Shortly after President Thomas Jefferson completed the Louisiana Purchase from France, which made it an American territory, William Ashley, who was a Virginia native, made the decision to move to Missouri. Ashley was a young man, who was looking to make a name for himself. He entered into a partnership with Andrew Henry to manufacture gunpowder and lead. Opportunists, Ashley and Henry took advantage of the fact that these two commodities were in short supply in young America.
Ashley’s business prospered during the War of 1812, and he also joined the Missouri militia. He eventually achieved the rank of general. When Missouri became a state in 1822, Ashley used his military fame, and his business success to win election at lieutenant governor. Once elected, Ashley set about looking for opportunities to enrich both Missouri and his own pocketbook. Because he knew the area, he realized that Saint Louis was in a perfect place to exploit the fur trade on the upper Missouri River.
Ashley recruited his old business partner, Henry to join him in this new venture. Then, Ashley placed an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette and Public Advisor seeking 100 “enterprising young men” to engage in fur trading on the Upper Missouri. The advertisement was a big success. Scores of young men responded and came to Saint Louis. Among them were such future legendary mountain men as Jedediah Smith and Jim Bridger, as well as the famous river man Mike Fink. In time, these men and dozens of others would go on to uncover many of the geographic mysteries of the Far West, but for now they were looking to make a living trapping animals for their furs.
1822 found Ashley and a small band of his fur trappers building a trading post on the Yellowstone River in Montana in order to expand outward from the Missouri River. The Arikara Indians didn’t like this invasion, and they were deeply hostile to Ashley’s attempts to undercut their long-standing position as middlemen in the fur trade. The ensuing attacks eventually forced the men to abandon the Yellowstone post. Out of desperation, Ashley hit on a new strategy. Instead of building central permanent forts along the major rivers, he decided to send his trappers overland in small groups traveling by horseback. By avoiding the river arteries, the trappers could both escape detection by hostile Indians and develop new and untapped fur regions. Almost by accident, Ashley invented the famous “rendezvous” system that revolutionized the American fur trade. The necessary supplies were delivered and furs were delivered at meetings in a large meadow near the Henry’s Fork of Wyoming’s Green River in the early summer of 1825.
Ashley’s first fur trapper rendezvous was very successful. Ashley took home a tidy profit for his efforts. The fur trappers not only had an opportunity to trade for supplies, but a chance to enjoy a few weeks of often drunken socializing. Ashley organized a second highly profitable rendezvous in 1826, and then decided to sell out. While he was no longer a part of it, his rendezvous system continued to be used by others. The system eventually became the foundation for the powerful Rocky Mountain Fur Company. With plenty of money in the bank, Ashley was able to return to his first love…politics. He was elected to Congress three times and once to the Senate, where he helped further the interests of the western land that had made him rich.
Deadwood, South Dakota maybe started out as an illegal town, but once it was established, there came a need for things like mail, supplies, and transportation, the latter of which brought the need for a stagecoach. The biggest problem with the stagecoach was the fact that the lawless element in the area thought it would be an easy target for robbery. The stagecoaches became a ride for the very brave. Soon it became apparent that the stagecoaches were going to need some protection.
Daniel “Boone” May was born in Missouri in 1852. Going by the name of “Boone,” he was the son of Samuel and Nancy May, the seventh of nine children. Later, he moved with his family to Bourbon County, Kansas, where his father worked as a farmer. In 1876, “Boone” and his older brother moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where they worked in the freight business. During this time, the Black Hills were crawling with road agents and hostile Sioux Indians.It was a dangerous time to be working along the roadways in that area. Nevertheless, May did very well there, and he decided to buy a ranch between the Platte River and Deadwood by the end of that year.
“Boone’s” bravery and work ethic soon came to the attention of the stagecoach service, and he was soon recruited as a shotgun messenger for the Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage & Express Company. He also served as the station keeper at Robbers’ Roost in Wyoming Territory. Within just a few years, “Boone” was thought to have been in at least eight shooting incidents with outlaws. Many people said that he was the fastest gun in the Dakotas. His adventures soon became well known.
