Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Farmer Burke's 1916 Grain Grader

It may be too late. I'm guessing he's out of stock...

The Bemis Family - Sutton Pioneers

The Bemis family commemorative brick at the Sutton Museum display

It was May 4th in 1871 when Hosea Gray, his son John, his son-in-law George Bemis and Mr. and Mrs. W. Cunning arrived at Luther Gray’s dugout along School Creek.

Hosea’s wife Ann and family had stayed in Marion, Iowa near Cedar Rapids where the 54-year old Civil War vet had been farming. Their daughter Ada Augusta had married George Bemis in 1868, had lost a year-old son in 1870 and had another infant son.

The historical society has shown a bias towards the Gray family in our retelling of the story of Sutton’s early days. Explainable. John Gray built the two houses that comprise our museum. But now it’s time to talk about Mr. Bemis.

George and Ada Bemis had been living in Belle Plaine, Iowa west of her parents when the extended Gray family headed west. We’ve not found any account that spells out their motivation for the move, but heading to the frontier was the consequence of a variety of reasons.

The Gray and Bemis families were both farm families in Iowa but soon Hosea Gray and George Bemis were both practicing attorneys in the new town of Sutton. Entry into the legal profession was then more of an apprentice thing than a formal education – remember Abraham Lincoln’s story?

Ada Bemis told a story that indicates George may have been more an attorney and less of a farmer. Seems shortly after the family arrived in the start-up town of Sutton, George Bemis bought a milk cow, perhaps the first one in town. Neighbors gathered as he milked his cow that first evening – probably wasn’t much on TV that night…

Then the next morning, George was drinking coffee after breakfast when Ada asked if he was going out to milk the cow. George response was, “Why? Are you out of milk already?”

Unclear on the concept.

The Bemis family was an old New England family. George Whitfield Bemis was born September 1, 1846 in Mayfield, New York, on the edge of the Adirondack Mountains northwest of Schenectady. His mother was Eleanor Day, born in that same town in 1808 but her family origins appear lost in the haze.

George’s father was Phineas Bemis who was born in Vermont but his grandfather Isaac, a Revolutionary War veteran and four earlier generations of John Bemis’ all lived in Middlesex County, Massachusetts just outside of Boston. George’s fifth great-grandfather Joseph was the immigrant, born in Essex County England in 1619 who arrived in Massachusetts in 1640.

The Bemis family certainly had deep colonial roots. The biography of one daughter, Anna Gray, who will return to our story later, reflects the roots of the family: member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the United States Daughters of 1812 and the Nebraska Society of Mayflower Descendants.

George and Ada Bemis had one son when they arrived in Sutton. There may have been as many as seven subsequent children born between 1872 and 1886. The family had moved to York by 1900 where George continued to practice law and served a term as mayor. Ada built a reputation in York as a musician and writer. Four of their children appeared in the 1900 census with their parents: Anna, Gray, Winnie and Eugene.
The Bemis family is one of hundreds of Sutton residents, past and present
remembered at the front door of the Historic House.

Before he left Sutton, George Bemis played a part in Sutton’s “war” with the Burlington Railroad. This story has been hashed and re-hashed in other contexts, but we’ll cover a bit of the background here.

The Burlington railroad resisted placing a depot in Sutton for quite some time. There were several issues separating the positions of the railroad and Sutton’s early settlers and the “negotiations” did not always occur up there on the High Road.

The best that Sutton could get out of the Burlington was a freight car parked on a siding that was to serve as a temporary depot. The thing was identified by an old bleached Buffalo skull with the number “124” painted on it.

Then, in December, 1871, even that vanished and reappeared about four and a half miles east at a location the Burlington named Grafton. This was not where Grafton currently is, but about half way between today’s Sutton and Grafton. It was half way between Fairmont and Harvard and also between Lincoln and Kearney.

The railroad owned much of the land around their Grafton and with a depot at that site, Grafton would grow, Sutton would surely wither. Burlington’s Grafton had four houses and one general merchandise store operated by a Mr. Marthis and his partner, Mr. Robbins.

There were off-and-on negotiations involving Sutton people, the railroad and the postal service, none of which were going anywhere.

Then just before Christmas, the wheels started to turn, so to speak. Someone talked Marthis and Robbins into moving their store to Sutton. The Clark brothers gave them a lot and Sutton citizens, let by George Bemis and his friend W. Cunning took teams to Grafton, loaded up the store and brought it into Sutton.

George Bemis was a better lawyer than farmer and, as it turns out, was probably a better poet than farmer also. He’s not Poet Laureate material. If we were to name a Poet Laureate for Sutton, Anne Sheridan would definitely be in the running. But the Bemis poem was good enough to appear in the Daily State Journal and has been repeated in most meaningful publications about the early history of Sutton. It’s been almost seven years since the historical society has published it.


What a clanking if hammers and ringing of saws;
How they sound through the valleys and ring in the draws,
Oh! Sutton is growing, in the midst of the fray,
With the city of Grafton only four miles away.

How the B. & M. engines shriek, whistle and squall,
And send forth the order that Sutton must fall,
How they thunder and matter, and grow night and day
With the city of Grafton only three miles away.

Then came Mr. Marthis, and thus he did say,
“I’m tired of Grafton, if only it may;
I’ll come down to Sutton, without delay.”
Soon Grafton will be only two miles away.

Then started the wagons and horses and men,
The steeds, how they foamed, as a whip now and then,
Came down on their sides, near the close of the day,
With the city of Grafton only one mile away.

Then rushed down the hill the black and the gray,
And close followed the crowd to have support on the way,
And the shout that went up in the end of the fray,
Said, “The city of Grafton is in Sutton today.”  


