Monday, October 31, 2016

Apple Valley Graduation - 2016

The Sutton Museum is proud to be a part of 4th grade Apple Valley program each fall.

Fourth graders at Sutton Schools have a block of study each fall about early Nebraska. They come to our Wolfe School Museum at the beginning of the study block. We tell them about our school and about the rural schools in our area.

Their teachers then assign the students to families for their Apple Valley experience as they re-enact rural school for the next six weeks.

There are 3, 4, maybe five students in each family. The students may play the part of
a 5-year old kindergartener, a 21-year old farm boy who only gets to go to school
a few months each year or anyone in between.

The students return to the Wolfe School for Apple Valley graduation, typically about Halloween.

Here, Apple Valley graduation begins with a song by one of the two 4th grade
classes at Sutton Schools.

The 4th graders have a schedule of tasks to complete to qualify for to be an Apple Valley graduate. One task is to learn a poem and recite it at the graduation.

Poem recital has two learning experiences: memorizing the poem
and performing the recitation.

Nineteenth Century costumes and style is part of Apple Valley

A portion of Apple Valley graduation happens outside on the lawn of the Wolfe School Museum. There are two classes of
4th graders this year so the classes alternated between inside and outside activities. Outside activities included making ice
cream and games. Parents and grandparents are spectators.

And there is a Graduation Certificate

Sutton Schools Apple Valley Class of '16

We don't usually find this many cars parked at the Wolfe School Museum. On a Friday. In the morning.

Where Did Our Early Settlers Come From?

Where did the early settlers of the Sutton area come from?

We’ve had this conversation a number of times. We’ve talked about the Germans from Russia. I’ve made sure the Swedes are recognized. And we’ve mentioned the Iowans, the Pennsylvanians, the Ohioans and others from Back East. Let’s dive into the topic a little deeper this month.

The first settlers in our area were Luther French and Peter O. Norman who lived in dugouts along School Creek. French was the first settler in Sutton Township, Norman was a short distance down the creek, the first settler in School Creek Township.

The main wave of settlers from the east began arriving in the Spring of 1871 establishing a community named School Creek, soon renamed Sutton. The Swedish wave came a year later in 1872 with the establishment of a Lutheran Church in the short-lived village of Huxley in the middle of Section 6 in Sutton Township. That upstart moved a half mile west along the Burlington tracks to become Saronville.

Our main source will be the 1880 census for School Creek and Sutton Precincts. Census day for the tenth census was June 1, 1880. Jacob Steinmetz was the enumerator for School Creek Precinct; James E. Marsh covered Sutton Precinct. Steinmetz found 772 people in 141 households in School Creek Precinct. Marsh had 1627 individuals in 307 households.
Census data contains a treasure trove of information and the raw material for stories about people of the past. We used the 1880 census for School Creek and Sutton Townships.

The household count is squishy. There was a count of dwellings and families those were handled ambiguously. A household included borders, servants, brothers and sisters, widowed mothers and in-laws. (Sutton households displayed a particular fondness for a teenage svenska flicka as a servant in large families – Swedish girls.)
John C. Merrill was an early Sutton grocer. He was born
in Ohio, wife Hattie in Pennsylvania. Three kids were
born in Ohio, two in Nebraska. Their servant was a
Swedish girl and a 16-year old border was a clerk from
New York. All living in one household in Sutton in 1880.

Some “households” were unusual and can skew our analysis. P. T. Walton’s household included his wife, 2 sons, 2 daughters, 4 servants, a clerk and 46 borders – he ran a hotel. Some of the borders were likely “transients” caught in Sutton on census day, but many were certainly residents of the hotel with local jobs (painter, blacksmith, shop keeper, etc.).

A disclaimer is needed. The arbitrary nature of defining house households and the likelihood that my counting was not flawless preclude any guarantee that these figures are perfect. Anyone is welcome to check my work and get back to me.

Each decennial census collected a unique set of information about the population. Our objective here is to identify the birthplace of the residents. We’ll count the number of people born in each state or foreign country and also track the heads of households as an approximate family count.

Census data gives a rough history of a family. We know the birthplaces of the father and mother of a typical family, the birthplaces of each of their parents and the birthplaces of each child. So we can see where the earlier generation was born and learn where the family lived over time as we see where the kids were born.

For instance, my great grandparents were both born in Indiana. The 1880 census found them in Sherman Township just south of Edgar in Nuckolls County. Beginning in 1880, people were asked for the birthplace of their parents. James Rowlison’s parents were both born in Virginia; Rhoda’s father was born in Maine, her mother in Indiana. For those following the string of these articles, Rhoda’s father Isaiah Walton was the subject of a recent article; he is buried in Marshall Union Cemetery here in Clay County completing the Maine-Indiana-Nebraska path his eventful life took.

