Friday, March 06, 2015

Russell and those early Methodists

I was working with old photos at the museum yesterday morning, including this fine image of the second Russell Methodist Episcopal Church building, apparently taken about 1892 when it was brand new. 

That seemed like good reason to pull out, too, a six-page handwritten manuscript, also in the historical society collection, entitled "History of Early Methodism in Lucas County, Iowa." The title is somewhat misleading --- the manuscript deals mostly with Lucas County's eastern townships.

The church building, dedicated during the fall of 1892, was enhanced as the years passed --- large stained glass windows replaced the original simple glazing. And it suffered a few indignities, too --- the bell tower was taken down at some point.

When I was a kid, there was a similar frame Presbyterian church in Russell, too, but it was torn down after the United Methodist and Presbyterian congregations merged in 1972. Then the Methodist church was demolished, too, and the current Faith United Methodist Church constructed.

The manuscript was read on Oct. 15, 1903 --- about a year after the church was completed --- at an organizational meeting for Russell's first historical society by J.H. Cook, one of its leaders. Much of the research for the paper probably had been undertaken by J.L. Johnson, Methodist pastor at the time. Anyhow, here's a transcription of the manuscript:

Russell, Iowa, Sept. 14th, 1903

The history of the Methodist Church on Russell Charge is somewhat meager; however, the following facts have been gleaned, to wit.

The first preaching in the county was at the home of Zura (Xury) West near Greenville in Washington Township during the year 1849.

Rev. A. G. Price and Joseph Ackerman had an extensive field of labor up and down the Des Moines River and Zura West’s house was one of their appointments. In 1850, Jas. Q. Hammond travelled the Edyville Circuit which embraced Xury West’s. In 1851, Robert Coles was assigned to and travelled the Albia mission and his appointments that year were Albia, Wests, Evans, Potts, Ireland, Soap Creek, Grays Creek and Mathews. That was the year of the great flood. Des Moines River was three feet higher than it had ever been known up to that time. Just for a moment imagine the difficulties of travelling so large a circuit without bridges and very meager road improvements.

In 1852, Chariton was honored with her first M.E. preacher in the person of Rev. E. L. Briggs who has since left the M.E. Church.

In 1853, Rev. Parker was pastor and in 1854, Rev. Johnson Allen was pastor.

In 1855, the Lagrange mission was organized. The first quarterly conference was held at Jas. Rolands Dec. 31st 1855. Jas. Q. Hammond, P.E., and D. T. Sweem, Preacher in Charge.

The mission was separated from Chariton this year and the allowance for ministerial support for the year was $387.40.

In 1856, Lagrange became the head of a circuit and Chariton the head of a district with Pearl P. Ingalls, P.E., and B.F. Williams, Preacher in charge, his allowance for support being $240.

In 1857, Jacob Delay was P.C. with appointments in Lagrange, Ireland, Blues, Melrose, Osprey, Greenville or Wests, Cofffman, Iconium, Potts and Wayne, taking in parts of three counties, viz. Lucas Wayne and Monroe (Iconium actually is in Appanoose County).

In 1858 and 9, R. S. Robinson was P.E. (Presiding Elder) and Rev. Jessie Sherwood, P.C.; allowances for support first year $150; second year $167.

In 1860, the conference was divided and the Lagrange Circuit was assigned to the Western Iowa Conference, R. S. Robinson, P.E., and Adam Burris, supply. The appointments inside the Iowa Conference were dropped and Highland, Barkers and Salem appear on the list.

In 1861, M. Cain was P.E. In 1862, E. M. H. Fleming was made P.E. and the church records show that the first quarter J.B. Talmadge was P.C.; second quarter, J.B. Gardner; and 4th quarter, Saml. A. Talbott.

During the year 1863, Rev. E. M. Fleming was P.E. and S. A. Talbott was Pastor in Charge.

The name of the conference was during the year 1864 changed to Des Moines Conference. This proved to be a very stormy year on account of the Civil War then raging. Neighborhoods, churches and families were divided. Bro. Bellamy, who was at that time pastor of the church, dropped a part of the work in the year 1865. Rev. Bennett Mitchell was the P.E. and Rev. B.B. Kennedy, P.C. Allowances were $600.

The war being over; church work revived and Bro. Kennedy met with great success in his work for God and the Salvation of men and women. Bros. Mitchell and Kennedy continued to labor in this same field during the year 1866 and during the year 1867 Bro. B. Mitchell was continued as P.E. and Bro. Jas. Bracewell was P.E. Bro. Bennett continued P.E. for the year 1868 and Bro. J.M. Rust was for this year P.C. The church records show that their labors during those years were attended with most glorious results.

In the year 1869 Rev. J.M. Conrad was duly installed as P.E. and J.M. Dudley, P.C. This year Russell takes its place at the head of the circuit and during the years 1870, 1 and 2 J.M. Conrad was the P.E. and Revs. J.S. Morrow and Riley Woods were each pastors of our church.

Bro. Riley Wood’s good work in the master’s vineyard proved to be a grand success. A large number uniting with the church and the church enterprises at Russell, Salem and Pleasant Plains were pushed to completion (this apparently means church buildings were constructed).

In 1873, Rev. J.W. Todd was made a P.E. Levi Park, P.C. 1874, Rev. D. Austin was assigned to Russell Charge this year. At the 2nd quarterly conference holden in the month of March 1875 a board of trustees were elected for the purpose of building a parsonage. Said board was P.P. Prather, J.B. Fergeson, Aaron Scott, A.V. Boyland, David Fluke.

During the conference year of 1875 the work was divided. D. Austin, P.C. at Russell, Greenville and Salem, and P.J. Volmer his assistant, taking charge of the north appointments of the circuit. In 1876, Rev. J. R. Horswell was the pastor in charge. The old parsonage at Lagrange was sold and proceeds turned into the treasury of the Russell Charge. The following year, 1877, J. M. Holmes was chosen P.E., and Rev. A. Thornbrue, P.C. Bro. Thornbrue served Russell Charge for three successive years and during his administration all old church indebtedness was fully paid, had good revival meetings and the results were one hundred and twenty-five persons were added to the M.E. church.

It was 1881 that Bro. T. McK. Stuart took charge of the work as P.E. and this year W. A. Wiseman was pastor. He proved to be a successful pastor and large numbers were added to the church, finances were all fully paid up and benevolence fund exceeded the apportionate regardless of the fact that crops were almost a failure. Rev. T. McK. Stuart continued to serve as P.E. for the year 1882 and J. H. Stevens was P.C. Presiding eldership went to Rev. A. Brown for the years 1883 and 4 and plain everyday John Harned was P.C. The work for those years was successful, both spiritually and financially. The Liberty appointment was dropped, a class formed at Zero which soon failed, leaving Russell, Greenville and Salem as the three appointments of this charge (Sept. 15th, 1903).

J. L. Johnson, pastor, M.E. Church, Russell, Iowa

In connection with the above I will add the following to wit: The M.E. Church of Russell still continues to grow and prosper financially and spiritually during the past three years under the administration of Rev. J. L. Johnson, present pastor. Good solid Christian work has been accomplished and as an evidence of this fact will say that during the years 1901 to 3 seventy-five persons have become members of said church here at Russell and Salem either by letter or probation. The Epworth League and Sunday Schools are growing in numbers and interest and are proving to be living factors for the conversion and betterment of our unchristian young men and women. Finances of the church in each and every department are in most excellent condition this 15th day of Sept. 1903.

J.H. Cook

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Andrew Swanson & the misplaced G.A.R. flag holder

The Rev. Andrew J. Swanson, Whitebreast Township farmer and Swedish Mission Church preacher, arrived in Lucas County from his native Sweden during 1869, some years after Civil War guns had been silenced. So why in the world is there a Grand Army of the Republic flag holder, indicative of military service for the Union cause during the war between the states, at his grave?