A bit of a diversion here. That buffalo skull from the temporary depot is displayed in the front porch of our museum. But why “124?”

The usual writings about Sutton, the Griess book on the Germans from Russia, the Sheridan sisters’ book and others mention the depot, the skull and that number. But we’ve not seen anyone take a run at explaining why “124.” Let’s fix that.

Railway systems are one-dimensional systems. The track has length; neither width and height are factors. Distance measurements along the track are a big deal. So could “124” be a measurement from somewhere.

I traced the Burlington route with the Google Earth ruler and lo and behold, it’s about 124 miles from the Plattsmouth Bridge where the Burlington crosses the Missouri River into Nebraska to Sutton. You do have to work your way around the curves as the track follows the Platte for a ways, but even with my rough approximation, I’m good with that story and include it in my museum tours.

End of diversion.

We need to mention at least two of the Bemis kids in this story.

Anna Gray Bemis was born in Sutton on December 28, 1876. The family moved to York where she graduated from high school and college. She was active, really active in York. We mentioned her genealogy related organizations earlier. Add to those, school teacher for nine years, manager of a wholesale music firm for five, author for numerous magazines (including Field and Stream and the Nebraska Farmer), president of the state American Legion Auxiliary, state chairman of the WCTU and the Amateur Musicale Club, officer of the York Women’s Club and the Pythian Sisters and a member of the Native Sons and Daughters. Her hobby was genealogy.

Anna shared this life with two men. Her first husband was an Ohioan, Robert Cutler, who was about 30 years her senior. He passed away in 1935 at the age of 89. She married Col. Orlando G. Palmer in 1944. He died in 1950; Anna died on January 13, 1962.

The York museum participated in our commemorative brick project at the
Sutton Museum with their namesake's brick at her brother's house - our
Anna Gray Bemis Cutler Palmer’s big contribution to her adopted city of York was her museum. And she worked most of her names into the Anna Bemis Palmer Museum’s name. Ever been there? You really should check it out. Sutton’s Anna Bemis provided much of the funding and many of the artifacts in this museum. Just inside the door to your right (at least it was there the last time I visited) is an exhibit telling about Anna’s connection to Sutton. Now will you go visit?

The other Bemis offspring we’ll mention also made his mark in York.

Eugene Henry Bemis was born on July 4, 1880, immediately following Anna in the family kid sequence. He was married to Kittie Houston of York.

Eugene, or Gene Bemis had a career in the newspaper business serving as associate editor of The New Teller newspaper. He did some writing for magazines and wrote lyrics for J. A. Parks compositions in York. (Not sure what that was, but first look at a Google link invites more attention.)

Gene Bemis’ bio has almost as many organizations as his sister’s. He was definitely into music composition and running musical programs.

But the publication we want to focus on here is his book, The Squawker Book published in 1919. It is a soft bound collection of his writings as editor of The New Times introduced with the self-deprecating line, “…purported to be a humorous department of The New Teller.” Its dedication read, “We ain’t mad at nobody.” The column was scheduled to appear, “any darn time we please or oftener.” We thank the Houston family for our copy at the museum. Well, it’s at the museum when I haven’t brought it home to read its 100 pages just one more time.
The Squawker Book is a collection of Gene Bemis'
columns in The New Times, his York newspaper.

Bemis wrote with a folksy dry wit that could remind of Will Rogers. (Did I lose anyone with that reference? Probably.)

The George Bemis family moved on to York after making their contribution to Sutton’s early days. While researching this article I did check the Sutton Cemetery on and found Bertie Bemis (1870-1887) who matches George and Ada’s son Lucian Albert Bemis – I submitted an update to the memorial on findagrave.

The other Bemis graves turned out to be members of the family of Willard Eugene Bemis (1842-1917), and older brother of George Bemis. Willard seems to have followed his brother to Sutton, lived in Omaha at one time and was a Sutton rural mail carrier in 1910. The four Bemis names in the Sutton School alumni directory are from this family, children and grandchildren.

In any event, the Bemis name is no longer around Sutton. But the family ranks among Sutton’s first settlers and did leave tracks in our community – not just graves, and at least one poem that will continue to pop up from time to time in accounts of Sutton’s history.

George Whitfield Bemis (1846-1915) and Ada Augusta Gray (1848-1945) – Sutton Pioneers.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Detroit Free Press subscription offer in Sutton?

It seems unexpected, but in 1890, The Sutton Register had a joint subscription offer with the Detroit Free Press:

What was up with that?

1890 - Sitting Bull killed

Early newspaper commentary is sometimes striking, often hard to read.

This article appeared in The Sutton Register on December 20, 1890 telling of the death of Sioux (Hunkpapa Lakota) Chief Sitting Bull on December 15th at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in north central South Dakota.

Note the tone of the last portion of the article, likely written by F. M. Brown, publisher of the Register.

When Sioux Chief Big Foot heard of Sitting Bull's death, he attempted to find protection at Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He and about 300 Sioux were killed by army troops on the morning of December, 29, 1890.

From the December 20, 1890 issue of The Sutton Register

Sunday, August 21, 2016

1916 Sutton Register comment of public ownership of railroad.

A major economic and political conflict 100 years ago was between the "little guy" and corporations. None was more intense than the conflict between farmers and the railroads.

This item from The Sutton Register in August, 1916 is a comment by publisher F. M. Brown along those lines. Public ownership of all railroads was seen by many (most?) as the answer.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Mystery Utinsel - A query in a recent newspaper column

We posed a question in a recent Clay County News column asking readers to identify this thing:

We received two quick replies. The thing is a "soap holder" and it triggered further conversations about its use(s).

