52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks, Week 13: The Old Homestead


“If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride,” goes an old Scottish proverb. The beggars in this case could be those who love genealogy…right at the moment they discover an old photograph that becomes an instant treasure. The wish granted would be the ability to step into the picture and to experience the sights, sounds, smells along with those ancestors. I found such a picture five years ago when I was cleaning out my mother’s house…slipped into an envelope that had been tucked into an old, musty dresser. Since I had been purging and cleaning out for over a month, I almost threw the envelope along with other tossables in the trash. Maybe by sheer magic, the picture’s subjects called to me to pull out the contents. Why, it was a panoramic photo of a farmstead and its inhabitants. The photographer had signed and dated his work in the bottom right-hand corner just as an artist signs his masterpiece…Photo by Parratt, February 19,  1917. Later, I asked my mother the who, what, where, and why questions about the picture. Her answer was that it was Grand Storer and family on their farm in Tilden Township, Osborne County, Kansas: Grand Storer, my great grandfather. So I decided to let the magic begin…

February 19, 1917, was a bone-chilling Monday. Wash and Mina Storer had contacted the photographer from the Cozy Studio in nearby Downs to take a home portrait. Roy H. Parratt instructed them to have the family members space themselves out by their home along with prized possessions. The light of a dreary February day could be tricky so the right time of the day for taking the photograph was estimated. What if each person were to share his/her story with me?

Storer Homestead

Wash: I bought this land from my father and my older brother a few years before I married Mina in 1891. I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to be a farmer. For the first year and a half of our marriage, we lived in Louisiana where I worked on building levees on the Mississippi River along with my uncle and cousins. This work was not for me so Mina and I along with our newborn son Roy Eugene headed back to Kansas. We lived for awhile on a farm near Mina’s parents before we came to this land. Once we settled on this property, we lived for a few years in a cave…yes, a cave where I reinforced the ceiling with stone from my quarry. Imagine that! We built a new large house and three big barns just seven years ago in 1910. Now my farm consists of 240 acres with milch cows, Holsteins, chickens, and pigs. I make most of my money from the cows…I am not a wheat farmer. Both my son Roy Eugene and daughter Myrtle Mary are married and live nearby. Our remaining six children live and work on the farm.

Mina, Leslie, Angie, Hattie

Mina: Can you imagine setting up house in a cave? Many early Kansas settlers did that, you know. Why I gave birth to my twin babies Angie and Andrew in that cave…won’t that be a story for them to tell their grandchildren some day! Being a farmer’s wife is a joy to me, and I am mighty proud of our big house. I love to invite family and neighbors over for Sunday dinners after church. Making fried chicken and mashed potatoes with white gravy is my specialty. I am also known for my sugar cookies. Yes, we also enjoy inviting neighbors to barn dances here on a Saturday night. The ladies bring special desserts. We have three neighbor men who are the musicians for square dancing. Today for this picture taking, Wash and I decided that I would drive out our Model T loaded up with our baby Leslie and my daughters Angie Pearl and Hattie Della. I asked one of my boys to crank it up for us. Don’t it beat all to have a picture taken of our little paradise!

Angie: Papa and Mama told us to gussy up for this picture…make sure our hair is done up…just as if we were meeting our beaux on a Saturday night. Hattie here, she is the one who can really fix hair.  Says she wants to be a beauty operator and not a farmer’s wife. Me…my sweetheart Carl wants us to have our own farm and settle in with a little family.

Hattie: Now, it isn’t too often that our pictures are taken. We have been doing chores since sunup when we went to the hen house to gather eggs for breakfast and to help Mama get everything ready to feed the men. Also, Monday is wash day so soon we will be headed off to heat water and scrub. Yes, sir…I am counting on leaving the farm life one day and moving west…California dreaming, I am.

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Wash, Marvin, Hillis, Andrew

Marvin and Hillis: Each day, we prove to our pa that we can handle this hard work. We ride out to check on cattle in the pastures. We look for broken fences. We bring cows into the barn to milk. When school is in session, we ride double to the one-room schoolhouse that we attend. Sometimes when we are riding across the fields, we talk about our dreams for the future. We would both like to see new places…explore a little. Pa likes to quote that saying, “The grass is always greener in your neighbor’s pasture.” Us…we want to see if that is true.

Andrew: Since my older brother married and has his own farm, I have been Pa’s right hand man. My hands are calloused, and there is not much time for daydreaming. Been thinking about the prospects of having my own place a few years down the road. Got a cousin who has a farm nearby that he would like to rent out…maybe, that could be me. At several of our barn dances, I noticed a little girl…she’s younger than me. Says she is going to Kansas City soon to help out her married sister. I really do not have a lot of time for courting, but I have her sister’s address so I can write her when she leaves. Understand from the paper that Europe is at war. President Wilson says that we are going to remain neutral…keeping out of it. Speculation around here is that time may tell. Been notified by the local draft board that I need to come register soon. All I really want is to stay here and hug the soil and the neck of a good horse. (Andrew winks at me as he walks away. In 32 years’ time, he will become my grandfather.)