The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) was a nationwide organization of Union veterans, represented in Chariton by the Iseminger Post, that ceased to be upon the death of the last veterans. 

The difficulty was discovered this week when Steve Hanken, of Cedar Rapids, processed a photo of Andrew's tombstone that he'd taken last Memorial Day, but couldn't connect him with a Civil War service record. Steve and Sharon had driven down from Cedar Rapids and photographed all the tombstones in the Chariton Cemetery at which G.A.R. markers, then bearing flags, were located. These are being added to a national database of Union veteran gravesites maintained by the national Sons of Union Veterans organization.

I volunteered to see if I could find out what was going on here and with assistance from Darlene Arnold at the Lucas County Genealogical Society library we found an obituary for Andrew that did not mention Civil War service but did confirm what other documents there stated, too --- that he'd arrived too late for that war. 

That florid piece of prose, published in The Chariton Herald of Jan. 31, 1895, is such a wonderful thing that I'm going to transcribe in here. If someone ever says to you, "They don't write obituaries like they used to," you can now say, "It may be just as well."

The Sickle of Death Claims a Good Citizen and Old Resident

Again we are reminded that in the midst of life we are in death. Today we bask in the sunshine of joy, tomorrow we drink deep draughts from the cup of sorrow.

Rev. A.J. Swanson of the Swedish Mission church has laid down the burden of life. He has gone to that home beyond this earthly vale of tears; no more will his acts of kindness gladden our hearts; yet the memory of his noble Christian life will always be cherished in the hearts of our people.

By the death of Mr. Swanson, Lucas county has lost an old land mark. Twenty-six years ago he came to Chariton from his birthplace, Vestra Harg county, Linkoplug state, Sweden, and since his marriage in 1871 (actually 1872) to Miss Christina Johnson, has lived on his farm in Whitebreast township, where he received the summons of the Angel of Death at 5 o'clock on Friday morning, January 25th.

For over a year he had been a constant sufferer from the dread disease, cancer, the last six months being full of intense suffering, as the cancer slowly, but surely sapped the vitality from the manly form, once so full of vigor and hope. To the devoted wife and children, who have night and day bent o'er his cot and spared no pains, or thought no sacrifice too great, that they might pluck the thorns and strew the way with roses, we would say something that would put a star in your night of grief, a little flower in your lonely pathway, but we known how vain it is to "gild grief with words," and can only unite with the many friends of the community in extending to you our tenderest sympathy, and may the "Father of the fatherless and the widow's God" early brighten your starless sky.

Short services were conducted at the home by Adam Dale, in English, and Rev. N.F. Nelson preached the sermon in the Swedish language at the Mission church Sunday at 1 o'clock, after which the mortal remains were laid to rest in the Chariton cemetery.


So how did the Rev. Mr. Swanson end up with a Grand Army of the Republic flag holder at this gravesite? Here's what we think may have happened.

If you look beyond the Swanson tombstone you'll see a brand new government-issue marker placed at the grave of William M. Johnson and dedicated during a small service during 2011. Johnson, late of  Company A, 13th Missouri Cavalry, died in Lucas County on Aug. 4, 1901, and was buried here by his comrades of Iseminger Post No. 18, G.A.R.

But his grave, so far as we know, was never marked --- or if it was marked by an undertaker's temporary sign or something similar, that had long since vanished.

Some years ago, a descendant inquired about Johnson's gravesite and Darlene and others located it, using Chariton Cemetery records. They ordered up the new tombstone, commissioned its placement and sponsored the dedication ceremony.

I'm speculating that this is what happened:

Iseminger Post members and their auxiliary were very good at ensuring that the graves of all their comrades were marked with a flag holder and, on Decoration Day, a flag. They may have placed the G.A.R. marker, perhaps near some indication of the Johnson grave --- a temporary marker, a peony, something of that sort.

But as the years passed, memory of the grave passed and a puzzled (or irritated) cemetery worker out mowing grass --- or someone else --- picked the marker up and planted it at the nearest grave containing the remains of someone of the right age to be a Union veteran. We know the marker has been at the Swanson grave at least since the early 1980s, when inscriptions were copied for the Lucas County cemetery book.

None of this is especially important and it seems likely that A.J. Swanson will keep his G.A.R. marker, relevant to his life story or not. But I had fun trying to sort it all out.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Conversation about Yocom Park --- and the future

Joe Sellers' first attempt to call a meeting to discuss Yocom Park and its future a month ago was snowed out. Although streets and roads had been coated in ice earlier yesterday, all of that had melted by late morning, so we were able to get together at City Hall at 11 for a working lunch (in sacks, from Piper's, including candy --- yum).

This was not an "official" meeting, but rather an outgrowth of a community leadership forum held last year during which interest in the park was expressed. Joe facilitated the meeting --- and provided the lunch. The meeting's goal was to talk about park history, its current state and what might be done to refresh and improve it as its 2022 centennial nears.

Development of what now is Yocom Park began during 1922 on the site of Chariton's first electrical generating plant and the pond ("Lake Como") built to provide water for its coal-fired steam generators. By 1920, the area was unused, undeveloped, an unauthorized dump --- and a community eyesore. Chariton architect William L. Perkins, also city engineer, designed the unique amphitheater-like arrangement that included landscaped terraces, a wading pool, a simple bandstand, a ball diamond and the city's first tennis courts.

There was general agreement Tuesday that the park, originally known as "East" and renamed "Yocom" in 1968 to honor Dr. Albert L. Yocom, then nearing the end of his life, remained intact and generally in good condition --- but perhaps underutilized. The ball diamond is no longer used for organized progamming, but still is in place. The tennis courts, seriously deteriorated, are the major expense issue --- along with providing ADA-compliant access from the east side.

As Sherrill Gartin said, "what it really needs is lots of hard work."

We also talked about later enhancements to the park --- restrooms and a shelter house were added in the northwest corner about 1969; and in 1994, the current playground was developed as part of a project financed largely by the Johnson Foundation and led by the family of the late Russell S. and Vera P. Johnson (think Johnson Machine Works), including Sherrill and Gilbert Gartin and Alyse Hunter, all of whom attended Tuesday's meeting. That project included the attractive fencing that prevents youngsters using the playground from running onto busy Highway 14/North 7th Street to the east. This part of the park remains in good shape.

Interesting footnotes to park history also turned up Tuesday. Alyse, who also chairs the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission, noted that according to tradition, dirt excavated for the Hotel Charitone basement, built in 1923, was used in part to form the park's terraces. 

Melody Wilson, another preservation commissioner, has been researching the military surplus guns acquired by the city about 1931 to be mounted on the big concrete slabs that flanked what once was the park's main entrance at the east end of Braden Avenue. Melody located a newspaper article from 1931 that identified the weapons as an automatic Maxim Nordenfeldt one-pound gun on a cone-type mount and an automatic Vickers Maxim one-pounder, also on cone-type mount. (It's probable that these guns went as scrap to aid the effort during World War II.)

I was happy to find out --- from Sherrill --- where the original wading pool had been located --- on part of what now is the playground.

We spent quite a bit of time discussing the tennis courts, now badly deteriorated. It sounded as if the Parks & Recreation Board would prefer to abandon the courts and focus on newer courts in northwest Chariton. Others, however, resisted that idea --- including Ray Meyer and preservation commissioners, including me --- arguing that (1) few recreational facilities exist anywhere other than in northwest Chariton and (b) that the courts have historic significance as part of the park's design and history.

A major issue with the Yocom Park courts is the fact that they were intentionally located in a tennis pit in the area's southeast corner, bounded by a high embankment with built-in concrete and stone seating to the east, an earth embankment to the south and a small patch of privately owned woodland to the west. While the two current courts are of regulation size, they join and there is no margin around them.