James and Rhoda Rowlison’s 1880 census entry shows their first son born in Indiana, four kids born in Missouri, a daughter in Iowa, and another daughter in Nebraska. It’s not apparent in the census but the Nebraska daughter was born near Peru in Nemaha County.

Later census data show that the Rowlison family added a son while in Nuckolls County, another son and a daughter while on farms near Edgar in Clay County and the eleventh child born in on a wheat farm near Hoxie, Kansas. Some may remember the baby of that family as Ethel Oakley, wife of long-time (1922-1955) Clay County Clerk Roy Oakley.

Just by reading census date it is possible to reconstruct a rough history of the traveling of that family.

But back to northeast Clay County and School Creek Township.

Foreign-born residents outnumbered U.S. born folks 462-310, and 106-35 in heads of households. The influence of foreign households was even greater as 150 of those 310 U.S. born were Nebraska-born children, most in those immigrant households, but we’re counting them as domestic residents. Not at all surprising, Russian born immigrants were the most populous with 283 people in 49 households plus kids born since immigration.

Peter and Sophia (Ochsner) Griess were among the first of the German
immigrants from Russia in 1873. The first son was born in Russia then four
in Nebraska. Two Russian-born teen girls were servants in the household.
People identified their place of birth and that of their parents for the census taker. The Sutton area Germans from Russia are listed as Russian born. Without any additional information, anyone examining the School Creek census of 1880 concludes that there were lots of Russians around here. Newspaper items of that time and well into the 19th century also referred to these people as Russians. They self-identified as Germans from Russia, but that took a while to catch on.

Swedes were the second most populous group with 33 households with 122 people born in the old country. Again, there were Nebraska born youngsters in those families as well as kids born in other states, i.e., Illinois.

The center of this Swedish settlement was around Saronville and Verona and north to Eldorado. School Creek Township catches the northeast quadrant of that area; we’ll find more Swedes in Sutton Township but likely a near equal number settled in Eldorado and Lewis.

Similarly, while the early Germans from Russia settlement centered in School Creek, their settlement area included the town of Sutton, Sutton Township and into Fillmore, Hamilton and York Counties. Several families including Yost and Pauley families landed around Harvard.

The north end of Sutton, that part north of Ash Street is in School Creek. There were native born residents in town and on farms. Twenty-one residents came from New York, 29 from Ohio, 31 from Iowa, 17 from Pennsylvania, 20 from Wisconsin, 17 from Illinois and 13 from Indiana. The rest were scattered.

A common Swedish immigration route was through Illinois. City dwellers congregated in North Chicago and Swedish farmers initially came to Henry, Knox and Mercer counties in western Illinois, just southeast of Davenport, Iowa. Typically, they stayed for a short time before heading further west for open country and cheaper land. Though a few stayed longer. Andrew and Charlotte Israelson immigrated from Sweden to Illinois in 1852, had 12 kids and then moved on to Saronville in 1878.

Andrew and Charlotte Israelson immigrated from Asby, Östergötland, Sweden to Illinois in 1852. Twelve children were
born in Illinois where three died young before the family moved to Sutton Township near Saronville in 1878. 
Other foreign born settlers in School Creek came from Germany (21), Ireland (14), Switzerland (9), England (6) plus a few from Canada, France, Scotland and Denmark.

Sutton Township had a little more than twice the population of School Creek with 596 foreign born and 1031 born in the U.S. including many in households of the foreign born.

Again, the Russian born dominated the foreign born with 222 followed by 126 Swedes. Six heads of households and a total of 21 listed Germany as their birthplace. At least I counted them as from Germany. Birthplaces of Prussia, Baden, Bavaria, Hessen, Wittenberg and other city-states appear on the census forms. The unification of Germany did not occur until 1871 so immigrants on the 1880 census often identified with their original homeland rather than a thing called Germany.

There were 48 English born in Sutton Township in 1880, 46 from Ireland, Canada was listed by 41, Scotland (19), Holland (15) and others from Norway, Denmark, Austria, Turkey, France and one Hungarian.

Any questions? Or didn’t you notice the Turkey thing? John Grosshans, a Sutton grain dealer and his wife Christina were born in Russia. Three of their children, Christiana, age 30; William, age 28 and John age 27 listed Turkey as their place of birth. Five younger children were born in Russia.