Generally the purpose of the thing was to enable use of those bits and slivers of soap that remain when you've gotten about 94% of the use you're going to get. Some of us are ....  frugal and would like to use 100% of that soap bar before unwrapping the next one.

A collection of soap slivers in this handy-dandy little device will allow you to swish it in water and dissolve those last precious pieces into usable suds.

Or, we learned that a bunch of those slivers of soap, if heated properly, would congeal into a reconstructed, full-fledged, almost new-looking bar of soap. We've not tried this.

And yes, we did have a brief discussion about the microwave oven. Consensus was inconclusive.

Happy 10th Anniversary to Your Sutton Museum!

The Historic House built by John & Emma Gray in 1908.
A small cadre gathered in the fall of 2005 with some idea that our community could use, maybe even needed a group that would collect and preserve the story of Sutton’s history.

Okay. The tenth anniversary of the founding of the Sutton Historical Society occurred several months ago to some modest recognition by that small group. This spring marks another significant tenth anniversary for the Sutton Historical Society.

In those first months of getting organized, there were discussions about some of the historic houses in Sutton, most of which were no longer around, either torn down, moved out of town or otherwise diminished in historic interest.

But we were meeting in Aunt Emma’s Tea house on North Way Avenue, not a real early Sutton home, certainly not a big home, but a pretty neat home just the same. Then during one of our early meetings the Unterseher’s told us that after nine years they had enjoyed about as much of running the tea house as anyone deserved and would be selling it.

It was clear that this 1908-built retirement home of John and Emma Gray was a fine candidate for preservation – historically significant, in excellent shape, available and possibly even attainable.

A methodical fund raising campaign attracted numerous generous donors and soon we had a down payment for the house. In a weak moment, the folks at Sutton State Bank drew up a ten-year note allowing us to buy our new, and old home, The Historic House. That was in May of 2006 and that is the Tenth Anniversary we’re celebrating with this article. Yes, loan on the Historic House is paid off. Yeah!

In these ten years since the active members of the historical society made that commitment we’ve managed to grow to the three-building complex that is the Sutton Museum.

We acquired the rural school building that served District #55, the Wolfe School north of Fairfield giving us that vital link to a great part of frontier life – the country school.

The Rural School Museum, part of the Sutton Museum hosts the Sutton Schools 4th graders for two visits each fall as part of their Apple Valley block in which they reenact the country school experience.
And the original John and Emma Gray home, later the Ackermann and Ulmer home and most recently the Schinzel house became available and although not actually owned by the Sutton Historical Society, it serves as a museum with floor space and a roof overhead housing much of the Museum’s diverse collections.

So, although the majority of Sutton residents have not yet visited our museum and an embarrassing number (for us) still seem to have no idea we exist or what we’re doing, we continue to strive to meet the objectives of our mission:

To collect and preserve the historic artifacts and information about the Sutton, Nebraska Community.

So, what are we doing?

The Sutton Museum activities come in two parts: historic artifacts and historical information, kind of the hardware and the software of a museum.

The museum hardware is mostly the artifacts that the generous people of the Sutton community have donated, stuff that was squirreled away in attics, closets and basements. People are displaying their best when they realize that a prized possession or family heirloom could be somewhere where more people can enjoy it rather than gathering dust in a dark corner of the basement. Members of the historical society appreciate the opportunity to display these items but not as much as our visitors enjoy seeing, touching and learning to appreciate such items.

Our mission calls for us to collect and preserve items of the Sutton community so we do emphasize that each item should have a Sutton story. Not every one of them does. We accept, and appreciate items that expand our visitors’ knowledge and appreciation of the past. But if a similar item becomes available, and it has a Sutton story, we’ll readily swap out the old one. We warn donors of that possibility, and everyone, so far has agreed we’re on the right track.

So what is it we have? Our first major donation came from Odessa, Texas where a great, granddaughter of the Gray’s learned of our plans for the family home. She had the original dining room table and chairs from the Gray’s house and saw to it that the set came home. It’s back in its original spot and worthy of mention on every tour.

A prized item was donated by the Sheridan family, a large, six-foot tall wardrobe that was built by John Sheehy from trees on his Illinois farm for his daughter Ellen on the occasion of her wedding to John Sheridan in 1879. That’s pretty special, a classic 19th Century family heirloom with an intimate Sutton connection.

Small items dominate the list: commemorative plates, lamps, clothing from early settler families, kitchen items, mysterious objects worthy of showing up in our newspaper column and lots more.

We receive items that were connected to early Sutton businesses – advertising paraphernalia, gifts for customers, things like that. We have a bedroom set that was sold by the Honey Furniture Company, the first and largest furniture store ever to serve the Sutton community.
Timothy Hartnett's advertising button for his early bar was a popular
find for us. We have not heard from anyone who even knew there ever
was a fellow, or a bar by that name in Sutton. Finding these lost people
and things is a rewarding part of our experiences with the museum.

Some of the donations are especially fun such as the advertising button from Timothy Hartnett’s bar around 1900. Oh, there are lots of things.

Besides these items of memorabilia, the Stuff of Sutton History, our other effort is to collect and preserve the information about Sutton’s history, the Stories of Sutton History.

Frankly, and personally, the information about Sutton’s past interests me more than the artifacts. And from the standpoint of the Sutton Museum, if we tire waiting for people to come to the museum to learn about Sutton’s past, we can take Sutton’s past to them.

We’d written a few newspaper items for the Clay County News early in our existence and in the summer of 2009 we began our weekly column, “Clay County in the Rear View Mirror” where we pilfer items from archived newspapers from 25, 50, 75 and 100 years ago.