If the tennis area were redeveloped, most likely only a single court with adequate margins could be fitted into the area, the access stairs are dangerous and a new means of access would have to be provided, the original seating area is deteriorated and a retaining wall would be needed to keep earth from the south embankment from washing onto the court surface.

I though it was a good meeting and hope for more discussion to come. It probably wouldn't require too much effort to add East Park to the National Register of Historic Places as supplement to the suite of William L. Perkins projects already listed --- Hotel Charitone, City Hall, American Legion hall, Masonic Temple, and the Fred and Sherry Steinbach house. Doing the leg work so that an application can be launched when funding becomes available is something that those of us who serve on the Preservation Commission can get to work on immediately.

If interested in more about Yocum Park, scroll down here in the right-hand sidebar until you come to a photo of the park sign then click on the links underneath it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Yukon Gold (Part 4): Charley Rose comes home

This fourth and final installment of "Yukon Gold" begins after the death on Nov. 22, 1900, of Starling W. Riggins ("Starling W. Riggins' bad luck"), who in company with Charles W. Rose and John E. Bentley left Chariton on Feb 1, 1898, to seek his fortune during the Klondike gold rush ("The Klondike, gold fever, foolhardiness and disaster"). John Bentley had died weeks after the trek began, of meningitis on March 23, 1898 ("John Bentley's homecoming") at Sheep Camp, Alaska, near the base of the Chilkoot Pass. Starling's death occurred near Dawson City, Yukon Territory.

Charley now was the last man standing. He seemed to realize that the Klondike offered him few opportunities to get rich, but couldn't shake gold fever. With the exception of a visit home during 1901, he would remain in the North until 1904 when the Klondike finally chewed him up and spat him out. At least he survived.


Charley gave some idea of how those years went in a letter to his sister, Jessie, datelined Dawson, Sept. 28, 1899:

"I spent the winter (of 1898-99) on the creeks, working for wages a part of the time, and prospecting a claim I had located for the remaining portion of the winter. In fact, continuing to prospect that claim and other ground up to the first of July. Since that time I have been working for wages most of the time, which gives me sufficient means to carry me through the coming winter. I am compelled to confess that I have not met with the success that I had hoped for. The conditions of things now and those existing since my arrival here are such that a man single handed without means to invest in property stands the slimest imaginable chance of getting hold of anything of value."

He then goes on to describe with some feeling the life of a propector, writing that it "is one of considerable fascination, varied, and interspersed with doubts, fears and hopes to be realized. Every shovelful of earth is closely inspected; every change in the formation and deposits of gravel, and the different strata of the earth are closely scrutinized; frequent pannings are necessary, and upon the results depend the hope of success, or the discouragement of failure.

"I have experienced all these feelings and know what they are. I have washed pans of gravel, and when done would discover 10, 20, 30 and occasionally as many as 100 tiny specks of shining yellow metal, hardly visible to the naked eye. These small particles of gold are called colors, and when so small it requires anywhere from 100 to 500 to make a cent.

"A man who has tried once, twice, or three times and failed, presents an appearance of absolute dejection, while one who has tried it many times and finally strikes it fairly rich, goes around with a smile on his face, stepping so lightly you would think he was treading on air, and being in every way a changed man. The latter class are but few in number, while the former can be counted by the hundreds, so you see I can derive some conslation from the fact that misery loves company, and I am not alone."


Charley worked from shortly after the date of that letter until the following July for Starl Riggins and his partner, Mr. Lucas; worked his own claims during the summer; then returned to work again for Riggins & Lucas in the fall. He was thus employed when Starl died of pneumonia during November of 1900. The Riggins/Lucas operation paid him $1 an hour for a 10-hour day.

It appears that he continued to work for Lucas after Starl's death, then devoted the summer to prospecting again. But instead of remaining in the Klondike over the winter, he decided to return home for a visit during October of 1901.

The Chariton Patriot of Oct. 10, 1901, reported that "C.W. Rose, who started for the Klondike region three years ago and who has passed through varied experiences there, arrived home yesterday evening accompanied by his wife, who went to Lincoln, Nebraska, to meet him. There was quite a crowd of his friends at the depot to welcome him. He is looking well, though not as fleshy as when he went away. The Patriot, together with his many friends, bids him a royal welcome home."


Charley returned to the Klondike in January of 1902 --- travel to the Klondike now, by water and rail, was considerably easier.

Through hard work and determination, he raised enough money as the months passed to lease a share of a claim that produced gold. But it was that productive claim that nearly killed him.

A report of his near-fatal accident during the fall of 1903, first published in the Dawson daily on Oct. 18, was republished as follows in The Chariton Herald of Nov. 26:

"Charles W. Rose, who with a broken leg climbed the ladder to the top of the shaft on No. 255 below Lower Dominion, is slowly recovering in a cabin on that claim.

"In falling down the shaft, Rose broke both bones in his left leg below the knee. He is being nursed by the Bachelor Club of Lower Dominion. On account of the nature of the accident, Rose may be confined to his room for several months.

"The story of the accident shows that Rose possesses an iron will. The hole is 35 feet deep, but has five feet of cribbing at the top. A ladder runs from the bottom of the cribbing to the base of the shaft. Rose climbed on top of the cribbing and endeavored to reach the ladder. He was descending to put a syphon at the bottom of the hole for the purpose of getting rid of three feet of water, which was in the workings. He slipped from the edge of the cribbing and dropped down the shaft like a stone, with the result that both bones in the left leg were broken. The presence of the water probably saved him from more serous injuries.

"Rose was in a desperate plight. No one had seen him fall. It was useless to shout for assistance. But he had grit and refused to die like a rat in a trap. He is a heavy man, weighing more than 200 pounds. He stands six feet in height, however, and is muscular. When he got on his right foot, he steadied himself for a moemnt and then with the use of one leg and both hands, began his long climb to the surface.

"He literally pulled himself up. Despite his weight, he made fair progress, but when he reached the end of the ladder with five feet of cribbing still between him and safety, the outlook was dark. He shouted for help, but none came. He grew faint. Fearing that he would become unconscious from the terrible pain he was suffering, Rose seized a piece of rope which by pure chance was dangling at the top of the ladder, and tied himself to the rungs. The rope probably saved his life. Al Deceteau and J.D. Lowery were nearby and heard his shouts and then rushed to the miner's assistance and succeeded in getting him out of the shaft and with the help of others, took him to his cabin. Dr. Lambert set the breaks and since then Rose has been slowly recovering."


It took Charley roughly nine months to recover sufficiently from his fall to begin the trip home to Chariton.

For weeks, he wrote later, he "laid in the shack, suffered and froze." Although the leg had been set, it had not been set properly; and although he could hobble around, he could not travel any distance, more or less trapped on his Lower Dominion Creek claim where he was aided by friends and fellow miners.

There was another setback during February, 1904, when he left the cabin for a few hours. The cabin caught fire. Although his neighbors noticed the blaze and extinguished it, then repaired the building, all of his clothing other than what he was wearing went up in smoke.

After a few months, Charley was able to sort out his affairs on Lower Dominion and travel to Dawson, where he was hospitalized. Further repairs were made to his leg and complications dealt with, but he remained in the hospital for many more weeks. Finally, as midsummer 1904 arrived, he was recovered sufficiently to begin the trip home. According to later reports, his "life hung in the balance" at times during his stay in the Dawson hospital.


Charley returned home to Chariton on Aug. 10, 1904, six and a half years after those three young men had pulled away from C.B.&Q. depot on Feb. 1, 1898, two now dead and one handicapped for life.

"C.W. Rose, who has been in the Klondike region for the past seven years," The Patriot reported in its edition of Aug. 11, "arrived home last night accompanied by his wife, who had gone to the home of their son Bert in Missoula, Mont., to meet him. Mr. Rose stood the trip fairly well but is feeling quite indisposed and his general health is very much broken."

