Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Little House on the Prairie: Saskatchewan Edition

Jacob Smith > James Smith (my 2nd great grandather's brother) > Alexander Smith

Some of those who migrated West during the 1800s did it to find cheaper land or to take advantage of new opportunities in the myriad of boom towns that sprung up from Illinois to Dakotas and into Canada. Some did it for the adventure, rarely staying put in one place too long and waiting until they found the place to grow old.

Alexander Smith defined himself as an adventurer and spent much of his early life finding the next great thing. He was born 16 Jun 1845 in Steubenville, Ohio to James Smith and Susan Johnson, He was the last child born in Ohio before the family migrated to the Eastern Territory of Wisconsin in late 1845 or early 1846. Her married Jessie Monteith, the daughter of Scottish pioneers Edward Monteith and Agnes McCubbin on Christmas Day, 1866, in Grant County, Wisconsin.

Grant County was a mining area. Cornish miners worked the mines and towns sprung up around them. Land was available and fertile, so it also became a flourishing farming region. Many of my relatives used Grant County as a launching point for further migration over the course of the next few decades in search of inexpensive farm land.

Alexander and Jessie moved to Spring Creek, Harlan, Nebraska and homesteaded. Harlan County was established in 1870 and settlers began coming to the area which had plenty of fresh water and a valley of arable and tillable land soon thereafter.  The length of their stay there can't be clearly deduced since no 1870 census is available for them, but in 1880 they were farming there and by 1890, they were in the Duluth, Minnesota area. Their daughters, Minnie (1890) and Mabel (1895) were born in the Duluth area. The Smith's,ready to move on, contemplated moving on to their next chapter up north.

Kindersley, Saskatchewan was settled in 1910, and named after Sir Robert Kindersley, who was a major shareholder in the Canadian Northern Railway. Settlement in Kindersley began when the first homesteader arrived from Saskatoon by Ox Cart, in 1905.

In 1911, Alexander and Jessie and the Anderson's emigrated to Kindersley, not far from Medicine Hat, probably lured by the railroad completion through the untouched prairie land up for settlement and the advertising created to lure new settlers. Canada had defined a new settlement policy that mirrored a young America's policy, granting 160 acres of free land to any man over 18 (or head of family woman). Advertising downplayed the need for agriculture experience and portrayed the area as an idyllic land of plenty.
Minnie and Melvin Anderson at their soddie outside of Kindersley, about 1914
The platting of the land put the homesteads quite far apart, leading to isolation. For those early settlers, who often lived in sod houses, the reality was forbidding and far from the recruiting ad promises of a veritable Utopia. Minnie married Melvin Gustav Anderson in 1913 in Saskatchewan. They homesteaded in an old soddie early in their marriage.

It's not clear just how long the Anderson's stuck it out in this difficult life, but by 1920, they, along with Minnie's parents, were living in Brook Park in Pine County, Minnesota. Minnie's Uncle James "Doc" Smith, who had also moved north, settled in Moose Jaw, where he remained for the rest of his life.
James "Doc" Smith
Remained in Canada
Perhaps life in Canada broke the Smith's of their need for adventure, because they resided in Brook Park until they died. Alexander died in 1925 and Jessie in 1939, their gravestones marked with, "Pioneers - Adventurers - Philanthropists."

Melvin spent his remaining years farming and then working as an administrator in soil conservation and Minnie raised their five children. Melvin died in 1960 and Minnie followed him in 1966. Minnie's sister Mabel moved back to Saskatchewan, by then far less forbidding, after marrying her second husband and remained there until her death in 1979.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Loss of War: World War II

In going through records, it always makes me pause when I run across a young man who died during years of war. World War II seems to have taken the most young male relatives. It's difficult to run across a man from that era who did not serve, though most of them returned home. I'd like to tell the stories of some of those who didn't return, to keep their names alive in our memories for their valor in a dark time in our history.

