From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Down in the Ditch

Where the mower doesn't go



Our Mennonite neighbor has several small businesses and dealerships in addition to his farming operations. Along the highway beside our two mailboxes, he has several signs advertising these enterprises.

Every Saturday, one of his sons mows both sides of our shared lane, from their house, past our house, down to the highway, around the mailboxes and signs, and along the highway for fifty feet or more in both directions. One of our neighbor's sidelines is lawn mower repair, so he probably thinks that keeping the grass cut short is a good business practice.

But down by the mailbox, on the banks of the ditch, where the lawn mower doesn't go, all the plants are growing wildly. I enjoy seeing them.

And I like the little pool of water that stands in the ditch in the springtime. It's interesting. When I stop to get the mail or go for a walk down our road, I stand at the end of the culvert and peer down into the shady depths. Sometimes I see a frog or a turtle or a crawdad enjoying the water.

But even when I see something interesting, I don't go any closer. I like to look at all that vegetation on the ditch banks, but I don't want to wade through it.  There's too much poison ivy!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Five-year-old Fruit Cake and Other Delicacies

Dinner Party Menu, 1892


On January 4, 1892, Mr. and Mrs. Sam E. Stegar of Trenton, Kentucky, had a Leap Year dinner party, Fifteen unmarried couples and a few extra guys attended the event. The party was such a social success that it even made the news in Hopkinsville, a few train stops west of Trenton.

The entire four-course menu of the Stegar's party was included in the article that appeared in the Hopkinsville Kentuckian. It was interesting. I've presented it below with some links to recipes and other background information from the period.

First Course
Florida Oranges
Bananas
Figs
Pears
Malaga, Concord, and Catawba Grapes

Second Course
Turkey and Ham
Sauce
Roast Mallard Ducks
Oyster, Egg and Chicken Salad
Oysters
Salmon
Sardines

A careless typesetter may have changed "Oyster, Egg and Chicken Salads" to "Oyster, Egg and Chicken Salad." The salmon, sardines, and oysters could have been fresh, brought by refrigerated railroad car to Trenton.

Celery (a palate cleanser after the meat course)


Third Course


Cream
Vanilla Sherbert
Lemon Pudding
Bisque
Fruit Cake, 5 years old and layered  with lemon icing. One layer was citron with vanilla, another layer was chocolate. (This fruit cake was the most interesting thing in the entire menu!)

Fourth Course

Cheese
Doughnuts
PretzelettesChocolata (Menier and Van Houten's Cocoa)
Coffee

After this feast, the guests "engaged in original wit and humor and all the latest games of fascination, until the late hour of 1 o'clock, when the weather becoming very inclement, the party adjourned." Since it was a Leap Year party, the young ladies escorted the young gentlemen safely to their homes, before heading for home themselves.

Source: Hopkinsville Kentuckian, January 1, 1892, page 2.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Abigail Willoughby, 1822-1880

An incomplete story with a sad ending


Abigail Willoughby (b. 1822, Pennsylvania) appears as one of my great-great-great grandmothers in every family tree related to me that I've seen online. She was married to my great-great-great grandfather, James C. Vining (b. 1812, New York). James and Abigail are on my dad's side of the family. They were my paternal grandfather's maternal great-grandparents, to be exact. (I know it's confusing!)

Vague and missing info


Abigail Willoughby and James Vining are "brick walls," as family-tree researchers often say. Their branch of the family tree ends with them, because no one yet has learned the names of any of their parents. Abigail told an 1880 census taker that her parents were born in Massachusetts.

I like the sound of "Abigail Willoughby" -- it's almost poetic. But I don't know if Willoughby was really her maiden name or not. Most family trees say that Abigail Willoughby was born on 15 Feb 1821 in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, and that she married James C. Vining in 1838 in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. But where did my fellow researchers get that information? Was it in a family Bible or passed down in family letters? Or was it just an estimate and a guess, copied from one family tree to another? I haven't found any birth or marriage records at all.