John Sheridan was born in County Westmeath, Ireland immigrating to Illinois
in 1871 after attracting the attention of English authorities investigating
Irish independence activities. He met his wife Ellen in Illinois and they
began their family near Sutton by 1880.
About a dozen families made a different stop between Russia and Sutton much like the Swedes in Illinois. Jim Griess told this story in his book, “The German Russians: Those Who Came to Sutton.” Mr. Johann Bette had immigrated to the United States in 1849, twenty-four years earlier than the migration we’re more familiar with. He was from the village of Johannestal near Worms and Rohrbach where Sutton’s Black Sea immigrants came from. Bette settled on an island in Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio becoming wealthy with his vineyard.

Johann Bette returned to Russia on a visit in 1872 and told of the wonders of the United States. His visit was noticed by the Russia authorities who did not want the German population riled up about leaving. His hosts learned that the authorities wanted to question Bette. They thought it better if he could avoid that. His spiffy American suit made him much too conspicuous so they gave him some more appropriate attire and helped him across the Austrian border.

The privileges granted by the Czarina Catherine and Czar Alexander to the German colonists were abrogated about this time and Bette’s story was fresh in the minds of those seeking to leave. About a dozen families in the Sutton area in 1880 had parents and perhaps a kid or two born in Russia then one kid born in Ohio and younger kids born in Nebraska. That’s just families who had a child born in Ohio. We should suspect that many more made that temporary stop. Surnames associated this story include Urbach, Popp, Schnell, Deines, Brehm, Geilman, Seeter, Orie and Schaffer.

As for the U.S. born in Sutton Township, 216 were Nebraska born. These are all the younger children of families. There was no Nebraska born head of household in the area in 1880. Why? A bit early for that. Nebraska had been a state for only 13 years though a territory since 1854 and no Nebraska born had started a family here.

There were 165 Illinois natives in the township and 123 from Ohio. Other common birthplaces were Wisconsin (117), Pennsylvania (109), New York (91), and Iowa (76). There were fewer from each of 23 additional states, even California, District of Columbia and almost all states in the northeast.

What’s missing can be almost as interesting as what is found. There were two people from Mississippi and two from Louisiana plus some Texas-born in a few farm families. But that’s about it from the states of the Confederacy. There were no Sutton residents in 1880 from the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama or Florida.

Nathan Tyler and Leonard Jarrett (Sybil’s father) were Confederate soldiers who arrived later but all in all, rural Nebraska was Union country.

Sutton merchant Marcus Wittenberg appears to be the sole Hungarian immigrant
in the Sutton area. Like many, he immigrated alone. His wife Rachel was born in
France. Their daughter Belle's 1895 wedding dress was a recent donation to the
Sutton Museum.
Before the Civil War, Nebraska and Kansas marked a kind of dividing line – remember the Kansas-Nebraska Act? A quick check of a couple of townships in Jewell County across the Kansas line, in Sedgwick (Wichita) and in Neosho County near the southeast corner of Kansas also did not turn up southerners in 1880. Was a little surprising.

For this article we’ve relied almost exclusively on the 1880 census which is readily available. I access it via my account but there are other means. With a bit of research time collecting and sorting data and then with a minimum of inferences, we can learn quite a lot about the make-up of the population of the Sutton area 136 years ago. And while plowing through that information it is amazing how many additional tidbits appear that entertain and distract.

I may have mentioned this before, but we are always looking for more people to join us at the Sutton Museum and help us collect and preserve Sutton’s story. If the prospect of digging into stories like those in this article, or other aspects of Sutton’s past interests you, please let us know. There is much more to learn than we have the time or the skills to uncover. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

This article first appeared in Sutton Life Magazine in October, 2016. For further information about the publication contact or call 402-984-4203.

1916 Agricultural Price Comparisons

Understanding costs and prices at different times is difficult is we only speak of currency. Tying prices to specific items lets us understand comparative prices better.

1916 item from the Grand Island paper - ag price comparisons.

Petiton for a new Clay County Court House - 1916

A petition to the Clay County Board of Supervisors in 1916 asked for a new court house in Clay Center...

From the October 6, 1916 Clay County Patriot newspaper (Clay Center)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Sutton in 1890

We’re going to look at life in 1890 this month, life in Sutton, in Nebraska and beyond.

The Sutton Museum received several items from the estate of Jim Griess including copies of very early Sutton Register newspapers. We’ll tap into one of those now. The bound volume contains all 52 issues of the Register in that year, four pages per issue – a good resource.

1890 was the fourth year that F. M. Brown had been publishing The Sutton Register. He and his son Charles would operate that paper through the 1930’s.
Register publisher F. M. Brown had a joint subscription offer
with the Detroit Free Press. How'd that happen?