To add insult to injury, someone stole Charley's pants while he was asleep in a berth on the last leg of the trip home.  According to The Patriot, the pants pockets contained "a number of gold nuggets and some old coins .. which Mr. Rose valued very highly." Jennie received permission to go to the baggage car and retrieve another pair of trousers from their trunk.

Some years later, on Jan. 26, 1911, and at the request of Henry Gittinger, Charley summed up his years in the Klondie this way for a brief Leader article: "The going was all right. Changing scenery and excitement --- and hope. These are great incentives. I suppose had I not met with the accident I could have brought away some money although my claim did not prove to be a bonanza. I leased it and it had to be divided into too many parts. Were I a writer, I think I could get up a pretty good book of my experiences and travels during the several years of my absence. I had written a series of letters home and I often get them out and read them over. This refreshes my memories and the pleasant experiences take precedent over all others. There is always something we like to call up that is in the past. Life, thus, is but a story re-read."


It took months, for Charley to recover sufficiently to work --- and he always walked with a limp. Once recovered, he took whatever job came to hand. 

Charley seems to have been a man who did everything he set out to do well, and thoroughly, but had little interest in doing the same thing for very long. Before setting out for the Klondike, he had worked as a confectioner, operated a grocery store, worked as a freight agent, operated another grocery, then operated a restaurant. Through all of this, he seems to have earned a good living for his family.

There seems to have been a steady flow of money home to Jennie during his years in the Klondike; her life appears to have been a comfortable although somewhat lonely one,

By November, 1911, according to newspaper reports, Charley was in charge of "the construction work of the Iowa Telephone Co. in extending their lines through southern Iowa."

During 1912, he was hired as deputy Lucas County auditor, a position he held until 1916, when he was elected auditor in his own right.

By that time, however, age 63, his health was failing. On Friday, Nov. 16, 1917, Charley accompanied the Lucas County supervisors to Albia for a meeting with Monroe County supervisors regarding road projects. As they were waiting for the train back to Chariton at the C.B.&Q. Depot that afternoon, Charley sat down on a railing, then pitched forward dead onto the walkway. Largely attended funeral services were held early the next week at First Baptist Church.


Charley, whose given name was Charles Wesley Rose, was born March 29, 1854, in Franklin County, Ohio, and came to the Freedom neighborhood southwest of Chariton during 1859 with his parents, Stephen Gilbert and Rosalinda Jane (Ogden) Rose. He was one of 13 children.

On May 23, 1875, he married Jennie Proctor in Chariton and they became the parents of a son, Cyril Albert, born March 23, 1876.

Jennie continued to live in the family home after Charley's death and as her health began to fail, son Bert and his wife, the former Catherine Swett, moved back to Chariton from their home in Idaho to care for her. On Nov. 29, 1933, however, Bert died of a heart attack at age 57. His mother lived another few months, then died at nearly 77 years of age on April 15, 1934.

Charley, Jennie and Bert are buried in a row in the northwest corner of the Chariton Cemetery. There are no clues there, however, to the stories buried with them.

Monday, March 02, 2015

On the road to Albia's Grace Church

Bishop Alan Scarfe confirms Rick Clark, assisted by the Rev. Fred Steinbach.

St. Andrew's hit the road Sunday, since the bishop (the Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe) was making his regular visit to our sister parish, Grace of Albia, and one of our own (Rick Clark) was to be confirmed --- only bishops confirm in the Episcopal Church, so one way or another he or she has to be rounded up for the occasion.

The service, the food, the fellowship --- and the homily --- were outstanding; only one minor glitch. The bishop had misplaced his red mitre (that pointed hat) which ordinarily would have been worn for a celebratory occasion, even during Lent. He figured it must have been left behind in Mason City the previous Sunday when he visited St. John's.

Grace Church's Van Hunt (left) and the Rev. Frederick L. Steinbach.

I was happy, too, because it gave me good reason to visit little Grace Church, which is a favorite building of mine and one of the oldest church buildings in continuous use in the south of Iowa. Built about 1869, it is older than any Lucas County church and, in Monroe County, second only to St. Patrick's of Georgetown, that magnificent stone building on the prairie midway between Russell and Albia.

How about that Ogee arch?

I'm especially fond of the ogee arch that divides nave from chancel. You just don't see many of these. If you look carefully, you'll see that the nave still has it's original beadboard ceiling, too.

The chancel may be a later addition and certainly the original building would have had clear glass windows rather than stained glass --- what's in place now probably dates from the first decade of the 20th century. But the building is very similar to what was built nearly 150 years ago.

The pews, bishop's chair and double chair that provides seating for priest and lector came to Grace Church, perhaps during the 1960s, from St. John's Episcopal Church in Garden Grove, which by that time had closed and was scheduled for demolition.

The Grace building also has the distinction of of being the first home not only of Albia Episcopalians, but also of what now is the St. Mary's Catholic parish, estabished during 1874 as a mission of Georgetown St. Patrick's.

The man largely responsible for the Grace building was the Rev. Isaac Peter Labagh, who had been booted from his native Reformed denomination and found a home among Episcopalians. An astonishingly energetic man, he had built Episcopal churches in New York City and Illinois before taking charge of the episcopal parish in Fairfield, Iowa, during the early 1860s.

After the Civil War ended, he set to work along the route of Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, then being built west from Ottumwa (later the C.B.&Q, now Burlington Northern & Santa Fe). Grace Church was first, then St. Mark's in the brand new town of Russell, then St. Andrew's of Chariton, organized during 1867.

Labagh also was astute financially and had considerable resources of his own, which he tended to pour into his mission work. He advanced much of the money needed to build Grace Church and built St. Mark's in Russell in partnership with the redoubtable Elizabeth E. Fulkerson Hammer. Of the three, only the St. Andrew's building was funded by its own parishioners, who included the legendary Smith H. and Annie Mallory.

Unfortunately, the Rev. Mr. Labagh died unexpectedly during December of 1869 in Fairfield, where a son lived, and his heirs were less generous. St. Mark's in Russell closed and the property was sold off.

In Albia, the parish mortgaged itself to the hilt to pay off the heirs and some years later, about 1873, "the organization succumbed to financial embarrassment," as one of the old Monroe County histories put it. In other words, the mortgage was foreclosed upon.

During 1874 the building was sold to organizers of the Catholic mission and eventually became St. Mary's. St. Mary's occupied the building until after the turn of the 20th century, perhaps adding the chancel and almost certainly the stained glass. Then a new and larger church was built nearby and Albia's Episcopalians, who had been meeting in public halls since the 1870s, bought their old home back.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Klondike Gold (Part 3); Starling B. Riggins' hard luck

Prospectors ascending the final approach to Chilkoot Pass in 1898.

This third installment of "Klondike Gold," which began with a post entitled "The Klondike, gold fever, foolhardiness and disaster," picks up where Part 2, "John Bentley's homecoming," left off. Prospecting partners Charles W. Rose and Starling "Starl" B. Riggins had just returned to Sheep Camp, Alaska, after placing the remains of their friend, John E. Bentley, aboard the steamer City of Seattle, bound for Seattle, then Chariton. John had died of meningitis on March 23, 1898, at Sheep Camp.

As always, much of the detail here is taken from a series of remarkable letters written by Charley and sent to his wife, Jennie, in Chariton, and to his sister, Jessie (Rose) Myers, of York County, Nebraska. Many of the letters to Jennie and others were published in Chariton newspapers from 1898 through 1900. In 1916, a collection of letters written to Jessie was shared with Henry W. Gittinger and published as a unit in two issues of his Chariton Leader. Rose was a fine writer and a brilliant observer; these letters are just astonishing. But Charley spent six years and some months in the Klondike, many frustrating and the the final ones almost obsessive. As the years passed, his idealism diminished and fewer letters suitable for publication were sent home.


Rose and Riggins returned from Skagway to Sheep Camp on the 26th of March after seeing that John's remains, accompanied by Stephen Knight, were safely aboard the City of Seattle. On Sunday, most likely, they sold their late friend's gear --- it had been agreed between them that they would do this, then forward the proceeds to Theodosia in Chariton.