Coincidently, that summer the first issue of Sutton Life Magazine appeared in our mailboxes and after a brief conversation with Jarod Griess our first magazine article titled, “Small Town, Big Story” appeared in his second issue in August, 2009. Habits can form easily and here we are still cranking out that weekly newspaper column and monthly magazine, even as I write and you read.

The research behind the column and the articles have uncovered a wealth of information about Sutton’s history, just the kind of thing we promised to “collect and preserve” about the story of the Sutton community.

In case you’ve missed it, a sampling of information we found that many admitted to not knowing, or had forgotten includes:

Walter Wellman started Sutton’s first newspaper at age 14 and later tried to become the first man to the North Pole, in a hot air balloon.

Dr. Madeline Leininger of Sutton became one of the renowned leaders in the nursing field founding a completely new branch of the profession.

Johnny Bender was a five-year letterman on Nebraska’s football team before coaching several college teams and inventing nicknames that survive today: Saint Louis University Billikens, Kansas State Wildcats, Washington State Cougars and Houston Cougars.

Mr. Herbert Johnson, again of Sutton, was a 1930’s political cartoonist who drew covers for the Saturday Evening Post and Country Gentleman’s magazines.

William Gold learned the retail business in downtown Sutton before selling out in 1890 and opening one of the Nebraska’s premier department stores in downtown Lincoln.
Few people (almost none) knew that William Gold had a store in downtown
Sutton before he moved to Lincoln to found Gold's Department Store on "O"
Street. This ad is from 1888 about two years before he closed the Sutton Store.

The 1922 Sutton High basketball team was awesome.

Ummo Luebben invented the round baler in Sutton.

The first few years in Sutton generated a wealth of stories that must be retold again and again.

Settler stories about the Browns, Clarks, Grays, Maltby’s, French’s and so many more need to be dragged out of dusty books and newsprint and exposed to each Sutton generation.

Sutton once had an army.

The veterans, my goodness, there is a market for veterans’ stories which we try to fill.

Many, many of the several thousand one-time Sutton residents had lives which warrant at least a brief biography so their unique stories are not lost, forever.

We still surprise people when we mention that the round baler was invented in Sutton.
Some people came in groups, or can be categorized within a group where the collective story tells more than any individual’s story can.

The first Sutton settlers were veterans of the Civil War and came with a common experience each with a story that needs to be told.

Farmers and city folk from Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, and elsewhere in the east migrated in search of a new life with all the variations of the story of the nation’s western migration.

Swedish farmers were Luther French’s first neighbors as they filed for those first 1870 homesteads, French laying the groundwork for the land that became Sutton and those Swedes attracting their countrymen to Saronville.

The first 22 families of Germans from Russia arrived in late 1873, the first such settlement in Nebraska.

Germans, English, Irish, Danes and others followed the Burlington, stopped to farm or open shops or find jobs, all contributing to the story of how Sutton came to be.

We collect and preserve their artifacts; we collect and preserve their stories.

Social media is the 21st Century way to tell stories and while some still resist, the rest of us adapt.  Our Sutton Life Magazine articles get re-purposed as posts on our blog at along with many other tidbits and other relevant posts.

We have a Facebook page, a twitter account and join more than 600 Sutton-connected folks at the Facebook page, “You Know You’re from Sutton, NE when….”

We contribute to the family information at helping to tell the story of people who once lived in the area and to research family relationships.

Trivia questions about past businesses and their locations are always popular. We love to share ads in old newspapers that provide clues to people, businesses and other information about a period in our town’s past.

14-year old Orion P. Howe earned the Medal of Honor
at Vicksburg and thirty years later was a dentist in
Sutton. Sutton native Jacob Volz won his Medal of
Honor in the Philippines in 1911.
And, occasionally we uncover items that beg to once again become known locally. Such was the button advertising Timothy Hartnett’s bar, likely around 1910 or so, and worth including among our illustrations here.

Would anyone in Sutton today know about Tim Hartnett without our bit of fun with his provocative button? And how many know anything about that bartender’s wife? We recently ran across a news item describing how Veronica Hartnett began manufacturing poultry incubators in Sutton.

It’s common knowledge that M. M. Johnson employed a couple of hundred people in Clay Center mainly producing his version of the poultry incubator. Sutton’s Emil Ochsner had a similar, if much smaller business in Sutton – our museum has one of his products. And we have mentioned that a couple of Fairfield fellows also manufactured similar incubators.

Veronica Hartnett seems to have performed some one-upmanship on those guys with Clay County’s fourth such business with her combination incubator/brooder as she attached a larger section to the side where little chicks could get a start next to the kerosene lamp that warmed their eggs a few weeks earlier. She set up her manufacturing business in a downtown Sutton storefront in 1906.

Ferreting out these lost, or little remembered bits of Sutton history is rewarding. Hearing someone say, “I’d forgotten that” or “I never knew that” or “Are you sure?” in response to a bit of Sutton history uncovered in some obscure newsprint or website is pretty cool. It’s a shame that so few of us get this opportunity. But, if there is even a sliver of jealousy of our good fortune, why don’t you contact us and join us in these worthwhile efforts.

Someone contacts the news office, city hall, the library or the school every few days asking about Sutton history or information about some relative who once lived in our community. What happens then? They usually get my phone number.

We could sure use some help.

Carolyn Ackerman's doll collection is one of three collections at the museum along with
Beulah Ochsner's hats and paintings by the Ebert sisters and their art students.