Benjamin Harrison was president in 1890. His was a one-term presidency between the two terms of Grover Cleveland – the only time that has happened to us. His grandfather was the ninth president, barely, dying just 31 days into his term.

The governor of Nebraska was John Milton Thayer, a Civil War general who had organized the 1st Nebraska Infantry Regiment and later switched to the cavalry.

Some tidbits from early in the year included:

The Sutton Post Office was moved to the north end of town, likely where it was within the memory of many off us, next to City State Bank (Cornerstone to the young folk.)

Roy Clark and Rubben Schwab sold subscriptions to purchase a flag for the school – delivered with much celebration.

County Treasurer B. H. Dunn sold his farm three miles west of Saronville along with 26 horses, 89 head of cattle and 60 stock hogs.

The Sutton Building and Improvement Company, owner of the Opera House was upset that their insurance rates were 60% higher that the folks in the Central Block, I. N. Clark was an investor and he was sure their taxes were higher that other downtown businesses. The Opera House was also assessed $10 a year for a license to operate. They were looking to lease the building much of the year.

Clay and Thayer County undertakers formed a professional society with George Honey as the president.

Mr. I. N. Clark planned to put up 5,000 tons of ice in early 1890 – he was harvesting Glen Lake, now called Clark’s Pond. This was another family business. Son Albert (Bertie) continued providing ice for years.

Officers of The First National Bank (north) were Henry Grosshans, president; George A. Tenny, V.P.; M. L. Luebben, cashier and Theo. Miller, assistant cashier. Bank capital was $50,000 with $6,000 surplus.

Directors of the Sutton National Bank (south) were J. B. Dinsmore, J. J. Bonekemper, A. K. Marsh and Cashier F. C. Matteson. Their capital was $50,000, surplus $3,500.

The Palace Stables were on the south side of Grove Street. I'm guessing you
could still move that merchandise today.

Farmers were up against some tough economic conditions. Early in the year there were reports of Pender farmers had stopped moving corn to market at 15 cents a bushel but were burning it instead of coal at $8 per ton. Ton for ton, corn generated about the same heat as coal at half the price for soft coal, one fourth the cost of hard coal. By later in the year, the practice had spread, widely.

Hastings authorities began shutting down that town’s bawdy houses.

The Willow Springs distillery in South Omaha was believed to be among the largest in the U. S. The owner later was the first investor in the Omaha Stockyards.

Mobs in the U. S. had executed 175 people during 1889, all were negroes. In 1890 Mississippi authorities executed a white man for killing a black man – the first time that had happened in the south.

Nellie Bly landed in San Francisco aboard the steamship Oceanic, took the Southern Pacific rails to Philadelphia arriving 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes after she’d left on her round-the-world trip. She beat the time of Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg in the book “Around the World in 80 Days.”

There were eight newspapers in Hastings though a few had failed in the past year but another was about to start publishing.

The Goodspeed Publishing Co. released its “Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Hall, Hamilton, Adams and Clay Counties.”

Good for what ails ya.
A band of Omaha Indians camped on the creek bottom east of Sutton and visited Sioux Indians who were “on exhibition” at the Opera House. The Sioux were part of The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Co. staying for two weeks offering free consultation and advice from Indian doctors before moving on to new hunting grounds. Check out  for further info. Open question: was the patent medicine company using the Sioux, or the other way around?

Rail service for Sutton was robust. The Burlington had three trains each way (five stopped) and the U. P. had two each way. Tickets included 150 pounds of luggage. Less than 23 hours to Chicago, San Francisco by the third morning and a weekly sleeper car to Portland in three days (a berth added $3 to the price of your ticket.)

Sutton promoters were courting the Kansas City, Wyandotte and Northwestern Railroad to come through Sutton as they headed northwest out of Beatrice.
Prohibition was a hot topic with women’s groups and a political party lobbying for complete elimination of alcoholic beverages in society.

             Edgar had gone “dry” in 1889 but two saloons were planned for ’90.

The Clay County Prohibition Party sent 32 delegates to the state convention.
Harvard prohibitionists accused their saloons of peddling adulterated liquors. That was also a Carry Nation tactic. (There’s a bar in San Jose called Carry Nation’s Saloon with a motto, “Temperance in Moderation” - cute.)

Speakers received up to $100 for speeches in county towns.

Grafton had a social drinking club with beer and liquor available only to members – just like Wichita, Kansas when I was stationed there in the late 1960’s.

Opponents of prohibition offered high license fees and strict regulation as an alternative.