Fairly reliable data


Here are some things I do know about James and Abigail:
  • James Vining was living in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, at the time of the 1840 census with a total of three people in his household. The exact date of the census is not given, and only the head-of-household is named. 
  • My great-great grandmother Martha Almeda Vining was born in 1839 in Pennsylvania.  Her sister Abigail Christine Vining was born in 1840 in Pennsylvania. They gave this information on multiple census records.
  • In September 1850, the James C.Vining family was living in Henry County, Illinois. James was married to Abigail, and they had a new baby boy, Robert Henry (b. 1848, Illinois). 
  • James and Abigail had six more children between 1850 and 1868 in Illinois. Then between 1868 and 1870, they moved to Cloud County, Kansas, where they were some of the earliest settlers.
  •  James Vining died soon after they moved to Kansas. The 1875 Kansas census shows Abigail widowed and living with four of the children on a farm in Cloud County. 
  • Before 1880, Abigail married Silas Zenus Waters. He was a farmer,  ten years older than her. The 1880 census shows them living in Norton County, Kansas, (about 150 miles west of Cloud County). Two of Abigail's children were still with her, listed as stepchildren of Silas Waters. One of Abigail's sons (James W. Vining) was the Norton County sheriff from 1879-1883.
  • Family trees say that Abigail died in 1880. The date usually cited is December 4, 1880.

Willoughbys and more Willoughbys


I've been especially curious about Abigail Willoughby because of a series of marriages that took place in Illinois before the family moved to Kansas. The two oldest Vining girls, Martha and Abigail, married Mapes brothers. And a William H. Willoughby married a Mapes sister. Were William H. Willoughby and Abigail Willoughby related? They probably were, but I haven't been able to prove it.

I've looked at a zillion census records and family trees and I still can't prove how Abigail Willoughby fits into the Willoughbys who lived in or near Tioga County, Pennsylvania, where people say she was born. The generations aren't right. She's either too old or too young for those families.

I've entertained a weird theory that maybe Abigail's real father died and then her mother married a Willoughby, so Abigail wasn't really a Willoughby by blood. And I've explored an alternative (but similar) theory that maybe Abigail was married to a Willoughby before she married James Vining, and that her real maiden name wasn't Willoughby at all.

Most recently, I've decided that she might be the daughter of Elijah Willoughby who appears in the 1850 census in Delmar, Tioga County, Pennsylvania, living with his daughter Laura and her family.  Elijah was born in Massachusetts, so that matches. Elijah's mother's name was Abigail -- hmmm. And Abigail Willoughby (my Abigail, not Elijah's mother) named one of her daughter's Laura -- possibly after her older sister?

Betsy Who?


Lately, I've renewed my research efforts, and I've turned up two pieces of information about Abigail that I haven't seen on anyone else's family tree or read in their notes. Both of them shocked me.

First, it turns out that Abigail may not be a blood relative to me. A brief family history (on the middle of p. 202, Genealogy of the Hannum Family by H. F. Temple, 1911, West Chester, PA ) that I found for Louisa V. Mapes (my great-grand-aunt,) states that her grandparents were James Vining and Betsy Ann Murphey, of New York State.

James Vining and Betsy Ann Murphey? I had to think about that! But upon examination, it makes sense. Maybe James was married to Betsy, had two daughters, became a widower, and then married Abigail several years later. That would explain why no children were born for about eight years after the first two girls.

Also, Louisa Mapes was 53 years old and in her right mind in 1911 when that family history was printed.  Surely she was the one who provided the facts about her family. She was 22 years old when Abigail died. She would have remembered Abigail clearly, but she didn't name Abigail as her grandmother!

Abigail's death


My other discovery is very sad. Last week, I learned that Abigail Willoughby committed suicide. This tragedy was mentioned in a short biography of James W. Vining, (p. 172, The History of the Early Settlement of Norton County, Kansas by F.M. Lockard, 1894, Norton, Kansas), who was one of James C. Vining's and Abigail Willoughby's sons.
[J. W. Vining's] father died in Cloud County in 1868. His mother married S. G. Waters in 1874; they came to Norton county in 1876 and settled near Edmond, their domestic life was unhappy which caused Mrs. Waters to commit suicide. Her remains were taken to Clyde [in Cloud County, Kansas] and buried beside her former husband. Mr. Waters died in 1889.

The county history where this account appears is criticized for containing gossip, but there are two unhappy facts here, whether or not they are related: (1) Abigail's marriage to Silas Waters was thought to be miserable, and (2) she killed herself.

There is nothing new under the sun -- didn't Solomon say that? I suppose that unhappy marriages have been around ever since marriage was invented. And I've seen dozens of stories in old newspapers about people committing suicide. I just didn't expect to find such a happening in my own family tree.

About fifteen years ago, a member of my husband's family committed suicide. I know how deeply we grieved about that. I also know how I grieved when my parents died. Abigail's children must have been devastated.

