Saturday, December 12, 2009

George Bemis's poem, "Grafton to Sutton"

Sutton’s first struggle to survive was a struggle against the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad. The story ended when a few Sutton settlers quietly purchased all but one of the buildings in Grafton, the railroad’s choice for the local town, and towed the depot to Sutton one night with a couple of teams.. This Grafton was just four miles east of Sutton; the present town of Grafton was settled later further to the east.

George W. Bemis celebrated this event in 1872 with a poem that was published in the State Journal the next year.


"What a clanking of 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 mutter and groan night and day,
 With the city of Grafton only three miles away.

"Then came Mr. Marthis, and thus he did say,
 'I am tried of Grafton; if only I 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,
 Close followed the crowd to have sport on the way,
 And the shout that went up at the end of the fray,
 Said 'The city of Grafton is in Sutton to-day.'"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When Sutton had an Army

The Andreas’ History of the State of Nebraska by A. T. Andreas in 1882 is a great source for information about the early days of Sutton. The book was published but 12 years after Luther French dug his hole in the bank on School Creek making Sutton’s first decade perhaps its best documented.

Deep in the chapters on Clay County and Sutton is Part 8 including “Orders and Societies”. Here we learn that the early Sutton folk, at least the town folk, were a clubby bunch. There were several lawyers, doctors and businessmen (yes, mostly men) who came from established communities in the east where they had been active in the “orders and societies” so they naturally created new chapters of old, familiar organizations.
Andreas lists the Freemasons plus a Lebanon Chapter, IOOF plus an additional IOOF higher order, Grand Army of the Republic, Knights of Honor, a Military Company and Scientific Association. The same names appear in multiple organizations, but for a few hundred adult men, these guys were social creatures.

But what does it mean for a 1880’s small town to have a “military company”? Andreas spelled it out very well.

Company B of the First Regiment of the State Guards was formed on November 15, 1878 with forty members: “…Sutton’s sons whose proclivities bent in the direction of the chivalrous and heroic…” Officers were W. J. Keller, Captain; J. S. LeHew, First Lieutenant; and G. W. Bemis, Second Lieutenant. At the time Andreas wrote the piece, Keller was Lieutenant Colonel of the First Regiment and LeHew was Judge Advocate General on the Governor’s staff. The company was supplied with uniforms, guns, etc. and was the first such uniformed and equipped company in Nebraska. The company had its own armory for munitions storage.

So, what did they do? Actually, they were twice activated.

The company was ordered to arms in the summer of 1880 in response to a riot at the smelting works in Omaha. After three days the situation subsided and the company discharged.

On March 8, 1882 the First Regiment was activated to put down the strike among graders on the Burlington & Missouri Railroad again in Omaha. This time the duty lasted twelve days as the company guarded the graders’ camp. There were no open hostilities. The company seems to have acquitted itself well as Andreas reports that, “as an indication of the merit of this body of men, they were specially appointed to remain in the suppression of the strikers, and were the last company to be discharged for duty”.

As of the writing of the Andreas book the officers were: W. D. Young, Captain; F. C. Matteson, First Lieutenant; George C. Roys, Second Lieutenant; J. H. Johnson, First Sergeant. The company met for drills each Saturday evening and held target practice once a month.

It would be interesting to dig deeper into the nature of such military companies. The general concept suggests a relationship to earlier citizen forces or to the National Guard structure. It even is consistent with the famous phrase, “well-regulated militia”. A quick and limited search for corroborating, or further information was unsuccessful. I’d appreciate hearing from anyone familiar with these military companies.

John R. Maltby, Sutton Pioneer and 19th Century Adventurer

There have been a number of “characters” in Sutton’s past but drawing on almost 138 years of local history a few real Doozies stand out. My favorite Doozy is probably Mr. John Roger Maltby. Again, we are indebted to Nellie and Anne Sheridan for preserving this story in their book, “Along the County Line”.

John Maltby was born in Maine in 1830 but his father, Reverend John Maltby moved the family to Sutton, Massachusetts in 1834 where the elder Maltby served the First Congregational Church for 26 years. Yep, the younger John later gave Sutton its name. At age twenty-two, Maltby departed on a fifteen-year adventure that included seven unsuccessful years in the Australian gold fields, auctioneering in India, working on the first trans-Atlantic undersea cable and a bit of wandering about the United States.

While in London on the cable gig, John met and married Matilda Mary Cooke, a convert and very devout Catholic. After two years of faith-based difficulties John returned to the US, sans Matilda. After stays in San Francisco and New Orleans Maltby tried selling washing machines in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas, IN 1865! He learned that the war-torn Confederacy was a poor market for high-ticket consumer products.

Meanwhile, back in London, Mary decided to join John and not finding him in Massachusetts, tracked him down in Louisiana in 1866. A year later their Boston hardware business flopped. John then left Matilda with his sister and went to Omaha where he built a track and organized horse races (you can’t make this stuff up). He dabbled in some land deals, cattle deals and fur trapping before poking around School Creek in May, 1871.

Maltby’s next adventure is well documented in Sutton’s history and we’ll save it for another day. Briefly, he and William Way “jumped” the claim of Mr. J. C. Vroman to organize much of today’s Sutton real estate. Vroman disappeared and we have Maltby and Way Avenues.

In September, 1872 Maltby took a business trip back east, ostensibly as part of the Sutton-Burlington depot dispute but actually to see Matilda and offer her a new life in the West. She agreed. London to Boston to Sutton. Quite a “Life Story”. But there was more to come.

Maltby was an early mover-and-shaker in Sutton: judge, school superintendent and in the midst of the social circles. But in 1877, just six years after finding School Creek, John, this time with Matilda, moved again but only a few miles to Fairfield. They were now both pioneers in organizing the town and the Catholic Church.
John died in 1895 and Matilda, almost penniless returned to Sutton and became the town’s librarian. She died in 1912 and is buried in Calvary Cemetery.