Lt (JG) Melvin Laverne Butler, US Navy Reserve, was the son of Thomas Jefferson Butler and Grace Brown (who is related on the Monteith side of the family). Melvin was born in Chadron, Nebraska in 1917.

Melvin entered the Naval Reserve when the war broke out and was trained as a pilot. He was sent to the Pacific Theatre. He flew the PBY Catalina, a patrol bomber with long-range capabilities that served the Navy well in a number of capacities the makers of the craft never imagined, including sea rescue of downed pilots. Melvin survived a shoot down earlier in 1942 when he was able to land his aircraft, hide out until dark, and be rescued. On October 14, 1942, his luck would run out. While flying a mission to locate a Japanese fleet, he and another pilot spotted the fleet east of the Solomon islands and north of the Santa Cruz islands. Both pilots were shot down. Butler was able to transmit a brief tactical message prior to crashing. He was declared missing at that time and declared dead in December 1945. In 1946, he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.
(based on information provided by his great niece, S. Teddei in a copyrighted 2011 article on

Harry Frederick Bradshaw, Seaman 1st Class, US Navy
Harry was the son of Raymond and Macie Bradshaw of Belle Plaine,
Benton County, Iowa. He was born 15 Oct 1921 in Charles City, Iowa and died in the Coral Sea on 08 May 1942. He was buried in the cemetery at Fort William McKinley, in Manila, Phillipines. To learn about the battle which took Harry's life, visit this earlier post.

PFC Robert "Bob"L Opperman, US Army, was the son of Harold Opperman and Wilma Barr, who at the time, resided in Bremer County, Iowa. He was born on 25 Jun 1923. Bob was a nose gunner stationed in the 422nd Base Unit at Tonopah Army Airfield in Nye County Nevada. The base had recently started running training flights for the larger bomber aircraft. On 19 May 1944, the B-24D Liberator on which he was flying crashed shortly after takeoff due to engine failure. Seven other aviators lost their lives on this flight. Though there were several accidents at the base, there is very little information regarding this flight and its crew.

Private Robert Harold Arthur, US Army, was born in Maynard, Fayette County, Iowa on December 15, 1917 as the oldest child of Herald Arthur and Laura "Ranney" Arthur. He married the former Evelyn Simpson. He entered the service as a draftee on November 18, 1943 at Camp Dodge, Herrold, Iowa. Robert received his basic training at Camp Blanding, Florida before he was sent overseas in June, 1944, as a Private in the 83rd Infantry Division, 330th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, C Company.

From Into the Hornet's Nest: 

By the beginning of August, the 83rd was part of Patton's 3rd Army, and while most of the 3rd Army turned east out of the Cotentin Peninsula toward Paris, the 83rd Division turned west into Brittany through Coutances and Avranches. The coastal towns of St. Malo and Dinard belonged to them alone.
Strategically, the battle for St. Malo may not have been one of the "big battles," but that does not detract from the monumental campaign that it was. It is an incredible tale about an American commander with the improbable name of Major Speedie (329th Infantry) and a "mad" German Colonel (von Aulock)--complete with monacle, flapping coat, German Police dog, and a mysterious mistress having a "past" with Russian royalty. He said he would hold out to the last man in an ancient fortress that had been heavily reinforced with concrete and contained underground tunnels, storage areas, power plants, ammo dumps, living quarters, and even a hospital. Read More...

Robert died the day before the first US troops arrived in Brest, their ultimate destination. He left a wife and four children. He received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for bravery under fire.

PFC Leo I Gulick, US Army, was the son of Herman Gulick and Edna Thomsen born on 25 Apr 1912 in Clarksville, Iowa. He married Eunice Clark and had two daughters before he left to serve his country. Gulick was assigned to the 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division died during battle after the Battle of Aachen. At the time, Nazi defenders were fiercely attempting to keep their hold on whatever they could as the Allies closed in on them from all fronts. No details are available on the battle in which he died, but he received a Purple Heart for his service. He was buried in Henri-Chappelle American Cemetery in Belgium. His parents, wife, and two daughters survived him.