On Monday, the 28th, the men broke camp at Sheep Camp and began the four-mile trek to the summit and Chilkook Pass. Each had approximately a ton of gear. Most likely, a small amount of it was carried in their packs. Some may have been loaded aboard their recently acquired sleds and the six dogs brought from Chariton --- still fit and ready to go --- hitched, three to each. Most likely a pack service, and there were many of them, was employed to transport the rest.

Once at the base of the pass, gear would be reassembled and transported by aerial tramway over the summit (two tramways were operating in March of 1898), then dumped to await the arrival its owners.

The steady ant-like stream of stampeders over Chilkook was one of the wonders of the 1898 world, often photographed --- the view at the top here is half of a stereoscope view copyrighted 1898 by the Keystone View Co. of Meadville, Pennsylvania, and St. Louis, Missouri. And here's how Charley described Chilkoot in a letter to his sister, Jessie:

"The trip, and the view, along with the busy people met with on the trail going and coming like so many busy bees, is worth all it costs one to get there. From Sheep Camp to the summit is four miles. The first three miles the ascent is gradual, but is quite steep. After passing the 'store house' a short distance, the foot of the Scales is reached; here the ascent is very abrupt. There are just two steep hills comprising the Scales. Just why they are called so I never learned.

"We then come to the foot of Chilkoot Pass. From here the ascent is in an angle of about 45 degrees for a distance of about 800 feet. The scene here is indescribable, and must be seen to be comprehended. If you have ever seen an army of ants marching to and from their mound carrying provender, you may be able to form some idea of what the scene is on the trail going over the Pass. There are so many thousand people on the trail this spring that it seems like a crowded street in some large city. The trail to the summit is in a direct line, and is so steep that a succession of steps are cut in the snow and ice like one long stairway. There is a rope to hold to in climbing from the base. In fair weather the line of packers on this trail is unbroken, and each man must fall in and take his turn. I have seen the trail when there was a man on each step from the base to the summit."

Upon reaching the summit, paying duty to Canadian authorities on their gear and reassembling everything hauled by tramway from the other side, Charley and Starl loaded the first of several loads aboard their sleds and began the steep descent to Crater Lake. The Yukon sleds, as Charley described them, were 16 inches wide and 5 feet long, capable of carrying anywhere from 100 to 600 pounds --- depending. The descent was too steep to endanger dogs, so the men guided the sleds down the slope, relying on gravity and doing their best to avoid crash landings. At Crater Lake, the dogs were hitched up and did the heavy lifting along the trail to Lake Linderman, then along Linderman to Pleasant Cove Camp on Lake Bennett.

Pleasant Cove Camp was some 10 miles down from the summit, and once there a spot was found, tent erected and dogs and men alike fell asleep, exhausted. As weather permitted during the next few days, men and dogs headed back to the summit and made as many daily trips as it took to get all of their gear into camp.


Charley and Starl remained at Pleasant Cover through April and May, until the 1st of June. The remainder of the trip to Dawson City in Yukon Territory, roughly 500 miles, would be made by water. And so they built a boat --- or a glorified raft --- equipped with both oars and a sail. And that took time. They named it "Chariton of Iowa."

The two men set sail --- or set oar would more accurately describe it since they did not yet understand how use their sail --- on the 1st of June and reached Dawson City just after noon on the 17th after navigating Lakes Bennett, Tagish, Marsh and others, then a series of rivers feeding into the Yukon and finally the mighty Yukon itself. There were rapids, rough water, encounters with rocks and all sorts of other incidents during the trip through beautiful territory --- all described eloquently and in detail by Charley in his letters. I wish there were time to transcribe these in full.


Shortly after their arrival in Dawson City, Riggins set out to find his younger brother, Herbert L., who had reached the Klondike some months earlier and was working a claim. Although Riggins and Rose remained close and often shared quarters, Riggins' business and prospecting relationships hereafter were with his brother --- until Herbert got restless during 1899 and sold his stake to Starl, who then went into partnership with a Mr. Lucas.

Rose, along with countless thousands of others, had arrived in the Klondike too late to secure a good claim --- although he kept trying. Herbert seems to have arrived early enough and had had better luck. Although the Riggins brothers didn't by any measure get rich, they were in a position to employ other miners --- often Charley.

Much of the time, Rose worked for others --- usually in the early days for a wage in the neighborhood of $8 a day, which wasn't that bad.

A couple of weeks after arriving in Dawson, Charley ran into Will Smith, a cousin of his wife, Jennie, who was affiliated with a consortium that had its fingers in a number of enterprises. He went to work for Smith during mid-July, first outfitting a building the consortium had purchased, then cooking for consortium workers (Charley had operated a restaurant in Chariton, so he knew what he was about in the kitchen) --- at $8 a day, plus board. The Smith party had secured a contract to cut firewood and saw logs along the Yukon between Dawson City and Fort Selkirk --- gold of another sort in this cold climate.

When there was time, he prospected --- and by November wrote home that he had located a claim. Whenever he needed it, however, he was assured a job with the Riggins mining enterprises. He signed on to work for them during the winter of 1898-99 and again during 1899-1900. During prime prospecting months, he often was in the field.

At some point during mid-1899, Herbert Riggins decided that he'd had enough of the Klondike, sold out to Starl and headed for California. Once there, he married Laura Pitzer on Dec. 30 in Los Angeles County and They settled down to grow walnuts and citrus near Whittier, an occupation he followed for the remainder of his life.


Starling, whose full name was Starling Beuchamp Riggins, and Herbert were the only surviving children of James and Mary Riggens, who had come from Indiana to farm near the tiny settlement of Andover in Harrison County, Missouri --- just across the Iowa-Missouri state line southeast of Lamoni. Starling was born in Harrison County about 1867 and Herbert, during 1871. A little sister, Maggie, was born and died at age 3 months during 1870.

James Riggins died during February of 1877 at age 35 leaving Mary to raise their sons alone, which she did on the family farm.

Noah H. and Catharine Riggs and their much larger family lived at the time on the Iowa side of the state line south of Lamoni and as the years passed, Starling and their daughter Mary Ellen, always known as Nellie, became acquainted. About 1890, Noah and Catharine --- quite prosperous --- moved their family to Indianola so that the children could attend Simpson College.

Starling and Nellie were married in Indianola on the 17th of November, 1891, when he was 24 and she was 23.

They then returned to Missouri, perhaps to the Andover farm, where their two daughters were born --- Marie during September of 1892 and Ruth, during November of 1896.

It is impossible to say now how Starl became acquainted with Charley Rose and John Bentley. It appears that Starl did move his young family to Chariton, but that may have been only as preparations for the Klondike expedition accelerated. Once the men left Chariton on Feb. 1, 1898, Nellie and the girls moved to Indianola to live with her parents. She developed a relationship with Theodosia Bentley and Jennie Rose that endured for years, however.

It's impossible to characterize Starling --- no one remains to tell his stories. So we'll  have to accept Charley Rose's word --- and he described his friend and companion on more than one occasion as honorable, scrupulously honest and kind.


Word of Starling's death at age 33 on Nov. 22, 1900, reached Chariton during early December. The brief report, published in The Democrat of Dec. 13, reads as follows: "Word was received last Friday by friends in this city announcing the death of Mr. Starl Riggins, which occurred near Dawson City, Alaska, on Novemer 22. Mrs. Riggins resides with her parents at Indianola and the message received by her announcing his death was sent by his partner, Mr. Lucas. He gave no particulars but stated that the body had been embalmed and that they were awaiting orders. An effort will be made to have the remains brought back to Indianola for burial."

Later in the month, a letter from Charley, datelined Dawson, Yukon Territory, Nov. 3, 1900, reached Jennie in Chariton and offered more details. Charley had been working that fall for Riggins and Lucas and they shared a cabin.