The Sutton Museum is proud to display several items of Matilda Mary Cooke Maltby include dresses and her wedding gloves and shoes thanks to Regina Leininger and others with the foresight to preserve these artifacts from our history. See them at the museum Sundays from 2 to 5 PM or by appointment. Contact Jerry Johnson at 773-0222 or for more information.

The Boar's Nest

We have been researching the names, ownership and locations of business enterprises throughout the history of Sutton and recently came across the story of the “Boar's Nest”. The Boar's Nest gets our nomination for the short list of interesting businesses in Sutton in the early 20th Century. What makes it interesting? We'll get to that.

John R. Bender, Sutton’s Football Hero from a century ago

What could be the connection between Sutton and the Kansas State Wildcats? Answer: a native of Sutton selected that name for the K-State athletic teams – while coaching the football team in 1915.

John R. Bender was a 1900 graduate of Sutton High and lettered in football at the University of Nebraska in 1900, 1901, 1902, 1903 and 1904. He is one of only two players listed in the NU football media guide as having lettered five years – eligibility standards have changed since that era.

Bender was a star halfback graduating as the leading scorer in Nebraska football history. The 1902 and 1903 teams were dominate teams outscoring their opponents 186 – 0 and 291 – 17. Bender was a captain on the 1903 team.

Bender’s coaching career began at Washington State in 1906 and 1907 where he coached both football and basketball very successfully.

The Wikipedia entry for John R. Bender indicates that he coached at Haskell Indian Nations University and St. Louis University from 1907 to 1911. I haven’t confirmed the Haskell connection and am skeptical of it. Wikipedia also states that he was an American Indian and his nickname was “Chief Bender”, and cautions us not to confuse him with the other “Chief Bender”. Albert “Chief” Bender was an American Indian who played major league baseball about the same time. My guess is that the writer has confused them.

The 1900 census for Sutton Township shows John R. Bender to be the 18-year-old son of Jacob Bender along with three sisters and a brother, Gustaf. Jacob and John’s grandparents are all indicated as having been born in Russia. John Bender’s ethnic heritage is no mystery to most of us in Sutton today. He was not a Native American.

St. Louis University does claim Bender in the history of coaches including the tale that he had a physical resemblance to a popular charm doll of the time called a “Billiken”. The Billiken was an elf-like thing with pointed ears, named after William Howard Taft copying the Teddy Bear that was named after Theodore Roosevelt. The Billiken didn’t catch on as well as the Teddy Bear, or as the Kewpie doll that followed.
The St. Louis fans began to call John Bender’s football team, “Bender’s Billikens” and the name is still used by St. Louis University today.

Bender became head football coach at Kansas State in1915 where he is credited with initiating two long-standing traditions, Homecoming and the Wildcats nickname. His team had a 3-4-1 record and before the 1916 season he moved to the University of Tennessee as the Tennessee coach took his K-State job. Tennessee had an 8-0-1 record but World War I interrupted athletics during 1917 and 1918. Bender also coached basketball at Tennessee.

John Bender, son of Jacob Bender in this story is not the John Bender, son of Jacob Bender and born in 1915. The first Jacob Bender was born in 1854 in Russia. The second Jacob Bender was born about 1885 in Germany and immigrated in 1907 with his wife Catherine (or Kathryene – the 1920 and 1930 census vary)

A third Jacob Bender was born about 1895 in Russia and came to Sutton in 1912 to join his brother Henry J.

Sutton’s TWO Medal of Honor Honorees

Sutton, Nebraska is proud to have a connection with two Medal of Honor recipients, Orion P. Howe and Jacob Volz.

Orion Howe was with the 55th Illinois Infantry at Vicksburg in the Civil War. His Medal of Honor citation reads: “A drummer boy, 14 years of age, and severely wounded and exposed to a heavy enemy fire from the enemy, he persistently remained upon the field of battle until he had reported to Gen. W. T. Sherman the necessity of supplying cartridges for the use of troops under command of Colonel Malmborg.”

Howe was born in Ohio and entered service in Illinois. The award was not issued until April, 1896 while he was practicing dentistry in Sutton. You’d be correct if you guessed that he was the youngest of all award winners at the time of the incident that led to the award. You’d also be correct if you thought his story would make a good book, or two. The “Diary of a Drummer Boy” by Marlene Tarq Brill is an imagined diary of Orion Howe. G. Clifton Wisler’s “The Drummer Boy of Vicksburg” is a historical novel based on the life and service of Orion Howe, his father and younger brother, Lyston.

Our other honoree is Jacob Volz, Jr., born June 23, 1889 in Sutton and died in 1965 in Portland, Oregon. He was the son of Jacob and Cornelia Volz of the Germans from Russia migration. His citation reads: “While attached to the U.S.S. Pampang, Volz was one of a shore party moving in to capture Mundang, on the island of Basilan, Philippine Islands, on 24 September 1911. Investigating a group of nipa huts close to the trail, the advance scout party was suddenly taken under point-blank fire and rushed by approximately 20 enemy Moros attacking from inside the huts and other concealed positions. Volz responded instantly to calls for help and, finding all members of the scout party writhing on the ground but still fighting, he blazed his rifle into the outlaws with telling effect, destroying several of the Moros and assisting in the rout of the remainder. By his aggressive charging of the enemy under heavy fire and in the face of great odds, Volz contributed materially to the success of the engagement.”

Clay County can claim a connection with a third Medal of Honor award. Capt. Nelson Holderman, a WWII recipient was born in Trumbull (spelled Trumbell on his citation).