We receive numerous old photos of Sutton and surrounds, many of which we can
even identify.

place marker for future post

place marker for future post

Dr. Martin V. B. Clark - Clay County's Pioneer Doctor

Dr. Martin Van Buren Clark was Clay County's first physician and pharmacist.
Dr. Martin V. Clark died at his home in Sutton on March 22, 1922. He had been a big part of the story of Sutton from the very beginning. He was the county’s first doctor.

Martin Van Buren Clark and his brother Isaac Newton Clark arrived in late 1871, more than a year and a half after the first homesteaders arrived in Northern Clay County. What did they find when they arrived?

Luther French is credited with the founding of Sutton. Mr. French staked out his homestead claim in early 1870, settled into his dugout and proceeded to grow a little wheat on land that is now the north section of our town.

He was alone out here on the prairie until the next spring when a trickle, and then a small flood of people came from the east and stopped here along the banks of School Creek. These 1871 arrivals were the ones who were much more interested in citing a town than Mr. French had been.

The earliest shops, dominated by saloons, lined Main Avenue. Those first settlers were postured in the path of the railroad and in August Burlington tracks cut through on the south end of that business strip.

Within days of the arrival of the railroad, John Maltby persuaded Luther French to survey his 80-acre farm into town lots as Maltby and friend William Way had taken possession of the 160 acres to the south – another good story we’ll pass on this time.

So when Martin V. B. Clark and brother I. N. Clark arrived on November 1, 1871 with their families, the community of School Creek had been renamed Sutton and 240 acres designated for the town.

French’s sale of his town lots were the first real estate transactions recorded in Clay County. It’s beyond the scope of this article but there seems to be an open question about those transactions. Our understanding of the Homestead Act leads us to believe Luther French would not have had clear title to his homestead until he’d completed the five-year process of proving-up the claim. Yet, there he is a year later selling off lots. Perhaps I’m missing something. However…

By the end of 1871, it was clear that town of Sutton would exist. What is not always clear, are the details of how our town came to be.

We have several contemporary accounts of those early days completed while the main cast was still around to authenticate the details. Unfortunately, that may not have always happened.

Most accounts stem from two sources. The nation made a fuss of its Centennial in 1876 including Clay County which commissioned a formal history. The committee consisted of Dr. Martin Clark, Judge John Maltby and Erastus White of Sutton along with Ezra Brown, Ira Pearsall and J. T. Fleming of Harvard. Dr. Clark read the entire text of “A History of Clay County, Neb.” at the celebration of American Independence in Sutton on July 5, 1876. This was a mere five years after most of the founding events occurred. We seldom get an account that contemporary from the main characters.

We're fortunate that within five years of the arrival of early Sutton and county settlers, the nation's centennial prompted the writing of a thorough history of the county. Additionally, the task fell to some educated early settlers.
A second oft-quoted source is the “History of Hamilton and Clay Counties” edited by George Burr and O. O. Buck and published in 1921. It contains more than 600 pages of biographical sketches of early Clay County Movers and Shakers including the Clark Brothers. Those gentlemen died in 1922 and 1927 so they were available to consult with on their own stories. Yet, details, especially specific dates, differ between those two primary sources.

Later stories of early Sutton history, including our own on behalf of the 21st Century Sutton Historical Society draw heavily on those two sources while wrestling with the variations in detail.

Another challenge in telling the story of the Clark brothers is that the normal robust genealogical information available online is really skimpy for these fellows. And, believe it or not, our Martin Clark is not the only Martin V. B. Clark with a wife named Mary from that era – the other was in New Hampshire.

Our Martin was born April 28, 1840 in Parma, Ohio, a south suburb of Cleveland. His parents were David Clark and Ximena (or Zimena) Roberts of Hartford, Connecticut. The couple had four children but only Martin and Isaac appear to have lived to adulthood.

Both Clark brothers were of an age that destined them for military duty in the Civil War. Martin served in the 7th Ohio Infantry, Company C and later rose to the rank of sergeant in the 8th Ohio Artillery Battery. He continued in federal and state military units for five years. Brother Isaac served in the 25th Illinois Infantry – both were active in Sutton’s George Meade Post of the G. A. R.

Mary Derby Henry - Mrs. Martin V. B. Clark
Martin Clark married Mary Derby Henry of Parma on the 4th of July, 1865. They had three daughters when they arrived, a fourth was born in Sutton.

Alice Clark was born in 1886. She is listed as Allie in the Sutton Alumni directory where she and her cousin Myra constitute one half of Sutton’s first high school graduating class. Alice would marry John W. Thompson who was a practicing physician in Sutton for many years. Their son John Clark Thompson was a doctor in Lincoln.

The second daughter was Mamie born in 1867, not to be confused with Sutton’s long-time social leader Mayme (Wieden) Clark, Mrs. Albert Clark and daughter-in-law of Isaac. Martin’s Mamie died in 1879 at the age of 11 and is buried with her parents in the Sutton cemetery.

Daughter number 3 was Edith Lorena Clark born in 1871 in Parma Heights, Ohio and therefore an infant when the family arrived in Sutton. Edith married Oscar Challburg and they had two children, Martin W. and Adelina. Martin Challburg is still well-remembered as a downtown Sutton insurance agent – office on the east side of the north end if I remember right – correct me if I’m wrong. I’m certain Martin Challburg had a lifetime of fine accomplishments but he is best remembered (test this if you’d like) for his two Great Danes – and grrrrreeat Danes they were. It was a memorable spectacle to time your visit to Carlsgaard’s Dairy Drive-in on the south end of town to be there when the Challburg’s treated those dogs to their ice cream cones. One-gulp treats.