One of the first hold-ups “Boone” was involved in was in August, 1877, when a Deadwood Coach was intercepted at Robber’s Roost. On this occasion, even though “Boone” wanted to fight it out, he decided to lay down his weapons, because a woman and child were in the coach. The robbers made away with the passenger’s money, weapons and personal property. While they lost their things, I’m sure they decided that it was best to walk away with their lives. A short time later, “Boone” ran into one of the bandits, a man named Prescott Webb, in Deadwood and within no time, gunfire erupted between the two men. Though “Boone” was hit in the left wrist, he returned fire as Webb jumped on a horse to make his getaway. “Boone’s” shots hit Webb in the shoulder, and the horse several times, bringing it down. Webb was quickly arrested by Sheriff Seth Bullock and later that day, Webb’s companions who had aided in the robbery, were also arrested.
In 1878, stagecoaches known as “treasure coaches” were running regularly between Deadwood and Cheyenne. Their cargo was strong boxes filled with gold, as well as the U.S. Mail. These “treasure coach” stages often became the target of bandits, and after one of these coaches was held up on July 2, 1878, the U.S. Postal Service appointed a number of special agents to bring the outlaws to justice. “Boone” and ten other men were soon appointed as U.S. Deputy Marshals and equipped with good horses and ammunition. One of “Boone’s” first encounters with bandits as a U.S. Deputy Marshal occurred on the night of September 13, 1878. He and another messenger were trailing a Cheyenne bound coach which was approached by bandits near Old Woman’s Creek in the Wyoming Territory. “Boone” and another deputy, Zimmerman surprised the outlaws and shooting erupted. “Boone” wounded one bandit named Frank Towle and the others fled empty handed. Leaving their Towle wounded on the ground, the two messengers went after the other bandits but were unable to capture them. When they returned to the robbery site, Towle was gone.
On September 26, 1878, when “Boone” and other messengers were waiting to escort a coach at Beaver Station on the Wyoming-Dakota border, but the stage failed to show up. They went in search of the coach, and met another messenger who told them it had been robbed and a passenger killed. “Boone” quickly joined a posse to go after the outlaws, but they escaped. The following month, “Boone” learned of the hiding place of a robber named Archie McLaughlin and quickly went after him and his gang. Capturing them north of Cheyenne, the outlaws were sent under guard to Deadwood on the northbound coach. Unfortunately, the stage never make it, because on November 3, 1878, it was stopped by vigilantes who hanged Archie McLaughlin and another man named Billy Mansfield. The next month, “Boone” was in a posse that brought in a robber named Tom Price. The bandit tried to escape, and was wounded, and then was brought in. Late in 1879, “Boone” was sent to assist Special Agent William Llewellyn in the capture of a mail robber named Curley Grimes. They tracked the outlaw to Elk Creek, located halfway between Rapid City and Fort Meade where they arrested him. That night, as the group neared Fort Meade, Grimes attempted to escape and was shot and killed by “Boone” and Llewellyn. By this time, “Boone” had made such a reputation for himself that he became a target for many of the outlaws who repeatedly tried to assassinate him, unsuccessfully. “Boone” also worked as a messenger for the Black Hills Placer Mining Company in the summer of 1880, and was said to have killed at least one robbers during this time. A short time later, “Boone” resigned from the company and left the Black Hills. He turned up in Santiago, Chili in 1883. He shot an army officer in 1891, he fled to Brazil. He died of yellow fever in Rio de Janeiro in 1910.
Myra Belle Shirley was born in a log cabin near Carthage, Missouri on February 5, 1848 to “Judge” John Shirley, and his third wife, Elizabeth “Eliza” Pennington. John Shirley was the black sheep of a well-to-do Virginia family who had moved west to Indiana, where he married and divorced twice. His third wife, Eliza, was on the Hatfield side of the feuding Hatfield and McCoy families, which ranks up there with people I wouldn’t want for parents. The Hatfield and McCoy feuds, while not starting until about 1865, went on for decades, and they were messy and confusing over those years. You might no know who Myra Belle Shirley was, or you might know her best at Belle Starr.