- - - - - - - - - -
This article was written by Genevieve L. Netz and originally published as a blog post at http://prairiebluestem.blogspot.com/2012/04/abigail-willoughby-1822-1880.html. Copyright 2012 Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Permission is granted for attaching this article to Vining and Willoughby family trees as long as this entire notice is included. Any other use requires written permission. gnetz51@gmail.com

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Easter Blizzard of 1873

Deadly April snowstorm on the prairie


I found this account of the terrible Easter Blizzard of 1873 in a history of Seward County, Nebraska that was published in 1920. This account is part of a longer passage that was reprinted from W. W. Cox's earlier history of Seward County.


Seward County in Nebraska

I have edited Mr. Cox's prose a little, breaking the very long paragraphs-- and in some cases, the very long sentences-- to make them easier to read. In doing this, I changed some words and punctuation. Please see the original if you want to quote something from this account.

Nebraska in the United States

The spring of 1873 was very pleasant, and people had made gardens. Prospects were so fair for an early summer that the ordinary straw stables for stock had been neglected and permitted to become open, the sides having been blown away. In fact, all precatution and care for the protection of man and beast from the cold blasts of a winter storm had been forgotten.

On the tenth of April, a rain commenced to fall, the wind blowing mildly from the south-east, both continuing until the night of the twelfth. The clouds, thickening at times, were accompanied by lightning and thunder.

We were living in our twelve foot pioneer residence with two windows. On that memorable night of the twelfth of April, we were awakened by an unusual roaring of the wind. Glancing at the windows, we thought the moon was shining, but soon recalled the fact that there was no moon.

We got up and opened the door, and were almost instantly made aware of the source from which the disturbance and the light in the windows came. The wind had veered to the north-west and seemed to have the force of a cyclone, and the air was so full of snow as to produce a moonlight appearance.

In fact, the most terrifying blizzard we had ever witnessed was before our drowsey eyes in all the horrors that could be depicted. We did not tarry long to enjoy the panarama as the ruling elements seemed to suggest that we retire and shut the door.

This blizzard continued three days and nights without abatement for an instant. The doleful tones, ever present in our ears during that time, scarcely left us even when in the refreshing embrace of slumber.

And there was scarcely a minute during the seventy-two hours that an object of any dimension could be discerned ten steps distant. Two minutes exposure to the full force of the storm would cause the vacant places in a person's clothing to fill full of the celebrated (but not appreciated) "beautiful snow."

Several of our neighbors saved their cows, horses, and mules by taking them into their houses. We saved three out of four small hogs and about thirty hens by dividing our twelve-foot space with them. We did not bring these animals in until the second day, and one of the hogs died in fifteen minutes, after being brought in.

Charles Emerson, living is a sod house on a hill in L precinct, kept his horses in a dugout stable at the foot of the hill, perhaps six or eight rods from his house. The storm was so blinding and severe that he did not venture to go and attend to them during the three days.

After the storm abated, his heart almost failed him when he went to his stable and opened the door that he had carelessly left only half-closed. He found the interior packed full of snow and not the least sign that his faithful horses were alive.

He secured a shovel, and after digging a while, came upon the horses, both standing up. The snow had filled in so close around them that they could not lay down. The warmth of their bodies melted the snow sufficiently to give them breathing room, and both were alive.

This terrible storm raged during the 13th, 14th, and 15th of April, the latter being Easter Sunday, and would justly pass to history as the greatest Easter storm on record.

Source: Pages 24-26, General History of Seward County, Nebraska, by John Henry Waterman. Published in 1920 in Beaver Crossing, Seward County, Nebraska.

Other histories tell of blizzard winds that tore the roofs off flimsy homesteader shacks, exposing the occupants to the elements. Other settlers froze to death because they didn't have enough firewood on hand. Some lost their way between house and barn and wandered off into the blizzard. Others were caught traveling or hunting on the prairies and either froze to death or smothered under the snow. Thousands of livestock died, and a great deal of wildlife perished as well. 

After the storm, snowdrifts were fifteen and twenty feet tall.  Some settlers who lived in dugouts had to burrow through deep snowdrifts.  Hilltops were swept bare, but the draws were full of deep, hard-packed snow. The best of the spring grass, which the surviving livestock really needed, was buried under the snow for a long time afterward. Many bodies of both man and beast were not found until the snowdrifts finally melted.

Read more:
Text of a Nebraska historical marker for the Easter Blizzard of 1873
Out of Old Nebraska: April Blizzard of 1873
The Easter Storm of 1873
Google Books search for "Easter Storm of 1873"
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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.