Postscript: A copy of that panorama picture hangs in our home. It is over 100 years old and part of my legacy. The thoughts and feelings of my ancestors are just pure speculation and fantasy on my part. If only wishing could always come true…


52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks, Week 12: Misfortune

covered wagon

The domino effect reverberated through the events of my 2nd great aunt’s life and that of her family. Mary A. Boultinghouse would live only 28 years, yet a ton of tragedy would envelop her and those she loved.

Mary grew up on the plains of Illinois on a farm with her parents and nine siblings. Her father was born in that state while her mother was born in France. Did her mother teach her French phrases? Her mother was skilled in needlework. Did she pass that on to Mary? Her life there would seem idyllic compared to what would be her future.

Daniel WardenSometime during the Civil War, she became the sweetheart of Daniel H. Warden, who was a sergeant in the 20th Illinois Infantry. He was eight years older and hailed from the county in which she lived. Did they exchange letters and a vow that they would marry upon his return? He suffered a foot and a hand wound in the Battle of Shiloh that hindered his ability to walk…yet he remained with his company. Five days after he was discharged from service, they married in DuPage County, Illinois. At some point, they moved to Chicago where he was employed as a carpenter-joiner. How did the couple struggle because of his disability?

In the summer of 1871, Mary and Daniel decided to migrate to Osborne County, Kansas, where they would claim land under the auspices of the Homestead Act. They traveled by covered wagon along with Mary’s parents and siblings. Mary and Daniel were accompanied by their children Anna Laurie (age 5) and Peter Tecumseh Sherman (age 3)…sadly, their infant daughter Gertrude had died the year before. How did they manage to travel with Daniel’s disability?  Life was harsh on the prairie, but they managed to build up a small homestead. Their son Walter was born within the next year. Then in 1873, tragedy struck. Daniel noticed ducks had landed on their pond, and he asked Mary to bring him his rifle. While Mary was carrying the gun, it discharged…”Oh my God, I have shot myself.” She died within moments. She was buried on her parents’ homestead. A few months later, the Warden house burned down.

Two years after her death, the tragedy in Mary’s family continued when her son Peter was bitten by a poisonous rattlesnake. He lived a few days and was buried near his mother. Daniel decided that he could no longer remain on the farm so he moved his family to Leadville, Colorado. He earned his living with his carpentry skills. At some point, he realized that he could no longer care for his children. He adopted out Anna and Walter to strangers. Anna was taken to Chicago and Walter to Kansas. All of this became too much for Daniel…he died of a gunshot wound in 1879.

Anna LaurieAs a postscript to this story: their daughter Anna Laurie lived to be almost 90 years old. She lived most of her life far from the Kansas plains in New York. In her obituary, it stated that Anna would give talks to school children about being a child during the Great Chicago Fire…that fire happened in October 1871…Anna and her family moved to Kansas in the summer of 1871. Also, she talked about witnessing Indian raids…the last recorded raid in Osborne County was in 1870. Did her imagination cover up the tragedies of her life?



52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks, Week 10: Strong Woman


Many of my ancestor great grandmothers I know only through research. My third great grandmother, Rhoda Howell, is one of those women. On paper, she is a few dates and a name in a probate journal. Who was she really? I can only assume and speculate.

I do know that Rhoda was born to Amos and Mary Howell in Tennessee. The date for that is sketchy. Her family moved to Illinois, and she met Daniel Boultinghouse. Daniel was born in Pennsylvania and had moved across to Ohio and into Illinois. He had been married twice before and was the father of 10 children, ranging in ages from 21 to nine years old. He and Rhoda married on 31 January 1813 in Gallatin County, Illinois. Rhoda gave birth to Matilda in 1814 and Amos in 1818. (Amos is my second great grandfather.) They would settle in the Fox River district of White County, Illinois. Daniel was a militia member whose chief job was to ward off Indian attacks. Daniel died in May, 1823, just ten years into the marriage. Probate records show that Daniel left no will. They also show that Rhoda appeared at the courthouse with a list of people to whom Daniel owed money, and the debts were paid. Record-wise, this is the last mention of Rhoda.

In reading about pioneer women, I discovered over and over again how harsh life was for them. Some historians tout that the women had to be stronger than the men. Certainly, this was true of Rhoda. How was she shaped and molded by life? What was it like to be married to Daniel and to raise his other children? How did widowhood change her worldly circumstances? How isolated did she feel when her husband ventured out to perform his militia duties? My educated, researched guess is that she did all she could to survive. Some of the older children had married and moved on into Arkansas and Texas. Did she stay on their farm and direct the older remaining boys in farming and hunting for food? She had her womenly tasks to perform as well as to educate the girls in housewifery. Did she turn her eyes to heaven each day to ask God to be her guide and strength? Was she sustained by faith, resiliency, and perseverance?

I wonder how Rhoda spent the remainder of her life. It is a fact that her son Amos left home at 19 to join the Army. Records show that her daughter Matilda married a Henry Whetstone, but little is found about them…no census records contain their names so tick marks can be studied for an older woman living in the household.

Rhoda Howell is a woman of unspoken strength…tested strength…enduring strength…even though there are no recorded words to give testimony to her character.