Thomas Reed, speaker of the US House of Representatives closed the saloon on his side of the capitol building in D. C. forcing house members to the senate side.
William Gold began advertising his Close-Out sale on July 4, 1890. He would move to
Lincoln where he first opened The People's Store and later Gold's, the largest department
store in the Capitol City later purchased by Brandeis, the largest operation in the state.

These items appeared in mid-year newspapers:

The Frederick & Wentz clothing store was in the Merrill building in the Central Block.

P. T. Walton’s confectionary was just north of Wm. Gold’s dry goods store.

Stevens’ grocery store was one door north of Grice’s Harness Shop.

The Register charged its competitor newspaper The Advertiser with bad grammar and articles filled with untruths. The Hastings Tribune was also no fan of The Advertiser.

Owners of a Fairfield foundry were looking for a site in Sutton.

Bradshaw was wiped out in a tornado with 6 dead and more than 100 injured. It was described as the “Most destructive storm to life and property that ever visited Nebraska.”

The 90 remaining Iowa Indians sold their 230,000 acres on the eastern border of Oklahoma for $1.25 an acre. That land plus more from the Sac, Fox, Pottawatomie and Shawnee was opened in September, 1891. The Oklahoma land rush continuted from April, 1889 through 1907.

A Stockham fellow brought his horse to Sutton challenging Sutton’s fastest and lost. Significant wagering was involved. One-on-one horse racing challenges were recurring entertainment.

Much of the 1890 news involved politics and elections. It took up a lot of space just to list the contenders. There were the Prohibitionist Party, Farmers Alliance, Independent Party, a People’s Independent Party and Fusionists. The Democratic Party was shaking off the stigma of the Confederacy while the Republican Party of the Union had aligned with Big Business and the railroads costing them support from farmers. The Farmers Alliance met in Omaha in 1892 to become the Populist Party. There was a National Reform Party that met in St. Louis but did not have an impact in Nebraska. A fragmented political picture, but regardless of party names and affiliations, state issues were still rural vs. urban.
Dr. Martin Van Buren Clark started his medical practice and a pharmacy in Sutton in 1872. He and his brother Isaac Newton
Clark played a big part in the early development of downtown Sutton, the Clark Addition in the north and west part of town
and in various retail stores. He was the first physician in Sutton and a pioneer in the medical field for the county.

The fall term at Sutton Schools was headed by Prof. Alex Stephens, superintendent; Miss H. R. Brewer, high school principal; Miss Manis, grammar; Miss Clara Lake, 2nd Intermediate; Miss Evion and Miss Nettie Greer, 1st Intermediate; Miss Nellie Copsey and Miss Fink, 2nd primary and Miss Mollie Braun, Miss Stepler and Miss Kittie Hann, 1st primary.

Steel & Stevens, a Colorado company was buying hundreds of acres of corn, stalks and all for 5 to 10 dollars an acre in parts of Nebraska. They were building silos on farms and storing chopped up stalks and corn to feed 7,000 head of cattle during the upcoming winter. The article did not use the words silage or ensilage.

And late in the year, these were some of the items in The Register;

York secured the United Brethren College – today’s York College.

All Nebraska towns over 1,200 had a water and fire protection system except Sutton. A special election in September approved a $16,000 bond calling for a 75-foot water tower in the Fowler addition – we called it the “standpipe” didn’t we?

A group planned to build the Kansas City stockyards.

Chicago’s new masonic temple was to be 20 stories tall – 302 feet – the tallest building in the world from 1892 until 1905.

Drought had almost wiped out the corn crop locally forcing small farmers to sell small pigs, or even take a hammer to them. F. M. Brown’s comment, “Wanted at this office! A well matured ear of corn of the vintage of ’90. It will be properly labelled with the producer’s name and laid away in our collection of rare curiosities.”

The November general election dominated late-year news.

Sutton voters defeated a prohibition measure 208-174.

Independent Party candidates McKeighan and Horn drew the most Sutton votes for US congress and state senate. Independents won both state representative seats defeating Republicans.

Independent candidate Powers received the most votes for governor in Sutton but Democrat James Boyd won the post state-wide. Outgoing governor Thayer refused to relinquish the office on the grounds that Boyd was not a citizen (he was born in Ireland.) The Nebraska Supreme Court advised Thayer to step down but later reversed itself after Boyd served a short time. It was a year before that the US Supreme Court ruled that Boyd was eligible to be Nebraska’s governor. Thayer had served more than a year of Boyd’s two-year term.

Sioux Chief Sitting Bull was killed at the Standing Rock Reservation in north-central South Dakota on December 15, 1890 as the army tried to arrest him. When 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 December 29, 1890.