The fourth daughter of Martin and Mary Clark was Ruth. One source lists her husband as Elmer G. Briard, a farmer of Madison, Nebraska. There’s other, less compelling evidence connecting her to a Fredrick Klein in Minnesota. There may have been two Ruth F. Clarks born in Nebraska in 1881. It’s on the list for further investigation, maybe.

Martin Clark attended Baldwin University in Ohio after the Civil War and then completed medical school at Western Reserve University in Cleveland – now known as Case Western. He was a professor of pharmacy and practiced medicine before he came to Nebraska.

Although Martin Clark wrote that he arrived in Sutton on November 1, 1871, other accounts claim he and his brother purchased all of Luther French’s unsold lots in October. And that too is part of the fun of this.

That part of French’s original homestead that extends into the west part of town was incorporated by the Clark brothers as “Clark’s Addition.” Almost six years ago, we wrote articles speculating on the origin of the names of Sutton’s streets and avenues. Out west there is a Clark Avenue and two names that match the names of Isaac’s children, Roy and Myra. There was a Glen Lake in the neighborhood, today’s Clark’s Pond. It all fits.

But there is no Alice, Mamie, Edith or Ruth avenues that could have been named after Martin’s kids. There is however a Euclid Avenue at the very west edge of town. Our fun speculation about that name six years ago was that that street was part of Martin’s legacy. Case Western Reserve University is on the east edge of Cleveland where the campus is bisected by a major street heading off to the distant suburb of Euclid. That Cleveland street is Euclid Avenue. Our speculation was that someone special lived on that street, special enough to warrant Martin naming a street in the brothers’ addition to Sutton after the Cleveland street. We can hope that someone special was his bride Mary Derby Henry, but we don’t have to.

The first commercial building on Saunders Avenue was an imposing structure
originally housing a hardware store, pharmacy, doctors office and home for
two families. Later occupants included a hotel, apartment building and other
commercial endeavors.
The first businesses in Sutton sprung up on Main Avenue, north of railroad tracks and the reputation on those first saloons, and perhaps other businesses contributed to the animosity that developed between the Burlington and Sutton. The Clark brothers chose to locate their first business on the west side of Saunders Avenue and south of the creek.

The first Clark House was a two-story building with Isaac’s hardware store and Martin’s pharmacy. Martin also set up his medical practice in the building – the first in the county. He was also an early county coroner. The brothers and their families lived upstairs for a while. The building later served as a hotel and as a boarding house and served the town until 1941.

Dr. Clark’s scientific background included not only his professions as a medical doctor and a pharmacist but he also taught applied chemistry and toxicology at Baldwin University and was known as a legal chemist. Courts in Clay and surrounding counties employed him for toxicology analysis in criminal cases – kind of a C.S.I. Sutton story.

His biographies list several cases: State vs. Anderson in Clay County, an arsenic case; State vs. Lee in Saline County, strychnia; State vs. Rath, Clay County, strychnia; State vs. Stevenson, Nuckolls County, Corrosive sublimate which was the first prosecution under “the pharmacy act” and State vs. Morse in Gage County, another strychnia case.

Whatever else Dr. Clark contributed to the development of Sutton, his lasting legacy is found in a gift he and his brother left to the City of Sutton in those early years. They carved out a four-block square straddling School Creek from the property they had purchased from Luther French donating that land for the Sutton City Park. The extreme southeast corner of the original park, the section on the south of School Creek today is home to a portion of the Sutton Museum – the Wolfe School, our country school museum.

This section of the map of early Sutton shows the original French homestead shaded with the Clark brother's addition extending past the border of this map to the west (left) of Glen Lake, more commonly known as Clark's Pond. The Clark brothers intended from the start, that the four blocks marked as Clark Square would be the Sutton City Park.

This article first appeared in the May, 2016 issue of Sutton Life Magazine.

future post

place holder

Sutton Librarian response to prudes - 1906

Mathilda Mary Maltby, aka Mrs. John Maltby, was the Sutton Librarian after her husband died while they were living in Fairfield in 1895. She was a London girl who married John Maltby in 1862.

This note appeared in The Sutton Register.

DNA Testing - High-Tech Genealogy Research

One of the two genealogy-based TV shows usually wraps up episodes with a segment about DNA testing of their guests. Have you wished the moderator would explain more about the tests? Glad you asked. Let’s look into DNA this month.

We’ve addressed genealogy a couple of times in these articles and family history remains the most common query we get at the Sutton Museum. The story of the families of past Sutton residents often reveals details of the town’s story. And it is often interesting to learn where those Sutton residents came from. Let’s see how you can use DNA to really look at where we came from.

First, the basics. DNA is a molecule of deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA molecules are in the nucleus of every cell in your body and contain four chemicals identified as A, G, C, and T. They pair up into “base pairs” - A with T and C with G as depicted in Figure 1. The outer bands are molecules of phosphate and sugar and that’s what DNA looks like, in all of the trillions of cells in your body. Human DNA has about 3 billion base pairs and more than 99% is the same for all people. The tiny amount of differences account for all the varying characteristics of all people.

Figure 1.The well-known Double-Helix model for the DNA molecule was
first published in Nature Journal in 1953 by Watson and Crick.
Change just a wee bit more of our human DNA and the arrangement of the same components will produce other primates, mammals, insects, trees, grass and a toad. DNA of all living organisms contain just different arrangements of those A, T, C and G things. (there’s always an exception: some viruses, otherwise, yes.)

Now for the X-rated portion – well “R?”. When any reproduction occurs, the Daddy DNA splits randomly into two pieces and one piece joins with a half of a DNA piece from the Mommy, again some random half. If Daddy was an Angus bull and Mommy was a Herford cow, the calf will likely look somewhat different from either of them. If the Daddy was a Poodle and the Mommy was a German Shepherd, well, I don’t want to think about that. Daddy is a tall grass, Mommy is a shorter grass, something in between is “likely”.