2Lt John William Padget, US Army Air Corps, was the son of Charles
"Ernest" Padget and Hazel Barr. He was born in 1921 in Bremer County, Iowa. He enlisted 01 Dec 1942 and received his basic training at Kelly Field, Texas. He left for overseas in  October 1942.

John was a 2Lt in the 331 Bomb Squadron, 94th Bomb Gp (H) stationed in Bury St Edmunds, England.  John was flying as a bombardier in a B-17 "Bouncin' Annie" tail number 42102577, over Germany on 02 Nov 1944 when his aircraft was presumably struck and went into a tailspin and crashed at Merseburg, Germany. Merseburg was a major target for the Allies due to the oil refinery and other manufacturing in the city. He, along with the crew, were lost and listed as MIA on 02 Nov 1944, then KIA. He is buried in St Avold Cemetery, Lorraine, France, 3503, Block A, Row 19, Grave 37. He received the Purple Heart and the Air Medal.

Tech5 Charles E Sperbeck, US Army, was the son of Ernest Sperbeck, Jr. and Ola Clark of Hillsdale, Michigan. He was born 07 Apr 1923 in Frontier, Michigan. Sperbeck attended Western Michigan for one year in 1942 before being drafted into the Army. He was assigned to the 26th Infantry Division, 101st Infantry Regiment and was killed on 14 Mar 1945 during the "Push to the Rhine" near the end of the war:

The first week in March saw the Regiment outposting the Serrig area
and that area east of Saarburg. It was evident that something of importance was in the wind. On the 12th of March an order was given calling for an attack on the 13th of March in conjunction with the XX Corps attack. Our mission was to clear the area south of the Moselle. Initially, the 101st Infantry was in reserve. At 0300 on the 13th of March the attack began, preceded by a tremendous softening up barrage by the 101st Field Artillery. While the 3rd Battalion was attached to the 328th Infantry, the remainder of the Regiment bivouaced east of Serrig. The 3rd Battalion spearheaded the attack of the 328th Infantry Regiment at Serrig; an attack that broke organized German resistance at that part of the Siegfried Line. On the 15th of March the entire 101st jumped off in a column of battalions. Progress in rugged terrain dotted with pillboxes, was slow but steady. On the 17th of March, "C" Company took the town of Bratdorf.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Walter Kermit Spurgeon Gets Robbed

Jacob Smith > William Custer Smith > Harland Smith > Leone Smith married Walter Spurgeon

Leone Smith was the youngest child of Harland Smith and Fannie McGoon. Harland was the third child of William Custer Smith and Mary Ann Munson. Leone was born in 1895 in Plainfield, Bremer County, Iowa.

She married Walter Kermit Spurgeon, son of Sidney Adam Spurgeon and Sarah Carlton. After their
marriage, the Spurgeon's moved around a bit, landing sometime in the 1920s in Del Rio, Bernalillo, New Mexico where he was in real estate sales. They later they moved to Long Beach, California. During the war years, Long Beach was booming and shipyards were churning out ship repairs and transporting cargo like crazy to aid the war effort.
Walter Kermit Spurgeon and Leone Smith Spurgeon
Walter got a job as a checker in a local grocery store and they settled in not too far from Leone's sister, Edna Smith Corey and her husband Percy.
While not the Long Beach location,
this is an example of what the Mayfair
stores looked like in  the era

On September 11, 1952, two masked robbers entered the market through the rear door and after having the snack bar clerk clean out her register, they ordered, at gunpoint, 50-year-old Walter, who was having his coffee at the snack bar, to open the rest of the registers and cleaned out all the store's money. It was the second time in less than a month the store had been robbed. The robbers in the earlier robbery had pistol-whipped two employees. This time, no one was injured. The robbers got away with $5,000 in cash and checks. It had to be terrifying for the clerks, including Walter.