And that’s how 1890 ended.


The Sutton Register ran a weekly business directory. This is one from mid-year:

This article appeared in the September, 2016 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For further information about the magazine contact Jarod Griess at 402-984-4203 or P. O. Box 454, Sutton, NE 68979 or

Navy Recriting Ads from September and October, 1941.

The Navy ran a recruiting campaign in small town newspapers beginning at the end of August, 1941 and running through the end of October. These ads ran almost every week (they missed one) in The Sutton Register during that period.

An item in early October pointed out that all 60 operating units of General Motors were in full production of war materials - aircraft engines, machine guns, ammunition, etc. about one year after G. M. received its first order from the War Department.

Public sentiment was against the "European" war but those in public service take an oath that includes a pledge to support and defend the constitution where the preamble includes the praise, "provide for the common defense".  They were in preparation mode.

The attack on Pearl Harbor came within six weeks of the end of this particular recruiting campaign. Many who responded to this campaign were in uniform and ready to go on December 8th.

1916 Anti-Prohibiton ad in Clay County,

1916 saw two major ballot issues in many states, prohibition and suffrage. This anti-prohibition ad was run by a lobbying group called the Nebraska Prosperity League and sought to tie prohibition with lower land values.  That is, land in Kansas was cheaper than in Nebraska...because Kansans couldn't buy booze over the counter.

"Causality" and "Correlation" are a couple of concepts that help explain what's happening, or not happening.

The Nebraska Prosperity League was an anti-prohibition lobbying organization in 1916.

This ad ran in The Sutton Register among other papers.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Isaiah Walton, an Indiana Fellow Buried Nearby - Updated

This article invokes a measure of personal privilege, though there is a definite Sutton/Clay County connection. I found the Walton House during a visit to Jefferson County, Indiana in July. The house was built by my 3rd great, grandfather, Abraham Walton in 1820. The house was occupied just a couple of decades ago but its age is catching up quickly here in 2016.

The Walton House is currently known in the neighborhood as the Cain House as the Cain family lived here for about a full
century. Our Walton family also had about a full century in the home. My great grandmother Rhoda was born in this house
in 1843 and lived here until her marriage in 1865 before she and James D. Rowlison began their 18-year, multi-step migration
including stops at four different farms around Edgar. 

The Marshal Union Cemetery is southeast of Sutton on Road "S" between 310 and 311. Near the center of that cemetery is a small flat gravestone for two men, a son on the left, his father on the right. We're interested in the father, Isaiah Walton.

No, it's not anything remarkable, just a small rural cemetery, just a grave.

History is mostly just the collection of things that people have done. It’s our responsibility to remember those people and those things.

Certain primitive societies believed that we die twice, once, as we understand, when the body stops working but they say we die a second time upon the death of the last person who remembers us.

That’s an interesting thought that places a value on our memory of the ones who’ve gone before.

When we visit a cemetery where we keep our inventory of past people, and as we walk past a grave we seldom have an appreciation for what that person did or what contributions they may have made during their lifetime. Our loss.

There are about 30 cemeteries in Clay County with from a few dozen graves to over 3,000 in each cemetery. There is a story that can be associated with each grave. Some may be surprising.

I have an interesting illustration.

There are 104 graves in Marshall Union Cemetery. Could any of those represent an interesting story? I have a candidate: my great, great grandfather.

Near the middle of that cemetery is a flat stone with two names: J. P. H. Walton and Isaiah Walton. We will talk about Isaiah.

Isaiah Walton (1812-1894), born in Oxford Co. Maine,
lived most of his life in Jefferson Co. Indiana, settled
late in life in Clay Co. Nebraska and is buried in
Marshall Union Cemetery east of Clay Center.
Isaiah Walton was born on February 18, 1812 in the town of Woodstock in Oxford County, Maine to Abraham and Mary “Polly” Hutchinson. Isaiah’s ancestors, nearly all of them, were British colonials from the earliest days including his 4th great, grandfather, William Walton who arrived in Massachusetts in 1636 and became the first preacher in port of Marblehead near Boston.

Other of Isaiah’s ancestors included the Putman family of Salem Village who were in the midst of the Unpleasantries of 1692 but that’s another story. And other branches have stories worth remembering.

Some of William Walton’s descendants moved to the northern frontier of New Hampshire after a father-in-law qualified for land in payment for his service in King Philip’s War in 1675-1676. King Philip was a Pokunotek chief named Metacomet (the Philip name is a long story) who led a bloody rebellion by Wampanoag, Nipmuck, Narragansetts and other tribes we don’t hear much about. Metacomet was captured and beheaded and many of his troops sold into slavery. No, we don’t teach our kids much about that war.