"My dearest Jennie: This is the evening of a very sad day to me, and the intelligence I have to impart will cause you as much sadness as it has me. Oh, how my heart bleeds for poor Mrs. Riggins. This time it is she whom the Lord has seen fit to chasten, for the angel of death has laid his hand upon the one most dear to her heart, and bid him come and reap his reward.

"Mr. Riggins was taken six three weeks ago last night with severe pains in his right side which was the forerunner of a severe attack of Pneumonia, and for nearly a week we thought he could not live, but after the eleventh day he took a turn for the better, and from all appearances seemed to be recovering rapidly until yeasterday, the 22d, he was seized with severe pains in the region of his kidneys and suffered untold agony for three hours and then quietly passed away without a struggle, seemingly falling into a peaceful slumber. The complication of several diseases was more than his constitution could withstand. Inflammation of the kidneys was the immediate cause of his demise.

"Nothing was left undone that could be done to give him relief during his illness. The best medical talent to be had was summoned, but of no avail. As to nursing, never has sickness been supplied with better or more efficient attention. His partner, Mr. Lucas, would not leave him for a moment and was beside him almost night and day. A lady living near us was also called in to assist in nursing him, and no pains were spared to make him comfortable. He retained his full senses until the last moment, but I do not believe he realized the end was near.

"We will go to Dawson tomorrow with the remains and upon reaching there will telegraph to his brother in California. He can then communicate the sad intelligence to Mrs. Riggins and wire instructions to us as to what disposition they wish to make of the remains.

"I have written to Mrs. Riggins and have told her I would urge you to pay her a visit and extend to her your sympathies and words of consolation which you know so well how to express and I wish you would go to her just as soon as the information reaches you, for I do think you are better fitted to convey the sad news to her than any one else in the world. I have thought of sending you a telegram but I remember how you are so frightened at only the sight of a message that I hesitate to do so for fear of harm to you.

"Your letter written Sept. 28 just reached me last Sunday. Nearly two months since you wrote it. I am looking for more letters soon. Give my love to Bert and Kate (The Roses' son and daughter-in-law) and tell them to take good care of the babe. Good-bye, love. Yours affectionately, C.W. Rose."


Starling's remains were claimed by his brother, Herbert, but were transported to Whittier, where Herbert lived, rather than to Iowa. It's not clear when this occurred, but the death certificate that accompanied the body from Canada to the United States was recorded in King County, Washington (Seattle) at the end of July 1901. This may have resulted from delayed transfer of documents from another department --- July-August would not have been, in 1901, an auspicious time to transport remains long distances. Pneumonia was the cause of death given on the certificate.

Whatever the case, he was buried in Clark Cemetery, later known as Broadway, which was Whittier's oldest burial ground and contained the remains of many of its pioneer citizens.


Nellie, Marie and Ruth moved from Indianola to the greater Los Angeles area some time prior to 1909, when fate had another hard blow in store for the family.

Ruth, then 12, was riding a pony --- apparently at her uncle Herbert's farm near Whittier --- on April 1, 1909, when she fell. Her foot caught in a stirrup, she was dragged a considerable distance and kicked several times by the pony. Critically injured, she died a half hour later. Her remains were buried at Sunnyside Cemetery in Long Beach rather than in Whittier, however.

Daughter Marie grew up, married twice and lived long, dying during 1980 at age 88 in Durham, North Carolina, where she perhaps was living near a child. Her body was returned to Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier for burial.

Herbert L. Riggins died during September of 1950 at Whittier and was buried at Rose Hills. Nellie survived until October of 1952, when she died in Orange County. I have not been able to find a burial record for her.


Even Starling's burial place ran into bad luck at the end. By 1958, the Clark/Broadway Cemetery and its neighbor, Mount Olive, contained between them 1,281 documented burials (and most likely undocumented burials, too, since no one was sure how long Clark and been used for interments). What was certain was that it contained the remains of many of Whittier's founders, but had become unkempt and was subject to occasional vandalism.

Rather than fix the cemeteries up, the city declared them a public nuisance in 1958 and decided to clear them. Years were spent attempting to contact relatives of those interred, offering opportunities to remove the remains of their loved ones to other cemeteries. Some bodies were moved, but most were not. Finally, all of the tombstones were removed (families were given five years to claim these rather weighty souvenirs) to storage.

State law prevented disinterment of unclaimed remains, so a majority of those buried here remain. But fill dirt was applied to smooth the grounds, original walking paths through the cemeteries were repaved, landscapers were called in and, during 1977, Founders Memorial Park was launched.

Find a Grave photo by "Sunny"

It's very pretty, but it seems likely that the founders themselves would have preferred that their graves and those of their loved ones be left intact.

Whittier Museum photo

The tombstones themselves are currently stored, stacked, in a fenced enclosure at the Whittier Museum. They have never been inventoried. There are reasons to believe that Starling had a stone and that it is among them.

"Starling B. Riggins," and the names of everyone else now resting anonymously under manicured turf, were recorded in bronze on a "Founders Memorial" within the park grounds. During 2012, however, the bronze plaques containing those names were stolen and the monument further vandalized.

There is some good news, however, for Starling and his eternal companions. The City of Whittier approved a new monument for the park during October of 2014, this time in granite rather than concrete and bronze. That project was scheduled to be completed early this year.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Klondike Gold (Part 2): John Bentley's homecoming

This installment of Klondike Gold picks up where Part 1, "The Klondike, gold fever, foolhardiness and distaster," ended --- just after three Chariton men and six dogs had boarded a train at the C.B.&Q. depot at midmorning on Feb. 1, 1898 --- a Tuesday --- bound for the Yukon to seek their fortunes. They were Charles W. Rose, age 43; John E. Bentley (left), 35; and Starling "Starl" B. Riggins, 31.

They were bound for Seattle, then planned to board a ship for Victoria, B.C., and the trip up the Inside Passage to Skagway, Alaska.

The Lucas County men were very heavily equipped --- soon after the Klondike gold rush commenced, it became evident to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that many of these hapless Americans were not going to survive because they had no idea how to equip themselves or of the hazards awaiting them. As a result, a rule was imposed that no prospector could enter Canada unless he carried with him enough supplies to last a year --- about a ton of miscellaneous goods. A suggested list of supplies may be found here.

There were some economies of scale when prospectors planned to travel and work together. The Chariton men believed that they carried between them enough supplies to last two years. What's not clear is how much of this was purchased in Chariton and then shipped to Seattle, but most likely much of it was. Railroads were equipped to deal with this sort of thing. As 1897 advanced, thousands of prospectors were headed by rail to Seattle --- in some East Coast cities, special trains were commissioned to haul just prospectors and their equipment across country. Many of these trains passed through Chariton.

A report in The Chariton Democrat of Jan. 28, 1898, gives a fairly comprehensive idea of how Rose, Bentley and Riggins were equipped:

"The clothing which they will take with them from here and which they will wear after leaving Skagway consists of a suit of silk underwear over which will be worn a heavy fleece lined suit, then a sweater. The outer garments consist of a corduroy suit, leather lined, which may be worn either side out, and a duck overcoat with a hood attached to it for the propose of protecting the head. Their footwear consists of a pair of silk hose, over which is worn a pair of ordinary wool socks, then a pair of heavy German socks. For mining purposes they have a pair of heavy rubber boots which reach to the thigh and have thick leather soles. They also have a pair of common rubber boots and when they reach the coast they will purchase a pair of stout walking boots which have heels on the back as well as on the bottom. Their hands will be kept warm with a pair of silk gloves and a pair of heavy German mittens. Each will take a Marlin safety long distance rifle of 38 calibre, with which they will shoot game along the road.