It took a bit of time and not before there was a total of 17 market robberies totaling $40,000 in losses, but the police finally got their men.  Three suspects accepted a plea deal to lesser charges. The fourth, William Ellhamer, chose to go to trial. Despite being fingered by the three other gang members, Ellhamer refused to answer questions when being arrested and at trial, presented an alibi witness. He was convicted of three of the nine counts of armed robbery and received a sentence of 10 years to life and initially served his time at Chino Men's prison. His wife divorced him. As of 1962, he was still imprisoned, now at San Quentin, a recent appeal having been denied. Ellhamer, a WWII US Navy veteran, died in 2010 in Orange County alone, with no survivors.

Walter Spurgeon died at 64 in Long Beach in 1961. Leone lived many more years, dying in 1976 in Spring Valley, San Diego County, near where her only child, Richard Kermit Spurgeon resided. Leone's sister Edna died in 1959.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Trailblazing Women - Gertrude Bouque Nichols

Jacob Smith > William Custer Smith > Ella Mae Smith Cunningham > Effie Cunningham Bouque > Gertrude Bouque Nichols

My great great grandfather, William Custer Smith was born in Ohio in 1831 and moved to Grant County, Wisconsin, when 15 years of age and resided there till 1865 when he moved with his family onto the farm one mile west of Plainfield, where he resided at the time of his death in 1895. His first wife, and mother of his eight children, was Mary Ann Munson. She was born in about 1837 and died in 1888 in Iowa.

Their fifth child, Ella Mae, was born in 1866, married Howard Cunningham in 1885. They relocated to Moberly, Randolph County, Missouri after their marriage. Howard was a conductor on the Wabash Railroad. The Wabash Railroad was a Class I railroad that operated in the mid-central US. It served a large area with trackage in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Missouri, and into the Province of Ontario. It had connections to most of the major cities in the central US from NYC to Kansas City.  Many of the male descendants of Howard worked for the railroad.

They had four children, including Effie Mae, the eldest, born in 1885, who married Lester Irwin Bouque. L.I. and Effie were well-known in town and very active in civic activities.

L.I. and Effie had six sons and finally, a daughter, Gertrude, who was born in 1919. At least two of the kids went to college, including Gertrude, who received her journalism degree from the prestigious School of Journalism at the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1940.

Her first newspaper job was in Caruthersville, Missouri for several months before returning to Moberly to work on the Moberly Monitor Index for a year before moving to Shrevesport, Louisiana to take a job at the Shreveport Times, where she quickly rose from reporter to assistant city editor and features writer as well as associate editor for two Shrevesport magazines. Her full-page story on the munitions plant in Minden, Louisiana was the first story she had picked up by the Associated Press newswire.

Close to war's end, she moved to New York City where she was hired as assistant press officer for the United Nations Press Office in Rockefeller Center. She reportedly also worked for the AP as reporter and sportswriter covering the Brooklyn Dodgers. Here is one of the stories she wrote that was picked up nationally on the same day the second Atomic bomb was dropped in Nagasaki, Japan. The bombing assuring the rapid end at last to the era of devastation which conversely had also allowed women to rise to unprecedented heights in careers previously restricted primarily to men.

Between 1946 and 1956, Gertrude worked in New York for Fairchild Publishing, a company which dates back to the 19th century, renowned for fashion industry related publishing. In 1956, she moved to Westfield, New Jersey and marrried Clement H. Nichols, a chemical engineer who was recently widowed with young children. Gertrude raised four children with Clement.  Gertrude was very active in her community, serving on the school district board, participating for years with the local theatre group, and was involved with the International Gourmet Food Club and the College Women's Club in Westfield. Clement died in 1988 and Gertrude, who left behind her life as a working woman for motherhood, died in 2007 in New Jersey.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Middle Age Miasma or Murder Most Foul?