Myra grew up in a well to do family, after her father John Shirley made good in 1856 when he and his wife sold their financially successful farming venture raising wheat, corn, hogs, and horses in Jasper County, Missouri. When John sold the land, they opened an inn, a tavern, livery stable and blacksmith shop. Their businesses took up almost an entire city block. John Shirley had become a respected member of the burgeoning county seat of Carthage, and his daughter Myra Belle lived the life of a spoiled, rich girl, attending the Carthage Female Academy, where in addition to the basics, she was taught music and classical languages. She was a bright student, with polite manners, and a talent for playing the piano. However, she also liked to flaunt her status a “rich girl” and liked having an audience. She also loved the outdoors, where she spent many a day roaming the countryside with her older brother Bud, who taught her how to ride a horse and handle a gun…a little out of the ordinary, but still within the confines of a proper upbringing, but dramatic changes were coming for Myra.
When the Kansas-Missouri Border War broke out. Jasper County watched both armies pass through time and again, forcing residents to take sides, and making neighbors into bitter enemies. Irregular bands of “Jayhawkers” and “Red Legs” laid waste to Missouri communities in support of the Union. When son Bud joined Quantrill’s Raiders, John Shirley was a proud father. Bud, who knew the area and the people well, served admirably as a scout, quickly attaining a captain’s rank. But in June 1864 Bud was killed in Sarcoxie, Missouri. The raids had taken their toll on Shirley’s businesses and after Bud’s death, the “Judge” gave up, sold his Missouri property and moved his family to a farm near Scyene, Texas, a small settlement southeast of Dallas.
In 1866 the James-Younger Gang robbed their first bank in Liberty, Missouri, and fled with $6,000 in cash and bonds. Splitting up, Jesse and Frank James, along with the Youngers, fled to Texas, where they met up with Myra Shirley. Soon, Myra became smitten by Cole, quickly becoming a member of their “gang.” One of these outlaw bands, seeking refuge, stayed at the Shirley house one night. Belle later stated that it was there that she became reacquainted with the first man she ever loved. His name was Jim Reed, and she had first met him back in Missouri, where the Reed and Shirley families had been friends. The romance blossomed in Texas, and Belle and Jim married on November 1, 1866. The Shirleys had no objection to the marriage, as Jim Reed was not yet a wanted man. Jim moved into the Shirley household near Scyene and shared the farm chores. Later, he became a salesman for a Dallas saddle and bridle maker. By late 1867, though, he and Belle were living on the Reed homestead in Missouri. Early in September 1868, Belle gave birth to her first child, Rosie Lee. Belle adored the baby and referred to her as her “Pearl.” The nickname stuck. When Jim and Belle moved to Missouri, Reed was a wanted man, allegedly for murdering a man named Shannon. The two fled to California with their young daughter Pearl and before long a second child came along who they named Edward.
In 1869 Belle, Reed and two other outlaws rode to the North Canadian river country, where they tortured an old Creek Indian until he told them where he had hidden $30,000 in gold. With their share of the loot, Jim and Belle returned to Texas, where she played the role of “Bandit Queen” to the hilt. But, it wasn’t long before the outlaw life caught up with Reed and on August 1874, Reed was killed in a gunfight by a member of his own gang. Belle left her children with her mother while she rode the outlaw trail. In Indian Territory (what is now Oklahoma,) Starr got involved with a flat-faced Indian outlaw who went by the name of “Blue Duck.” Of her life, Belle Starr stated to The Fort Smith Elevator about one year prior to her death, “I regard myself as a woman who has seen much of life.” On February 3, 1889, two days before her 41st birthday, she was killed. She was riding home from a neighbor’s house in Eufaula, Oklahoma, when she was ambushed. After she fell off her horse, she was shot again to make sure she was dead. Her death resulted from shotgun wounds to the back and neck and in the shoulder and face. Legend says she was shot with her own double barrel shotgun. According to Frank “Pistol Pete” Eaton, her death was due to different circumstances. She had been attending a dance. Frank Eaton had been the last person to dance with Belle Starr when Edgar Watson, clearly intoxicated had asked to dance with her. When Belle Starr declined, he later followed her. When on the way home, she stopped to give her horse a drink at a creek, he shot and killed her. According to Frank Eaton, Watson was tried, convicted and executed by hanging for the murder.