"For reading matter they will take the Bible, Shakespeare, Virgil, Caesar, and perhaps a few other books. Each will be supplied with a good pocket compass, a very necessary adjunct. A good supply of medicine, all labeled and with proper directions, forms a part of their outfit.

"They will take a good tent which with their blankets which weigh ten pounds each, their rubber sleeping pads and other bedding will afford them shelter and a comfortable place of rest. Their provisions will consist mostly of canned goods, tea, coffee, sugar, rice, etc."


Charley, John and Starl reached Seattle at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 4, awed by the scenery of the high Rockies and Cascades, after four days and three nights of travel. They had changed trains twice, once in Lincoln and again, to the Northern Pacific, in Billings.

Once in Seattle, the men made necessary purchases and did a little sight-seeing before boarding the ship City of Seattle for the journey up the Inside Passage to Skagway on Wednesday evening, Feb. 9. Then there was a major snag.

An inspector determined that the vessel was too heavily loaded and some of its cargo --- including the Chariton party's dogs and a portion of its freight --- had to be offloaded. "We could not think of going off and leaving the dogs behind," Charley wrote to his sister, "so one of us had to stay behind, and of course it fell upon me to stay, while Bentley and Riggins went on," Detect just a hint of annoyance here?

Charley was able to book passage for himself, the dogs and the equipment on a small steam schooner, the Hueneme, and boarded at noon on Sunday, the 13th, but the voyage did not begin propitiously. Immediately after finally pulling away at 5 p.m., the schooner bumped into a large Japanese freighter, then when backing away got its propeller tangled in the line of a smaller boat and careened into a couple even smaller wooden craft, splintering them. The trip began, finally, at 9 the next morning.

The voyage north was rough and the weather deplorable, resulting in many delays and close calls. A trip that should have taken five days took 12. But finally at 11 a.m. on the 24th, the Hueneme arrived at Skagway. Freight, dogs and passengers were offloaded onto a scow and at 2:30 a.m. on the 25th, the scow was pulled by tug to Dyea, the launching point for the long trek up canyon on the Chilkoot trail then over the pass to the interior of Canada. Bentley came down to meet the tail end of the Chariton party at 8 a.m.

On the 26th, the reunited men made the day-long 16-mile trek up canyon to Sheep Camp, the last and largest staging area before the steep ascent to Chilkoot pass. This was for the most part a tent city although there were a few semi-permanent frame buildings.


A few days later, during early March, John became ill with what seemed at first to be a severe cold after climbing to the top of Chilkoot to talk with Candian authorities about the procedure for moving men, dogs and equipment over into Canada. As his condition deteriorated and it became obvious this was more than a cold, Charley and Starl moved John from their tent to the hotel in Sheep Camp and on March 8 spinal meningitis was diagnosed. Meningitis was running rampant in the prospector camps at the time and had claimed many lives.

John was treated by two physicians and nursed at the hotel by Rose and Riggins as well as other young men who volunteered to help out. His condition seemed to improve, then it deteriorated. He was delirious much of the time --- and at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, March 23, he died peacefully with Charley and Starl at his side.

There was no way to get messages into or out of this part of Alaska at the time, other than U.S. Mail --- and that was sporadic. Rose and Riggins could not make an emergency telephone call or send a telegram to Chariton. They were determined, however, to ensure that the remains of their friend reached home. There were no undertakers at Sheep Camp, so the men prepared the body as best the could for transport, then carried it down from Sheep Camp to Dyea, then Skagway, and on the 26th placed it aboard the City of Seattle for the voyage to Seattle.

They had recruited Stephen C. King, a desk clerk at the Sheep Camp hotel who was anxious to return home, to accompany the body --- and paid his passage. King was instructed to telegraph Frank Crocker in Chariton upon reaching Seattle. Starl wrote a moving letter to the widow, later published in Chariton newspapers, which King was instructed to hand-deliver when he reached Chariton.

Having done what they could, Charley and Starl then returned to Sheep Camp to prepare for the trek over Chilkoot Pass.


King and John's body reached Seattle early on March 30 and as instructed, Stephen immediately telegraphed Frank Crocker in Chariton. It fell to Frank to inform John's wife, daughters and parents of his death.

Both Frank and John were Knights Templar, members of a Masonic order --- and Frank, a widely respected banker, had many contacts. So he next telegraphed, N.H. Lattimer, a Seattle banker and high officer in Seattle Commandery No. 2, Knights Templar, and requested his assistance.

Lattimer responded immediately, collected John's body, which was taken to a Seattle undertaking establishment, and offered Knight his hospitality.

In Seattle, John's remains were prepared as well as they could be for the cross-country trip and placed in what was described as a "handsome casket," purchased by the Knights. When the time came to transport the body to the train for the final phase of the journey home, 30 Seattle Knights Templar in full uniform turned out to serve as escorts.


Meanwhile in Chariton, planning began immediately for a suitable funeral. It would be imperative to bury the remains as soon as possible after they arrived, but not without considerable ceremony. John had been an extremely popular and widely known and liked young man and this great adventure of his to the Klondike had for reasons that may seem elusive now captured the imaginations of Lucas Countyans far and wide.

As soon as it was known that the body, escorted by King, would arrive at the depot in Chariton on Tuesday morning, April 5, everything was put into motion. Here is an account of the day's events, published in The Chariton Patriot of Thursday, April 7:

"John E. Bentley, who died at Sheep Camp, Alaska, March 23, was buried in the Chariton cemetery, Tuesday, April 5. With one exception the throng of people who gathered to do him honor was the largest that was ever together for a funeral in Chariton. Friends and relatives from surrounding towns; fraternal brothers from neighboring lodges came to our city and joined with what seemed to be the entire population, to pay their tribute to the memory of this good citizen. Nearly all places of business were closed from 1:30 to 4:00 o'clock. (Schools were dismissed, too.)

"The casket containing the remains arrived on No. 1 Tuesday morning, in charge of Mr. King. The train was met by a large delegation of friends who escorted the body to the undertaking establishment of N.S. Melville. Shortly afterwards it was taken home to his sorrowing family.

"At 2 o'clock a marching column of over 200 representatives of the Masonic, Odd Fellows and M.W.A. fraternities and the Fire Department proceeded to the family residence. The casket was carefully carried out by the pall bearers, six brother Knights Templar, and placed in the hearse, which was drawn by six white horses led by the working team of Chariton Camp 272, M.W.A., in full camp regalia. Immanuel Commandery No. 50 K.T. acted as escort and led the sad procession to the Baptist church.

"The board of health objecting, the casket was not taken into the church and remained outside in the hearse throughout the long services. Quite a crowd had already congregated and a large number who formed the procession, together with many others, were forced to remain outside, so great was the gathering.

"The choir was composed entirely of men --- his friends. Mrs. Jessie M. Thayer presided at the organ. The opening hymn was "Rock of Ages," and was sung with much feeling. Rev. H.P. Jackson of the United Presbyterian church pronounced the benediction and Rev. H.W. Tate began the services with a reading of the Scriptures. Rev. W.V. Whitten of St. Andrews Episcopal Church preached the sermon and Rev. Tate followed with a few words on Mr. Bentley as a man. Two other beautiful renditions of the choir and Rev. Whitten closed the service with prayer. 

"During the service many heads were bowed in grief and sympathy and tears glistened in the eyes of not a few of the men. On the altar were many beautiful floral offerings (including) a monument and a fireman's helmet with the word "chief" on the front, both made of flowers. Above the altar hung the chief's trumpet, draped in mourning.

"The funeral procession again formed and proceeded to the cemetery. Here with sorrowing loved ones and friends gathered around the grave, with the beautiful and impressive ceremony of the Masonic order, the last said rites were performed and he was lowered to his last resting place by his brother Knights. The different orders, in turn, passed around the grave, deposited their offerings of evergreen on the casket, which was already covered with beautiful flowers, and turned their faces homeward, feeling that they had lost a friend and a brother."