Jacob Smith > William Custer Smith > Mirt Smith married Emma Schafstall

Gerhard Heinrich Schafstall had a pile of kids in Prussia. Evidence suggests he emigrated as a widower in 1864, leaving from Bremen on the Norma and arriving in Baltimore in September 1864 at the age of 58, bringing his children with him.
Frank, Emma, and Anna Schafstall
Bradford, Chickasaw County, Iowa

The Schafstalls farmed in the Waymansville, Bartholomew County, Indiana area.  One of the children, Franz, married Anna Kruse in 1879. They had only one child, Emma Haehlen Schafstall, born in 1880 in Jackson County, Indiana.  Between 1880 and 1898, the Schafstalls had moved on from Indiana, arriving in the Bradford, Chickasaw County, Iowa area to farm. They lived near Walter Smith, whose brother Mirt married Emma in 1898. Emma married into our direct Smith line. By all acounts, this son of Heinrich lived an average life in an average community. His younger brother William's story turned out far differently.

Waymansville, Indiana
William was born in about 1856 in Prussia. William married Johanna Caroline "Carrie" Bode in 1880 in Indiana. They had one child, a son, Christian H "August" Schafstall, in 1883. Schafstall was a long-time farmer in the area but one day, he just disappeared off the face of the earth.

“Mr Schafstall disappeared July 14, 1897 (also his wife’s 38th birthday). He had been assisting the farmers in his neighborhood with their thrashing and on the morning of July 14th, drove to the farm of John Moorman. When he arrived there he was told that the thrashers working at Robert Elkins’ farm were in need of assistance and started to that farm. He drove a mule hitched to a single buggy. 
The mule was found hitched to a fence near the Moorman farm but no one was ever able to say in what direction Mr Schafstall went when he started into a neighboring cornfield. There is a lake in the vicinity of the Moorman home and for a time it was supposed that he might have fallen into the water and was drowned. It is said that Mr Schafstall was heavily in debt at the time of his disappearance.

According to one story current at the time of his disappearance, Mr Schafstall had considerable money with him as he had been to Seymour on July 13 and had sold a wagon load of wheat. It is said that he sold some wheat for a neighbor on the same day and left the wagon and the money at a farm house near Borcher’s church, where the owner obtained them the following day. He was fifty-four years old when he disappeared.” [Ed note: Records indicate he was 41]
 Seymour Daily Republican, Seymour, Indiana, Wednesday, December 31, 1913

In 1913, a woman on her deathbed had another story to tell:

No evidence was found whether the digging ever commenced, but one would assume that the discovery of remains would have made the news.  But, to twist the plot even further, his sister Julia, refuted the murder story, saying she'd heard last from her brother in a visit to her home 17 years previously in Cincinnati (about five years after his disappearance).

His wife Carrie, who died shortly before the death bed confession story came out, believed he had met with foul play, but his son August always believed his father had just picked up and left with cash in pocket. Was this a case of middle-age miasma or murder most-foul?  We'll never know. In 1913, he was finally declared dead and a stone marker was placed with the date of his disappearance as the date of his death.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Unbearable Loss - Sisters To The End

Oscar W Lindsey > Frank Simeon Lindsey > Fay Evern Lindsey married Marian Lane > Mildred Marie Lindsey and Lillian Lindsey Berry

Fay Lindsey met and married Marian Lane in 1929 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  To their union was born five girls and three boys. They resided in the Benton/Linn County area of Iowa.

All the girls married except for Mildred Marie.  She went by "Marie" for the most part. One day, she, her mother Marian and nephew Larry Berry and sister Lillian Berry were driving near Urbana when a car driven by James Scott crossed the center line and struck Marie's car nearly-head on.

The driver of the car that struck them died. Marie and Lillian also both died in the accident.  Sisters to the end.  No one was wearing seat belts.