Belle’s children didn’t do much better, and turned out as one would expect, with the influence their mother had on them. Belle’s son, Eddie Reed, was convicted of horse theft and receiving stolen property in July 1889. Judge Parker sent him to prison in Columbus, Ohio. Belle’s daughter, Rosie Reed, also known as Pearl Starr, became a prostitute to raise funds for Eddie’s release. She did eventually obtain a presidential pardon in 1893. Ironically, Eddie became a deputy in Fort Smith and killed two outlaw brothers named Crittenden in 1895, and was himself killed in a saloon in Claremore, Oklahoma on December 14, 1896. Pearl operated several brothels in Van Buren and Fort Smith, Arkansas, from the 1890s to World War I.
As people prepare for Christmas, their days are busy shopping for gifts, and buying things for Christmas dinner. Their minds are on friends, family, and the coming holiday…not disaster. On December 23, 1982, disaster came in the form of a chemical…dioxin, which had been sprayed on the unpaved roads in the town of Times Beach, Missouri. On the 23rd, just two days before Christmas the Missouri Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) informed the residents that their town would have to be evacuated. They were told that not only would their town have to be evacuated, but it would also have to be demolished. It was a nightmare Christmas for the people of the town of about 2,000 people. These were their homes, and now the government was telling them that they had to leave. Sure they were offered money, and a chance to relocate somewhere, but some of the residents had lived there all their lives. They just didn’t want to leave. Some refused to sell. By February, the federal and state governments had spent $36 million to buy every house in town except one. Eventually, in 1985, there was only one couple left living in the town, George and Lorene Klein. People magazine profiled their last stand. “They wanted more money,” Leistner says. “She still blames me. I didn’t set the price, but it’s my fault. She doesn’t speak to me.” In 1985, the city was officially disincorporated.
Originally founded in 1925, Times Beach was actually part of a newspaper promotion: A 6-month subscription to The St. Louis Times plus an extra $67.50 bought a 20-by-100–foot lot along an unsettled stretch of the Meramec River. The town never became the booming resort that the newspaper had intended it to be, but rather, it evolved into a lower-middle–class hamlet of about 2,000 people. It was located just off Route 66, the now famous two lane highway that ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, and was once was one of the major routes across the American Southwest. Unfortunately, being the small town that it was, Times Beach never had the money to pave its roads, and all the dust that was kicked up by vehicles was a real nuisance. In 1972, town officials thought they’d found a perfect solution to the problem: they paid local waste-hauler Russell Bliss just 6 cents per gallon to spray its roads with oil. The plan was to basically glue the dust to the ground, but we all know about the best laid plans. They had hoped the oil mixture would mix with the dirt and somehow glue it down. They never anticipated the problem the “cheaper solution” would cause.
Bliss got the oil for free the year before, when a chemical manufacturer that had made most of its money selling napalm to the military paid him to get rid of its waste materials. He mixed six truckloads of that waste…which turned out to be hexachlorophene tainted with dioxin, a dangerous chemical that, once absorbed, can remain in the human body for more than 10 years–with a tankful of used motor oil. Next, he sprayed this carcinogenic cocktail all over town. The children of Times Beach loved sliding around in Bliss’ purple-tinted goo, and no one gave the substance a second thought until animals…particularly horses, who had contact with Bliss-sprayed roads and barn floors and riding rings every day, all year round…started dropping dead. Soon people started to get sick, too. In 1979, the EPA came to town and took soil samples, and in 1982 the agency announced that the levels of dioxin, “the most potent cancer-causing agent made by man,” in Times Beach were off the charts. The agency evacuated the town just after Christmas. In all, the agency spent $250 million and incinerated 265,000 tons of dioxin-tainted soil. In 1999, the bulldozed and cleaned-up Times Beach reopened as the Route 66 State Park. Times Beach has remained a Ghost Town since that time.
I think that were it not for the danger involved, I could be a storm chaser. I love to watch the shows about storm chasers and about tornadoes themselves. I suppose the main reason I like those shows is that you can watch the awesomeness of nature’s storms, but you don’t really have to deal with the reality of the loss of life and damage to property. It seems more like a scene from a movie. Nevertheless, the reality is that in a real storm situation, tornadoes kill and they damage property. The first recognized storm chaser was David Hoadley, who began chasing North Dakota storms in 1956. Hoadley used data from area weather offices and airports to calculate the possible areas for tornadic activity. Hoadley is considered the pioneer storm chaser and was the founder of Storm Track magazine. With storms such as the Tri-State Tornado which occurred on this day, March 18, 1925, and many others that followed, I’m sure that Hoadley could see that there was a need for someone to find a way to predict the path of these deadly storms.
