Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sutton's Pioneer Gray Family

Emma Gray

Visitors to the Sutton Museum are familiar with the Gray family. Displays include Emma’s dress from 1871 and a calendar picture from the J. M. Gray Lumber and Building Material business. Both houses at the museum were built by John and Emma Gray and their dining room set has returned. Emma inspired the name of Aunt Emma’s Tea House.

So who were the Gray’s?

Hosea Gray, his son John M., son-in-law George W. Bemis, Wilson Cunning and his wife came by covered wagon to School Creek on May 4, 1871 where only Luther French lived in his dugout.

P. McTighe built a shanty for a store next to the Gray’s first dwelling within a few days and Curran, Higgins and Kearney & Kelley opened their saloons. The School Creek settlement was underway.

Hosea Gray was born in Pennsylvania in 1816, lived in Indiana and Illinois and made it to Iowa in 1839. He served as Linn County sheriff for four terms, practiced law, and was Clerk of the District Court retiring in 1850. He then bought a 640 acre stock farm and in 1856 was a member of the state’s Constitutional Convention. In April, 1861 he formed a company in the Sixth Iowa Infantry serving two years before a serious illness forced him from the front lines. He finished the war as a Lieutenant Colonel recruiting and training troops.

Col. Gray returned from the war to his farm and family. His wife died in 1869 and two years later he headed west to the banks of School Creek.

Hosea and John started a lumber yard on August 24th of 1871 the day after Thurlow Weed’s carload of lumber arrived from Lincoln. The Gray lumber yard was on the west side of Way Avenue, north of the tracks.

John’s wife Emma and Ada Augusta Bemis joined their husbands early that summer. Emma Wolcott was born in 1850 in Elizabeth, Illinois. Her father died of injuries in the Civil War.

Ada Bemis was the daughter of Hosea Gray and wife of George W. Bemis. Her accounts of pioneer days in Sutton can be found online. A search using “Ada Bemis Sutton Nebraska” returns “Nebraska Trailblazer #5” and “The Easter Blizzard” at Hers was the first piano in the area and her performances were in great demand.

George and Ada Bemis moved their family to York where she helped organize the first branch of the WCTU west of Lincoln. Daughter Anna Gray Bemis married first a Mr. Cutler and later a Mr. Palmer. She contributed her name and funding for the Anna Bemis Palmer Museum in York. A display honoring Anna is to the right of the door as you enter.

Two sons of George and Ada Bemis entered the publishing business. George Jr. edited J. Sterling Morton’s “Conservative” and was the first editor of the Lincoln Star. As a member of the First Nebraska Infantry in the Spanish-American War, George Bemis, Jr. was one of the first ten men into Manila after it was taken. His brother Eugene was editor and columnist with “The New Teller” in York from 1911 until 1949. The family of his wife, Kate Houston generously contributed a copy of Eugene’s book, “The Squawker Book” to the Sutton Museum. The book is a collection of the humorist’s poems and columns and gets off to a great start with the dedication: “We ain’t mad at nobody”.

Back in Sutton, Eugenia Maria Gray, another daughter of Homer Gray married Samuel Carney in 1878. Carney came to Sutton from Pennsylvania and worked in I. N. Clark’s hardware store. He purchased the business from I. N. and later passed it on to his son Samuel Gray Carney. The younger Sam Carney hired a young fellow named Les Bauer to work in the hardware store. Les carried that lineage of Sutton hardware businesses into the memory of many of us.

Many of the Sutton pioneers played their part and moved on with little trace of the families remaining. The Gray family name may have faded but the extended Gray family left some distinguished tracks.

This article appeared in the May, 2010 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For information about the magazine contact or Mustang Inc., 510 West Cedar, Sutton, NE 68979.

1 comment:

Dee Pickens said...

Hosea Wilson Gray was a nephew of my great great grandfather George White Gray and I think my great great grandfather may have lived in Sutton Nebraska and may have died there..I know a lot aout this family in Iowa and Penn and all over the US