After burying her two daughters, Marian recovered from her physical injuries and lived another four years, dying at age 83.

Next up:  A Tale of Murder

Unbearable Loss - A Fishing Trip With Pa



Montford Cagley Noble, 23, married a cousin, Elna Ann Farr, in Plainfield, Iowa in early July of 1919. She went with her husband, also of Plainfield, to their new home in Grand Island, Nebraska to start their married life. Not a month had passed when word came to her of the death of her father, a well-respected Methodist man and farmer, W.C. Farr, who was a mere 64 years of age. She returned for his funeral and then went back to Nebraska.  Less than a year later, she was dead from peritonitis following abdominal surgery at a Lincoln, Nebraska hospital.

Montford, or "Mont" as he was called by those who knew him, found a new bride in about 1921 in Nebraska.  Jeanette "Nettie" Forke was part of a large Elk, Nebraska farming family.  Her paternal grandfather had come from Germany and settled in Illinois.  Her father relocated from Illinois to give the wide open spaces of Nebraska a try.

Soon after their marriage, Nettie gave birth to their first child, Robert, on 14 Jun 1922.  They later had two more boys, Glen and Richard. The Noble's spent much of the next few years in Nebraska, but spent a few years in the Springfield, IL area.  Mont was a civil engineer.  In 1930 he was working for a steel mill in that capacity.

In August of 1939, Mont and his son Robert, now nearly 17,  took a fishing trip to Lac La Croix in the Province of Ontario, Canada. Lac La Croix is a border lake surrounded by what is now Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area to the South, and to the North lies Ontario's Quetico Park. The area is a protected canoe area with no public road access and some of the finest fishing in the world.

According to reports, the two had hired a guide to take them and a friend, David Simmons, into the deep pine forest and to the fishing areas. What started out a routine fishing expedition on August 10, 1939, ended with the deaths of both Mont and his son Robert, who were drowned after capsizing their canoe over a set of rapids.

The Forestry Branch at Fort Francis and Minnesota Game and Fisheries  were called in to do search and recovery and eventually, the provincial police arrived.  The bodies were located on August 14th.

In 1940, Nettie was living with her two sons and a boarder in Lincoln, Nebraska.  She lived on, never remarrying, until 11 Feb 1983 where she died in Los Angeles County, California at the age of 84.

Unbearable Loss - Drunk Driving

As I've traversed the family records, both far and near, in my quest to learn our family story, I've run across tragedy after tragedy.  Children by the score, lost before adulthood (what life was like before clean, treated water and vaccinations).  Sometimes half a mother's children would not reach maturity. It's heartbreaking.

But, perhaps none so much as when tragedy strikes twice in the same moment. I've run across three cases of double-loss so far in my journey.
Wilma and Berdine
The first was the case of sisters Wilma and Berdine. Wilma was 16 and had gone to a dance with her younger sister, age 15, and two boys.  On the way home, they apparently stopped for beer at a local tavern.  Reports stated that about a case had been purchased. In a later interview, Rutter observed during the trip that the 1939 model car Cadam was driving had reached 85 mph and had remarked upon it to the driver. At some point, the car they were riding in plunged through a bridge rail and soared 18 feet into the icy water below. Rutter was thrown clear of the car and was able to break free of the ice above him with his hand, sustaining only a cut hand in the accident.  The remaining three drowned.

Rutter had been the one who purchased the beer. In early 1952, the State grand jury declined to bring an indictment against the owner of the Horton tavern, John Karasch, for selling beer to minors. By mid-1952, Rutter was in the military and by 1953, he was back home, having been arrested for a break-in with Melvin Cadam, presumably related to the Cadam killed in the accident. From that point, he seems to have gone on and lived the life his friends did not get to live.

As a brief aside, the parents of Wilma and Berdine had lost two other sons in infancy.  Two of the remaining children did not live to 60 years old.  Of seven children, only one survives.