John, born in Chariton on April 21, 1861, was the only son of pioneer Chariton blacksmith John A.J. Bentley and his wife, Anna M. (Scott) Bentley. He had two sisters, Mary Anna (Dr. Tom M.) Throckmorton and Miss Carrie.

He had married Theodosia Larimer on March 29, 1882, in Chariton, and they became the parents of two daughters, Maude, 14 at the time of her father's death, and Theodosia, age 13.

John followed his father's footsteps into the family business, working as a blacksmith and becoming, as one of his obituaries described it, "one of the best mechanics in the state."

He was deeply involved in his community, serving as chief of the Chariton Volunteer Fire Department, on the City Council and as a School Board member, resigning the latter position in order to go to Alaska. His fraternal affiliations included the Knights Templar (Masonic), Odd Fellows and Modern Woodmen of the World.

The Chariton Democrat of April 8, 1898, characterized him as "a noble man, whose kindly ways and courteous manners won for him the friendship and regard of all with whom he came in contact. Especially in this community where he had always resided he was most highly respected for his excellent qualities of head and heart."

Newspaper reports published before the Chariton men left for the Yukon suggest that John had dreamed of making enough money there to ensure that he and his family would be able live in comfort for the remainder of their lives, but that was not to be.

John's window, Theodocia, outlived him by more than 50 years, dying during 1949 in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where she is buried. Daughter Maude married Ed E. Pickerell and survived until 1973, when she died at age 90, also in Muskogee. Daughter Theodosia married Horace M. Russell and died during 1920 in Potter County, Texas.

John and Theodosia reportedly posed for the photo below during late January, 1898, just before John began the journey that would end with his death.

This narrative will resume another time with Charley Rose and Starl Riggins at the base of Chilkoot Pass.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Klondike, gold fever, foolhardiness and disaster

This is a tale of gold fever and foolhardiness, high adventure and death --- encapsulated as it was beginning in this photograph taken most likely during January of 1898 on South Main Street in Chariton. The photographer was standing in front of the big Gibbon-Copeland home, then almost new, and shooting to the northwest. In the far distance is the home of Frank and Minnie Crocker, now Fielding Funeral Home.

The small photo album in which this photo was found came to the Lucas County Historical Society a couple of years ago as a gift from Hubert and Mary Lou Pierschbacher. The album has an interesting provenance, but since I'm going to come back to it another time I won't go into it now.

None of the people in the photo are identified, but I'm willing to bet that the three in the foreground, outfitted for heavy duty winter travel, are (in no particular order) the three major characters in this drama --- Charles W. Rose, whose home was out of the picture to the right, northeast of the Crocker house; John Edwards Bentley, scion of one of Chariton's oldest and most respected families; and Starling B. Riggins, called "Starl," about whom relatively little is known.

All were married men, two with young children --- and all were old enough to know better. But gold fever was a powerful thing. It would cost two of the three their lives.


To understand what was going on, you need to know that gold was discovered in the Klondike region of the Yukon in northwestern Canada during the fall of 1896. Early the next year, news of the discovery reached Seattle and San Francsciso and spread like wildfire across the United States in newspapers and other periodicals of the day.

That set off a stampede of an estimated 100,000 prospectors --- or more --- who flooded into a primitive area of unimagined hardship in search of riches. The Klondike gold rush continued until 1899, when the precious metal was discovered near Nome, Alaska, and the stream shifted in that direction.

Lucas Countyans were not immune. The world passed through Chariton daily on the C.B.&Q. line. Special trains loaded with supplies and men bound for the Klondike were noted and reported upon. Some Chariton merchants were offering to outfit potential prospectors with the gear they would need --- for a price, of course.

Into this developing situation during late 1897 stepped several Chariton men, some anxious to seek their fortunes, others interested staking a prospecting expedition most likely in return for a cut of the proceeds. Webb Hultz, prosperous long-time traveling representative of the Tone Brothers Spice Co., seems to have been chief among them. Frank Crocker, always a chancer, was involved, too.

Those who volunteered to make the trip were men in their 30s and 40s, decidedly respectable, but for one reason or another at loose ends. C.W. Rose, age 43, was the oldest. Bentley was 35 and Riggins, 31. Rose was married to Jennie and had a grown son; John was married to Theodosia and had two teen-age daughters; and Riggins, married to Nellie, had two very young daughters.

Bentley seems to have taken the lead in organizing the expedition. Riggins' brother already was prospecting in the Yukon --- at El Dorado No. 2 --- so he had useful contacts. But the old man, Charley Rose, was hard-core --- really hard-core. He would be the rock and the reporter and would outlast them all.

The men equipped themselves in Chariton with some of what they would need, including all their clothing other than hiking boots. There were nine dogs, although they planned to take only the top six with them and would need to acquire three more elsewhere. The Chariton Democrat of Jan. 28, 1898, reported that "The gentlemen have been training them for a few weeks past and they have attracted a great deal of attention."

No doubt the photo above was taken during one of those training exericises. Sleds would not be built or bought until farther along, so a sleigh was substituted. Chariton harness-maker A.C. Reibel built the dogs' harness.

The departure date was set for Feb. 1, 1898, and a farewell party for the intrepid three was hosted by Webb and Ida Hultz at their grand home on South Main Street.


A farewell article was published in The Chariton Herald on Thursday, Feb. 3, two days after the men had embarked. Had the author known what was coming, he most likely would have chosen some of his words more carefully:

With Its Glittering Promises of Wealth and Adventure
The Journey to the Land of Snow and Gold Begun

The much talked of expedition of the Chariton band of fortune hunters was launched last Tuesday, and we bade farewell to Chas. Rose, John Bentley and (Starl) Riggins forever. We never expect to speak to them again. When they return with all their wealth they will be so puffed up that they won't know any of their old friends who followed them to the depot to wish them a safe journey.

We base this opinion on our experience with human nature as it has come under our observation. As to whether the boys would prove exceptions to the rule, should they strike it rich, we don't know, but we wish them abundant success at any rate.

From Chariton they go direct to Seattle, where they will buy the remainder of their outfit, and from there they will proceed to Dyea (Alaska) by boat. Here they will procure sleds and face the most difficult part of their route, Chilkoot Pass, which to traverse one must travel 26 miles of the most arduous road known to man.

Having made the pass in safety they will have comparatively smooth traveling almost all the way, as Lake Linderman, a part of the head waters of the Yukon, is encountered at this point and its glassy surface will afford a convenient road bed by which they can go.

At Tagish, there is a government station where revenues are collected and here the boys will have to submit to the inevitable and pay the duty on their dogs and provisions.

Claim No. 2 Eldorado will be their final destination and Dawson City will be their post office address.

Their outfit will be largely the same as we described some weeks ago. They will take only two dogs apiece from Chariton, as their tickets limit them to that number, and to express a single dog to Dyea would cost about $36.

Their provisions, which must of necessity be plain and substantial, are taken from here. Their clothing is made of the most durable and heat retaining substance to be had. They will wear a suit of silk underwear outside of which they will wear a suit of fleece lined flannel. Their coats and trousers will be reversible, one side being of leather and the other of corduroy. Footwear of every description will lend comfort to their chillblained members and countless other articles of utility will be stowed away in the odd corners of the packs. They will take 38 caliber Marlin repeating rifles, hunting knives and fishing tackle.

They expect the journey will occupy two months, a greater part of which time will be spent on the last 600 miles between Dyea and Dawson City.

With last Tuesday began an epoch in their lives that will probably be the most marked of any they ever have or ever will experience. A pilgrimage of 3,500 miles under the conditions that confront the prospective tourist to Alaska is in itself an undertaking that is calculated to make a man hesitate, and every day spent in that desert country adds so much to its immensity. That they may return sound in health and strength, and rich in experience and the pocket is the sincere wish of the Herald.

We'll pick this story up another day, after the three men and their dogs have reached Seattle. Stay tuned!