the afternoon, as George, Sarah, and their young daughters gathered at Sarah’s mother’s home with a crowd of neighbors and kin. Perhaps they were celebrating a successful harvest, or perhaps it was simply a good time to enjoy the early autumn weather, to catch up, and to let the children play.

Also in attendance that afternoon was Sarah’s elder brother, Elithan Davis “Bud” Hall, who fell between Sarah and George in age, and no doubt thought well of George as he, as Sarah’s oldest living male relative, had granted permission for their marriage seven years before.4 He and George were talking of hunting when he reached for the double-barreled shotgun behind the door, teasing his nieces Bell, six, and Alpha, four, that he was going to shoot their dog. His niece Leota, at seven months old, was still too young to play along, as was Bud’s own daughter, Gracie, just over a year.5 As Bud raised his shotgun in jest, however, presuming it to be unloaded, it discharged – sending a bullet straight above George’s heart.6

George was mortally wounded, and lived only an hour more on that fateful October afternoon. His death was ruled purely accidental at the inquest held two days later, when five witnesses testified in front of a jury. The Salina Herald headlined the incident as a “Sad Accident,” and added, “The thing to be condemned [is] the careless handling of firearms.”6 The Journal (Salina), detailed, “Hall is nearly distracted over the result of his carelessness. The brothers-in-law were the best of friends – no trouble ever having occurred between them.” The frequency of such accidents was noted with sorrow, and it was questioned, “Will people never learn better?”7

George W. Fenton was buried at McQuary’s Graveyard on Gypsum Creek.8



SOURCES
1 Saline County, Kansas, Coroner’s Records, “Fenton, George,” filed 10 October 1880; database, Smoky Valley Genealogical Society, “Saline County, Kansas Coroner’s Records” (http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~kssvgs/ : accessed 18 September 2013).
2 Saline County, Kansas, “Marriage Affidavits, 1873-1879,” p. 43-44, George W. Fenton and Sarah Hall marriage, 11 June 1873; digital images, FamilySearch, “Kansas, County Marriages, 1855-1911,” (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 18 September 2013).
3 1880 U.S. census, Saline County, Kansas, population schedule, Eureka Township, enumeration district (ED) 300, p. 204 (stamped), dwelling 102, family 110, George W. Fenton; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 September 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T9, roll 396.
4 Saline County, Kansas, “Marriage Affidavits, 1873-1879,” p. 43-44, George W. Fenton and Sarah Hall marriage (1873).
5 1880 U.S. census, Saline County, Kansas, population schedule, Gypsum Township, enumeration district (ED) 300, p. 12 (handwritten), dwelling 82, family 90, Elithan D. Hall; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 September 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T9, roll 396.
6 “Sad Accident,” The Salina Herald (Salina, Kansas), 16 October 1880, copy of newspaper clipping privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.
7 “A Sad Accident, The Journal (Salina, Kansas), 14 October 1880, copy of newspaper clipping privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.
8 “Sad Accident,” The Salina Herald (Salina, Kansas), 16 October 1880.