Many militiamen did not take that New Hampshire land offer – it was the wild frontier. The Walton’s helped tame that frontier and another generation pushed to the eastern frontier in Maine. Abraham Walton became friends and a partner there with Ebenezer Hutchinson in a grist mill and married Ebenezer’s daughter Mary. Isaiah was one of ten children from that marriage, eight of whom made it to adulthood.

Several years ago we visited Oxford County and located the site and the remnants of the Walton-Hutchinson grist mill on the outlet to Moose Pond.

In 1815 when Isaiah was three years old, the Hutchinson and Walton families along with a Jordan family and others learned of land in the new frontier, this time to the west. They traveled by team and wagon to Pittsburgh where Abraham bought a flat boat and they floated down the Ohio River.

One account has them pausing near Cincinnati briefly before continuing to Madison, Indiana, then the largest town in the new state.

Abraham Walton took a quarter of land in Graham Township, Jefferson County in 1815 where he raised that family. The Hutchinson family was nearby.
This photo from the Jefferson County (Indiana) Historical Society is of the Walton House not many years ago when it
was still occupied. Isaiah Walton purchased the house and farm in 1841 from his father Abraham Walton.

The Ohio River separated Jefferson County from slave-state Kentucky. The Walton and Hutchinson families shared abolitionist sentiments with their neighbors and in 1839, 22 years before the Civil War, a group of 72 formed the Neil’s Creek Anti-Slavery Society. About 20 of those charter members were members of Abraham Walton’s family including sons, daughters and in-laws, among them Isaiah and his new bride, Eliza Jane Hall. The Halls were another colonial family, mostly English but some Dutch dating back to the days of New Amsterdam.

The anti-slavery society was not just a discussion group. Isaiah bought his father’s farm in 1841 and later moved to a farm just northeast of the village of Lancaster, Indiana. There he soon became a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad using the house on that farm, since lost, to hide runaway slaves. Two brothers in a free black family near Madison were ferrying runaways across the Ohio. The Walton house and the Hoyt House, today a museum, were two early stations on the Underground Railroad route to Detroit and on to Canada. The story of the Underground Railroad is a large part of the proud history of Jefferson County. 

The Jefferson County sheriff was a zealot about enforcing the Runaway Slave Act placing the anti-slave society folks in danger as law-breakers. Runaway slave laws dated from the earliest days of our republic – George Washington signed an early version. States had their own laws protecting the “property” of plantation owners. Armed militias patrolled searching for escaped slaves and periodically did shake-downs of slave quarters searching for evidence of “misbehavior.”

Merritt Walton (1841-1913) as a nine-year old
boy was helping runaway slaves escaping from
Kentucky to Canada.
Merritt Walton, Isaiah’s son and a later a Clay County farmer told his children about taking runaways on his horse at night to the next stop to the north of the Walton House when he was nine years old in 1850. We do not know how long the Walton’s and their colleagues continued their “outlaw” activity. Law enforcement became aggressive and some neighbors were sympathetic to southern plantation owners so it became increasingly risky. There’s no way of knowing how many slaves were helped but accounts tell of escaped slaves hiding in the house for weeks at a time before it was safe to move on.

Merritt Walton purchased the farm near Lancaster from his father in 1870 for $2000. Both Isaiah and Merritt later migrated to Clay County.

The Neil’s Creek group had another project that the Walton family was involved with. Their Abolitionist Baptist Church founded Eleutherian College in 1848 in the nearby village of Lancaster. The intent was to provide advanced education for all and in 1856 there were 18 African-American students including ten ex-slaves enrolled. By 1860 the college had 200 students, 50 of them African-Americans at a time when it was prohibited by the Indiana Constitution. (BTW, “Eleutherian” is a Greek word for “free” offering some evidence of the educational level of mid-19th Century frontier farmers.)

Eleutherian College in Lancaster, Indiana was built by members
of the Neil's Creek Anti-Slavery Society including members of the
Walton family as a "college for all" including African-Americans.
Ex-slaves were enrolled in the college as early as 1856.
Isaiah and Eliza Jane were successful on their farm in addition to their abolitionist law-breaking until 1864 when Eliza died at age 47 while trying to have her tenth baby. The baby was also lost. Their oldest daughter Rhoda, my great, grandmother, was 21 at the time and in the third year of her four-year long-range correspondence with Pvt. James Rowlison of the 82nd Indiana Infantry. The Rowlison farm was in the just north of the Walton farm near Lancaster.

