Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Little Nebraska Annie

Minnie (Rowe) Crabb, 1886 Sutton High grad likely when she was living in New Mexico. We do not know the circumstances of this photo but one wonders if the costume designer for a certain 1939 Judy Garland film might not have seen this pic.

Among the ten names in the Sutton Alumni Directory for the graduates of the class of 1886, the school’s third class is Minnie Rowe listed with her married name of Minnie Crab. It’s probably be a good bet that no one in Sutton today ever heard of Minnie Rowe.

That changed a couple of weeks ago when a small package arrived in P. O. Box 92 for the Sutton Historical Society. Minnie’s grandson, a retired college professor had assembled a biography of his Grandma Minnie with the text and photos of her life – her diaries, the text of books and poems she wrote, her family story and more.

Our articles normally require an effort: pick a topic, determine if there might be enough material, research that material, organize a proper article and then write it. Imagine the excitement of finding a topic with organized material of a story ready for the telling. So, thanks to David Thayer of Coralville, Iowa for sending the story of Minnie Rowe back to Sutton.

Minnie Rowe was born in 1870 to Joseph and Mary (Whatton) Rowe in Leicester, an industrial city in the middle of England. The men in Joseph’s family were listed in the English census as “cordwainers” who were shoemakers but generally associated with a better class of shoes especially leather shoes and other luxury footwear.  Joseph owned a shoe factory and Mary was the supervisor of the women workers.        

In 1872 Joseph sold his factory, packed up his family of wife and five kids including two-year old Minnie, his mother and step-father and two step-brothers and headed for Nebraska “where oranges grow” or so he was told. Well, Osage orange is another name for a hedge apple.

The family arrived in Boston and took the train west to Sutton and bit more to the rail stop of Inland. Apparently Inland was just across the line into Adams County at that time. The brothers filed for two homesteads just north of the railroad tracks northeast of that Inland settlement. The account of homesteading makes it sound like as a farmer, Joseph was a darn good shoemaker. Within a year he pulled up stakes and came back to Sutton setting up a small shop to make and sell shoes.

Joseph was no more than the second Sutton cobbler. One of his step-brothers, William Wollman preceded him becoming Sutton’s first shoemaker according to the Andreas History of Nebraska. Wollman had some experience in the pulpit in England and was recruited by Sutton folk to serve as their first preacher until a real one made it to the new town.

Just a word here about the surnames. Joseph Rowe’s mother was Harriet Rowe who later married John Wollman. Joseph kept his mother’s maiden name and grew up in the Wollman family with their eight children.

The Wollman and Rowe brothers must have had some influence in the community as the northwest township in Clay County became Leicester Township named after their home town. The pressing question here is, “How do you pronounce “Leicester?” I’ve heard a range of attempts though many avoid trying. The font of all useful knowledge, Wikipedia includes audio clips of such words. The mechanical voice says something close to “lesta” – a spelling that would have saved some paper over the years.

Thus, Minnie Rowe arrived in Sutton where she graduated at the age of 16 in 1886. There is one other Rowe, Grace who graduated in 1893 but she does not show up with this Rowe family.

Minnie taught grade school in Albion right after high school. Among the documents pictured in the material from her grandson is a teaching certificate from Adams County issued in January 1892. The back is endorsed by officials from Hamilton and Boone Counties and by G. M. Graham, Co. Supt., Clay Co.

She attended Hastings College and one of her poems is identified with “Hastings 1890.”

In 1890 and 1891 Minnie took a trip to England where she visited siblings who did not emigrate and other family members. Her diary from that trip is only one of the segments of diaries included in Mr. Thayer’s story of Grandma Minnie.

Minnie met a young man when she was at Hastings College. Charles Crabb was from Fairmont who
Minnie (Rowe) Crabb’s wedding picture, June, 1901, Stockham, Nebraska
completed two years of college before running out of money. He went back Fairmont until he heard of a new college in York. He persuaded the school master to let him teach a few preparatory classes so he could afford to continue his own college studies. Those circumstances gave him a firm grip on the pole position and a good head start to be one of two in the first graduating class at York College in 1894 – the next class was in 1897.

Charles and Minnie married in June of 1901 while she was teaching and was the assistant principal at Stockham High School.

Charles and Minnie Crabb lived in Missouri; New Mexico; Oklahoma; Deer Lodge, Montana and Los Gatos, California during their married life.

Charles was a chemist, published a country newspaper and was an ore buyer and assayist for Sherman-Williams Paint Company for a time. The paint company sent him to Kelly, New Mexico, now a ghost town near Magdalena, NM. So what kind of mine do you suppose to be working in? The family does not have
Downtown Stockham, Halloween, 1900 where Minnie 
taught school and was the assistant principal.
solid evidence for the answer but Mr. Thayer and I would guess a lead mine.

A bit of research uncovers that the mines at Kelly did produce lead and silver but the interesting story involves turquoise rock in the waste tailings of the mines. After the mines played out someone sent some of this waste off to be analyzed only to learn that it was an uncommon jewelry grade rock found only in a few places in the world. Labs at the Smithsonian did that work and the rock was named smithsonite. A “kelly mine new mexico” search will lead you more on this story including a couple of youtube videos or the Kelly Mine.

All during these adventures our Sutton grad was keeping diaries, writing poetry and stories, many about places she lived including Clay County. Minnie had also been known as Myrtle but she appears to have not been fond of either name. She chose to write under the name of Little Nebraska Annie.

One of her products was a set of children’s books called “Mrs. Gray Bunny Books” which do warrant an entry at amazon.com but are out of print, surely to no one’s surprise.

The temperance movement figured in much of her writings including the bunny books and when the Crabbs moved to Los Gatos, California in 1925 Minnie became active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) attacking the perils of Demon Alcohol. It was in 1940 while returning from a WCTU meeting in San Francisco on her way home to Los Gatos that Minnie and a friend entered the busy San Jose intersection of Stevens Creek Boulevard and Winchester Boulevard, were hit by a drunk driver and both killed. Karma.

Minnie (Rowe) Crabb’s story again illustrates that the interesting history of a community includes the stories of its people, however loosely connected and however minor that connection may be. Minnie Rowe’s story was likely completely lost to us unless her grandson graciously thought to share his work preserving her memory for her family.

Minnie walked along Saunders Avenue many years ago, shopped Sutton stores and had close friends here but she left no lasting footprints and hardly any memories of herself. We hope that you and the Sutton community enjoy making, and re-making her acquaintance. 

This article appeared in the March, 2013 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For further information about this publication contact Jarod Griess at 402-984-4203 or at neighborhoodlife@yahoo.com

1 comment:

Anne said...

What a great story! Minnie sounds like a wonderful woman. What a gold mine for her grandson to have so much information. I'll be traveling to Saronville soon to hunt a piece of ground where my great grandfather lived. He was one of the first settlers there -- AD Peterson. :)