The March 18, 1925 tornado traveled across the tri-state area of eastern Missouri, southern Illinois, and southern Indiana, killing 695 people, injuring some 13,000 people, and causing $17 million in property damage. It became known as the Tri-State Tornado, and it shocked the nation. The tornado first touched down in Ellington, Missouri at about 1:00pm, but the worst hit area was southern Illinois. More than 500 of the 695 people lost dies in Illinois, including 234 in the city of Murphysboro and 127 in West Frankfort.
In all, the Tri-State Tornado traveled 219 miles in it’s path of destruction, and was on the ground more than three hours. It ripped through 164 square miles and was more than a mile wide. It traveled at speeds of more than 70 miles per hour. There has never been a worse tornado in the history of the United States. Years after the Tri-State Tornado, scientists discovered the cyclic nature of tornado-producing thunderstorms. These storms are able to produce one tornado after another, in a seemingly continuous damage path, that could easily be mistaken for a single tornado, when they were actually a family of tornadoes. Of course, with all the time that had passed, and the lack of things like Doppler Radar to see what the storm really was, it is nearly impossible to determine 91 years later whether or not the Tri-State tornado was one or a family of tornadoes, it remains in the history books as the longest-tracked and deadliest single tornado in recorded history. I have to wonder if David Hoadley, or someone like him had been able to predict these storms, maybe the loss of life would have been much lower.
When a young woman gets married, she expects to live happily ever after. Unfortunately, for my husband, Bob Schulenberg’s second great grandmother, Mary LuLu Taylor, that was not to be. Mary, who went by LuLu, married Bob’s second great grandfather, James Leary on September 30, 1880 in Shelby, Missouri. They were very much in love. The young couple would move to Forsyth, Montana and on January 4, 1886, she gave birth to Bob’s great grandfather, Marion Chester Leary, who went by Chester for most of his life. Now their family had entered the next phase. They were no longer a couple, but rather, a family…at least for a while. The couple would move again, this time to St Louis, Missouri. March 26, 1888 would find LuLu a widow, with a two year old son to raise…alone.
For a young mother in the 1880s, being a widow didn’t leave her with a lot of options. LuLu moved back to Shelby, where she met her second husband, James Begier. They were married on March 18, 1890. LuLu thought her life had turned around, and in many ways, she was right. LuLu and James Begier went on to have Minnie in 1893, John in 1896, and Mable in 1902. I’m sure that by 1902, LuLu felt like her life was finally perfect. She had her husband and her children. Nevertheless, life would not reamin so perfect forever. This marriage would not be a happily ever after marriage either, because while James Begier’s death date is not known at this time, the last known census showing James Begier was in 1910.
LuLu would remarry again on February 19, 1919 in Rosebud, Montana to Milo Warren. She had moved back to Forsyth because her eldest son, Chester Leary, was living there, with his family. When a woman is widowed, it is often the best option to move to where family lives…especially in those days. As with LuLu’s previous husbands, Milo would predecease her on August 21, 1928. Once again, LuLu moved. This time to be near her youngest daughter, Mabel Begier Brown. I don’t really know if Mabel was sick during this time or not, but LuLu passed away on April 26, 1929 in Fletcher, Oklahoma, and her daughter, Mabel Begier Brown passed away on April 2, 1931 in Elgin, Oklahoma, and the young age of only 28 years.
While, LuLu’s life was filled with times of sadness, she did nevertheless, live a full life. She had the opportunity to live in several places, and she was blessed with four children, and many grandchildren and multiple levels of great grandchildren, including my husband and his siblings, by daughters and their cousins, and my grandchildren and their cousins. While I never had the opportunity to meet LuLu in person, I have long beed intrigued by her life. My only regret is that I don’t have pictures of all her husbands…just James Begier, nor of her children…just Chester Leary. Nevertheless, I feel blessed to have those few. LuLu was born on August 31, 1861, and today is the 154th anniversary of her birth. Happy birthday in Heaven Mary LuLu Taylor Leary Begier Warren. I look forward to meeting you someday.
