Standing in the shadows of her husband, Mary Etta Soule was married to a man with wanderlust. Born in 1817 in Weld, Franklin, Maine, her husband settled in half a dozen places before he homesteaded in Osborne County, Kansas. It is easy to trace how he settled in new territories across the Midwest…how he made a name for himself by volunteering and being elected to local government positions. He left behind records of land purchases everywhere he settled for whatever brief period of time he lived in those territories. She was married to Andrew Storer. But what of her and her chapters in this story? Indeed, it is a challenge to piece together the life of a pioneer woman who stood behind her man.
Mary Etta was born in Albany County, New York, in 1833. She was 14 years old when her papa George died. For whatever reasons, Mary Etta, her mother, and several of her brothers decided to travel down the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo and took a steamer through Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan to Milwaukee. They traveled by seed wagon to Watertown, Wisconsin. Her brothers found jobs in a brickyard. Teenage Mary Etta found work as a yard girl for a widower named Andrew Storer, who was also the manager of the said brickyard. Did she work at the brickyard or did she work at his home? At the age of 19, she and Andrew married…he was 35. (He had already buried a wife and a child.) They did not be stay put long in their little prairie town.
The couple left Mary Etta’s mother and brothers behind as they moved on to Minnesota, Iowa, and Kansas. It is a challenge to find the reasons for their leaving family behind…but then again, husband Andrew had left Maine on his own to make his way across the Midwest. Little is recorded about Mary, but Andrew is mentioned in Homestead Act deeds and documents. They became the parents of nine children. Their final home in Kansas was a large farm where sheep were raised. According to the 1880 Non-Population Schedule, Andrew raised over 1,500 sheep and lambs. Livestock was plenty while acres were planted in crops.
But what of Mary? How did she weather the grasshopper plague of 1874 when the insects devoured crops, food, clothing…she must have had to start all over…how? How did she handle the isolation from neighbors that women of the plains suffered? What was her daily schedule in the care and feeding of her family? No pictures, letters (if she was literate), nothing remains of her…what a challenge to even try to know her!
Mary Etta Soule was my second great grandmother. She died at the age of 53. All that has been written of her is this: “There was a large attendance at the funeral of Mrs. A. Storer. Rev. Osborne conducted the service.” Mary died eight years before her husband…she lies buried in the shadow of her husband’s tomb.
Update: After I posted this, I added my post to the Generations Cafe FB discussions. Lo and behold, a reader posted Mary Etta’s obituary, which appears below. Thank you, Lori Thomas Halfhide.