Same thing for you and I. You inherited one half of your DNA came from Dad, ½ from Mom, and by “inherited” we really mean that you have ½ of those defining characteristics for each parent imbedded in your genetic make-up. You may get mom’s blond hair, dad’s blue eyes. And your brother may get dad’s tendency to lose hair and mom’s brown eyes. Not all DNA gets used but it gets passed on. Your baby picture may look a lot like grandma’s. It means ¼ of your DNA came from each grandpa and from each grandma. One-eighth from each great-grandparent, etc.

Your DNA has about 3 billion DNA base pairs that came down your family tree to you. You may have some base pairs that came from Charlemagne’s DNA, or Julius Caesar, or Genghis Khan. (Mr. Khan is a special case. He and his sons were prolific. About 1 in every 200 men on the planet are descended from Mr. Khan, lots of women, too.)

What can we learn from DNA tests? We’ll look at three types of tests based on “how far back.”

I’m most familiar with the test. They do two analyses called “matches” and “ethnicity.” Match testing looks for relatives that would appear on a family tree you’d construct by classic means of grandma’s stories, census records, church and government records and the work of other researchers.

Ethnicity testing looks at where your distant ancestors were likely living from 500 to 1000 years ago. Ancestry identifies 26 regions of the world and gives you a rough percentage estimate of how much of your DNA came from folks in each region.

Figure 2. A DNA test will illustrate your relationship with someone else whose DNA test is on file. In this case, granddaughter Emily was a match with a fellow in the blarsonfamily. Both of us had extensive family trees on file and's software located the common ancestors, Emily's 6th great grandparents, two generations earlier than our immigrant Israel Aspegren.
I also use another web site called I’ve copied my “raw DNA” data from uploading it on gedmatch where a number of researchers have software that you can compare your DNA with any of many databases created using the DNA of people known to have come from some region. These tests look at a time period a few steps back from ancestry’s ethnicity test. Actually, a long hike back. Groups, and individuals have migrated around the planet for thousands of years. This series of tests looks back 8,000 to about 40,000 years ago.

Let’s back up. We don’t learn much just looking at your DNA string of A, T, C and G pieces in isolation. We have to compare it with something else, some known thing, either someone else’s DNA or a database that “summarizes” a bunch of known people. If your DNA looks more like those people than other groups, you likely have some connection to them. Pretty simple, huh?

Simple, but a lot of work. Comparing 3 billion of anything with a bunch of other 3 billion things takes a while. DNA testing doesn’t even do that. Portions, “snips” of DNA are tested. The main ethnicity test uses 700,000 snips of your DNA to test against 700,000 snips from each of the thousands of others who’ve tested. But still, you better use a computer. And there you have it.

Now, down to business.

What is DNA testing? I’ll defer to the experts. Here are 12 videos of a few minutes each (1 is 15 minutes) Grab some popcorn. I’ll see you on the other side…

All right. Did you enjoy the movie?  Okay, let’s take a look at what a few test results look like.

I took the test about two years ago and my granddaughter Emily took the test last December. I’ve probably learned four times as much examining the two tests than with just one.

Ancestry compares the results of your DNA test with the results of all others who’ve taken the test. When they find a DNA match between two tests, they can estimate how close the match is – as distant as eighth cousins. The common ancestors for eighth cousins will be their 7th great-grandparents. Those are likely people who were born about 1650, give or take.

That is what the DNA test tells you – this other tester is related, at about this level of cousinhood.

Remember what the speaker in the movie above emphasized? You need to have your family tree file at to go further.

Figure 2 shows the relationship between our granddaughter Emily and another DNA test identified as “blarsonfamily”. That family member who took the test is Emily’s 4th cousin, 3x removed – that is he is my father’s 4th cousin and my 4th cousin 1x removed. Our common ancestors are Johan Börjesson and Sara Ericksdotter. The ancestry system could only tell us all that because both the blarsonfamily and I had posted our family trees on and both of us have our lines traced to that couple.

Could we have made that connection without DNA? Yes, with a bit of work. But, if you’ve done family research there is a tinge of doubt about some lines. Records may have been ambiguous, you may have copied data from another research that looked “pretty good” and, not to dwell on the topic, but families sometimes have rumors and whispers that cousin Billy looks more like the mailman that Uncle William. Most are likely groundless stories, but…who knows. DNA connections do not have that kind of uncertainty. When we get a DNA match, then the records were good; my research was solid and Aunt Annie deserved better.

A word about this specific family tree. Johan Börjesson was born in 1738 in Åsby, Östergötland, Sweden. You’ll see the Aspegren’s in Figure 2. Israel father, Greta’s husband was Peter Jönsson so Israel was named Israel Petersson under the Swedish patronymic system. For some reason, before he immigrated Israel’s son Adolph changed his name to Aspegren. Israel and his other sons Axel August and Carl Gustaf also took up the name before coming to America.We don’t know why.

We do know that the Aspegren/Petersson family was poor in Sweden. The Swedes included a title with names on official records. It was a title recognizing the person’s economic, and probably social status. On Adolph Aspegren’s birth record his father Israel is idenitied as backstugsittare – literally ”hill cottage sitter” or ”back hut dweller” and fattighjon - ”pauper.”

I recently was in contact with a fellow in Sweden discussing one of our common relatives. I mentioned that this woman had worked in Adolph Aspegren’s bank in Saronville. He fired back an email asking what I meant – did Adolph Aspegren own a bank in America? I had to answer that, “No, he had two banks. He was President of the Farmers State Bank of Saronville and the bank in Verona.” The fellow was excited that the Aspegren’s had come so far from their situation in Sweden.