With this year marking the 155th anniversary of the Pony Express, there is much celebration in the arena of those who love to celebrate the history of the Pony Express. Every year the first couple of weeks in June find many riders marking the amazing accomplishments of the Pony Express by riding the route once again. The riders follow the original route from Saint Louis, Missouri to Sacramento, California. They travel on horseback, just as the original riders did, and they ride 24 hours a day, just as the riders before them. Today, June 20, 2015 puts them traveling through the state of Wyoming. They left Atlantic City, Wyoming June 20, 3:00am, Farson, Wyoming at 9:00am, Green River Crossing at 11:00am, Granger, Wyoming at 12:30pm, Uinta County Line at 1:00pm, Fort Bridger, Wyoming at 4:00pm, and cross the Wyoming/Utah state line at 9:00pm, arriving in This Is The Place Heritage Park in Utah in time to depart on Sunday, June 21, 3:30am, to continue on to their destination of Sacramento, California with a planned arrival at Old Sacramento, California on Thursday, June 25, 11:30am.
The Pony Express is one of the few services that achieved so much recognition in such a short history. The service opened officially on April 3, 1860, when riders left simultaneously from St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. The first westbound trip was made in 9 days and 23 hours and the eastbound journey in 11 days and 12 hours. The pony riders covered 250 miles in a 24-hour day. Eventually, it gre to more than 100 stations, 80 riders, and between 400 and 500 horses. Their delivery record was amazing in that during their run, only one mail delivery was lost. The service lasted only 19 months until October 24, 1861, when the completion of the Pacific Telegraph line ended the need for its existence.
While it’s time was short, the Pony Exoress has become a beloved historic icon. In fact, in many ways, the service the Pony Express provided, makes our current mail service pale by comparison. I realize that there are many very good mail service workers, but there are also many who couldn’t care less about the mail they deliver, or the people sending or receiving it. They are, unfortunately, among the sorry generation of people who think a paycheck shouldn’t necessarily depend on the work performed, or not performed. That mentality was totally foreign to the Pony Express riders, who risked their very lives every day to make sure that communication in this great nation was possible. Happy 155th Anniversary to the Pony Express.
Most of us don’t exactly think of the place our grandfather died as being anything that would stick in our minds, but in the case of my great grandfather, William Malrose Spencer, it would seem that it was something that the family thought of often. It wasn’t because he was murdered or anything like that either, which is something that might cause it to stick in your mind. He died a natural death, of a heart attack, after working to haul a bunch of poles up to a fence for repair and construction work he was going to do around the farm in Isabel, Missouri. The date was March 20, 1922, and my great grandfather was only 64 years old. That probably wasn’t considered young at that time, but it really is today. He had always been a hard working man, and probably didn’t take as good care of himself as he did for his family. There were seven children in the family.
By the time my great grandfather died, my grandfather was married and living in Wisconsin. He and my grandmother had two children, one, my Uncle Bill was only two months old at the time of his grandfather’s death. Uncle Bill had been his grandfather’s namesake…named William Malrose Spencer II. At some point, my grandfather made the trip back to Missouri to see his mother and find out what had happened. It was a sad trip…his first one home where his dad was not going to be there. I can only imagine how hard that trip was for him. His dad had always been a gentle man loved and respected by all his children. My grandfather, being the oldest and a son, had likely worked along side his dad on many of the projects he had, so I’m sure he felt like maybe if he had been there…to lighten the load or something…maybe his dad would still have been alive. It is something most children, who have lost a parent in such a fashion feel. In reality, there would have been nothing he could have done, but I doubt that knowing that would have helped his broken heart any.
As I look at this picture of my grandfather standing there with his mother, and the one with my Uncle Clifford with his mother, I can see by the way they were standing there that they felt such devastation. My heart breaks for both of them. Losing your dad is such a hard thing to go through, but not being there to say goodbye would be even worse. At that point, all you would have is a picture in your imagination, and someone to tell you, “It was right in that spot.”