The war was over in 1865, James came home, he and Rhoda were married and in late 1866 they took a boat from Madison down the Ohio and then to Missouri to a new farm. I have the ticket stub from that trip indicating a fare of $6.00 for two adults, one child, a trunk and a horse.

The Rowlison’s western migration included farming near Kirksville, Missouri; Moulton, Iowa; Peru, Nebraska; four farms near Edgar, Nebraska and finally near Hoxie, Kansas. Those of us who descended from James Rowlison wonder what he was searching for, or what he was running from.

One of those Edgar area farms was about a mile south of the Marshall Union Cemetery belonging to Rhoda’s brother Merritt, the nine-year old mentioned above. This was about 1880 when the Rowlison’s followed Merritt to Clay County. The widower Isaiah Walton also followed these two and others of his children to Nebraska and Kansas.

The Merritt Walton family made another contribution to history when a grandson, also named Merritt Walton became Sutton’s first World War II fatality when he was killed on Gavutu Island in the Solomon Islands on August 7th, 1942. The grandfather Merritt is buried in the Ong Cemetery, the younger Merritt in San Jose, California.

It is not an elaborate gravestone that marks Isaiah Walton’s grave in Marshall Union Cemetery (Merritt’s is a less modest). There are thousands much like it in Clay County. I’m not saying that every grave you walk past in the cemetery contains the remains of a person with as full a life as Isaiah Walton’s but I’m just as sure there are many with even better stories that are fading or worse, have already faded.

I like the thought mentioned above: we die twice, once when the body quits and again when no one remembers us. It doesn’t have to be so. Someone just has to take time and effort to re-establish the memory of a life and pass it on to keep their memory alive.

After all, history isn’t much more than the collection of things people did.

The Walton House is at the loop at the end of the fishhook shaped driveway
off of Road W500N just east of W410N in the NW 1/4 of Section 12 in Graham
Township, Jefferson County, Indiana, midway between Deputy and Lancaster.
Full disclosure: much of what I know about Isaiah Walton’s time in Jefferson County, Indiana came as a result of a recent visit when I spent parts of three days in the Jefferson County Courthouse and at the county historical society visiting with some wonderful people. The staff at the museum welcomed me as a 2nd great grandson of Isaiah Walton, a fellow they were very familiar with.

The earlier Walton House in Graham Township has been known for the past many decades as the Cain House for the family that owned the farm during most of the 20th Century. The house sits off the road down a lane almost a half mile deep in the section and behind a “NO TRESPASSING” sign. The house sits back about 100 yards from the north bank of Walton Creek where Abraham Walton operated his second mill. A 1922 account indicated that signs of the mill remained at that time. I waded and slogged along the banks of the creek in dense growth but found no trace of the mill. The tobacco looks good and someone is keeping the grass down around the 200-year old house. Walking on the grounds of an ancestral home is not done at a fast pace; the imagination runs wild and you draw on every known detail about the family who lived there while wishing there were more.

The sad story at the Jefferson County Historical Society was about the historical preservation about the Neil’s Creek Anti-Slavery Society and its college. I’d visited the Eleutherian College and its museum several years ago. I found the place closed on this trip. The woman who was most knowledgeable about the society developed Alzheimer’s disease before she had transferred all she knew from her memory to paper. A staff member showed me the 20 or so boxes of material her family had given them. It is not well organized and an intern was 15 hours into sorting the material when I visited.

A group is diligently raising funds and laboring to re-open the college museum and to document the accomplishments of Isaiah Walton and his colleagues.

And that’s the story behind just one local grave. Do you know another? Please start typing now.

(This article has been updated as subsequent research and yet another trip to southern Indiana in August, 2017 revealed that the Walton house associated with the Underground Railroad was not the Graham Township house pictured above but another house in Lancaster Township, on the NE 1/4 of Section 34 Township 5N range 9E. Unfortunately, that house has not survived. I did contact the current owner of that quarter and learned there are ruins of that house on the farm. The historians of the Neil's Creek Society had completed their examination of society information and it was on file at the Jefferson County Historical Society in August, 2017.)

The original version of this article appeared in the August, 2016 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. Contact Jarod Griess at for more information about the publication.

Marine Platoon Sergeant Merritt Cecil Walton, born Dec. 18, 1916, died August 7, 1942 on Gavutu in the Solomon
Islands. Sgt. Walton was awarded the Navy Cross; the destroyer USS Walton was named for him. Merritt Walton
was Sutton's first fatality of World War II. He was a great grandson of Isaiah Walton.

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.