Israel Aspegren would have been described with a different word if he’d been even the poorest farm laborer or rented his dwelling. He was most likely dependent on the village or a friend or relative for support. The family may have had a small garden, maybe a few chickens but little else. They would have been “dirt poor” if they would have had dirt.

The extended Aspegren family includes many in northeast Clay County who can take pride in what our Aspegren ancestors did. This is what the rewards of genealogy look like.

But I digress.

I have 37 DNA contacts on with the common ancestor identified as described above. Emily has 75.

The next category of DNA matches on is “4th cousins or closer.” This includes matches in which one of both of the online family trees do not contain enough information to pinpoint the common ancestor. But there are hints that enable us to contact that match and discuss what we know. I have 115 such 4th cousins, Emily has 89.

The Big Category is the list of all matches up to the 8th cousin level. The DNA analysis system found some common DNA indicating we are related. These lists continue to grow as more tests are posted. I have over 4,000 such matches, Emily’s list is closing in on 5,000.

Ancestry does an analysis of your ethnicity. This will be the first thing you’ll look at when you get your results back, guaranteed.

Figure 3. My ethnicity profile, pretty much as predicted from my known
family tree though I can not identify most of the trace regions.
My ethnicity information is at Figure 3. These are estimates and the “range” is wide. My Scandinavian ethnicity is 52% with a possible range of 30%-70%. I suspect that the wide range reflects the randomness of the way parents’ DNA splits as much as it does the characteristics of the test. Remember the movie and the wide range of ethnicity variations among the four siblings?

Ancestry provides a lot of additional information about the process. Scandinavian ethnicity is the result of a comparison with a composite of 272 people native to Scandinavia. The Europe West database has 416 individuals; the Irish has 154.

My family tree would lead you to expect my ethnicity to be 50% Swede, 25% Scot and 25% from the colonial period, mostly English and Irish. My Irish component would be almost exactly 6% based on my 4th great, grandparents. But this ethnicity test is looking at regions during the period from 500 to 1000 years ago. The European regions in my test are shown in Figure 4.

Emily’s ethnicity is more Great Britain, less Scandinavian and more mainland Europe. Her numbers make it look like I’m probably the only grandparent passing along the genes of the Emerald Isle.

Figure 4. We have some latitude in defining regions.
Ancestry uses these regions in my profile.
I tried another website and its offerings. I downloaded our raw DNA files from and loaded them at This site is free. charges $100 for a test, occasional sales at $90 or $80. goes way back to the early human migrations, about 8,000 to 40,000 years ago.

There are numerous websites and videos about early human migrations. This topic, like DNA analysis is only a few decades old. And DNA research has had a role in understanding early human migration. You can get a taste of this topic at

Gedmatch also has a provision to upload your family tree, this time in the universal GED format so you have both means to connect with relatives, DNA and tree files. However, the gedmatch database has far fewer contributions.

Gedmatch has several different comparison programs, some seem to be the pet projects of individual researchers who use specific, narrowly focused databases. I can’t say I understand much of what I know about them.

Emily’s test results from one test is at Figure 5. It is the “Admixture MDLP project, version K13 Ultimate.” There are many different tests and variations.

The first issue is the vocabulary – it’s variable, not standardized. Her big green pie slice is ENF, European Neolithic Farmers. These guys came into Europe about 10,000 years ago and were among the first farmers. That might be where the Brits came from.

Figure 5. Granddaughter Emily's long-ago genetic profile - from 8,000 to 40,000 years ago. The website offers several different tests against varying control populations giving different estimates for these tests. These tests are not associated with individuals and not even nationalities (there were no Swedes or Germans 8,000 years ago) but we're looking here at ancestors from prehistoric times, often wandering bands of early humans.
ANE stands for the main Northern Eurasians. Scandinavians? WHG-UHG stands for ancient European Mesolithic hunter-gathers and the initials literally mean “Western Hunter Gatherer – Unknown Hunter Gatherer.” Estonians, Lithuanians and Finns have a high percentage of this DNA so our Scandi’ folk may have come from this bunch.

The Caucas-Gedrosia refers to southeast Asia and much of the Africa – Europe early migrations went through there.

Emily has some teeny DNA bits that I don’t have. There is a wee, wee, wee bit of American Indian. That shows up on almost all of these tests I’ve tried for her file on gedmatch. Her “Siberian” bit has only shown up on this test. And she has more than 1% Subsaharian African DNA. That is one of two major African-American groupings. This one includes Mandinka, Yoruba and Esan among others. Where did that come from? Well, three of her grandparents, myself included, had ancestors in Colonial America where slaves were held even in New England and in the south to 1865. The TV show “Finding Your Roots” has examined a number of celebrities with mixed-race ancestry and learned the details of those distant parents.

Another ancestry DNA kit is on the way to Emily’s cousin in California and I’ll soon start juggling three sets of matches and tests. This granddaughter’s father is African-American with family lines we can trace to the Alabama-Georgia border before the Civil War. More fun ahead. And one of our daughters has tested with yet another DNA system associated with National Geographic. I’ve only peeked at those results.

DNA testing contributes to our understanding of our history on so many levels. Each and every of the trillions of cells in your body contains information about your parents, grandparents and distant ancestors way back to the beginning of mankind…and even beyond, but that’s another story.

If you have questions about DNA testing or would like more information about how to try this yourself, feel free to contact me at

This article first appeared in the April, 2016 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. Contact Jarod Griess at for more information about his publication.