After writing about the worst winter ever, I began to look into other severe weather that made a big impact on a lot of lives, and might possibly have had an impact on my own family. I came across a tornado on this day, March 18, 1925 that was and still is the deadliest tornado in history. This tornado touched down at 1:00pm near Ellington, Missouri, and over the next 3 1/2 hours it tore across 3 states and 219 miles, finally ending up in Outsville, Indiana at 4:30 pm, where it hit one house and then dissipated. A tornado traveling this distance is virtually unheard of, but as we all know from this even…not impossible. This tornado was an F5 on the Fujita Scale. In all, the Tri-State Tornado, as it has since been called, hit more that 19 communities in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, while making an almost straight path across the 3 states.
I don’t know if any of the 695 people who perished in the most deadly tornado in history, were related to me or not, but in studying my family history, I can say the I had family in those areas. In all likelihood, one or more of them were related, and when I think of the horror of their last moments, whether they were related or not…well, it is beyond horrible. In Missouri, 13 people lost their lives. In Illinois, 541 people lost their lives, with 234 in Murphysboro alone, which is a record for a single community, and there were 33 deaths at the De Soto school, which was a record for such a storm, and with only bombs and explosions taking higher school tolls. In Indiana 76 people lost their lives. The numbers are not exact. Some accounts say 630 and others say 689, while still others say 695. I find that in itself sad. It is always sad when lives lost go unaccounted for. In all, there were 2,027 injuries and 15,000 homes destroyed. I have been looking over the victims lists, and some of the last names are familiar to me, but I can’t say that these people were or were not related to me. Also, the lists that I found, were not complete lists. It may take a bit of research to know for sure.
It doesn’t really matter whether I am related to any of the victims or not, the reality of this kind of devastation is beyond horrible. Of the 19+ communities, 5 were virtually destroyed along with more than 85 farms. I did find out that at the time of the Tri-State Tornado, my great great grandmother was living just 36 miles north of its path. One of the names might have been a cousin or nephew. Even knowing there is a possibility makes me sad. It is very hard to think about the family members of the victims who are left behind.
Years ago…September of 1976 to be exact, Bob and I went to Yakima, Washington to visit his great grandmother. While we were there, Great Grandma showed me a copy of a family tree, in the form of a real tree. As we looked it over, I noticed that Bob’s great great great grandmother’s last name was Spencer..the same as my maiden name. Susan Frances Spencer married William Elkins Cheshire on January 31, 1847, and their daughter Sarah Jane Cheshire married Joseph Leonidas Knox on March 4, 1875, and their son Edgar Allen Knox married Nellie Elizabeth DeGood (the grandmother who was showing me the tree) on December 25, 1907, producing Robert Leonidas Knox who married Nettie Landis Noyes, producing Joann Eleanor Knox who married Walter Andrew Schulenberg, producing Robert Walter Schulenberg, who married me on March 1, 1975.
The only clue I have as to what Susan Frances Spencer might have looked like is her daughter Sarah Jane Cheshire Knox, shown here. I know that Susan married William Cheshire, and that her life was rather short. She was born January 30, 1830, in Jefferson City, Tennessee, and died at the age of 46 years, on May 26, 1876 in Caldwell, Missouri…just over 100 years before I would find out about her, and begin a quest to find out more about her, that would span 36 years to date.
The Spencer family, or at least the branch I come from kept extensive, detailed records, so I never dreamed I would have so much trouble locating a Spencer or their ancestors, but with Susan Frances Spencer and her ancestors, that has not been the case. The trail to find out more always seems to turn very cold right at Susan, and I am left with questions. Who was Susan Frances Spencer Cheshire? How did she die? Who were her parents?
Susan married very young. She was only 17 years and 1 day on her wedding day. Hers was a marriage that would only last 29 years, and would produce 10 children between 1847 and 1867. She did not die in child birth, so what happened. Was there some epidemic in Missouri in 1876? It’s possible since there was a Yellow Fever Epidemic in Georgia in 1876, but I can’t find anything saying that it spread to Missouri. Another dead end!!
I have to wonder if I will ever know if she was related to me. I suspect that she was, because most of the Spencer families seem to come from one branch or another of the same set of grandparents back in England. I would also like to know if back in Bob’s family history somewhere, we will find that he too, is related to the current royal family in England.