Friday, September 6, 2019

Ella Gibe Ruark, Atlanta, Illinois, 1880's

Luella Gibe was born in Bonpas, Illinois in 1869 to Adam and Elizabeth Gibe. Adam was a German farmer who had immigrated to the United States as a young man. Ella was the third of Adam and Elizabeth's seven children. At the time of the 1880 census, Ella was living with her parents and her siblings, Sarah, Jacob, Ida, Willie, and John, as well as their 80-year-old grandfather, Henry Gibe. 11-year-old Ella is also marked as being "maimed, crippled, bed-ridden, or otherwise disabled." I wonder what had happened to her?

Ella married George B. Ruark, a druggist, on October 16th, 1889. George was the co-owner of the Stokes & Ruark drugstore in Sumner, Illinois, until he established Ruark & Co. early in 1900.  Ella and George had 8 children, though tragically none of them survived past childhood. I could only find record of one of the children, a 6-year-old boy named after his father, in the 1900 census. In 1910 George was no longer working as a druggist and was taking odd jobs to support his wife and himself. Then, in 1915, he was admitted to Anna State Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Anna, Illinois. He died there six years later at the age of 63.

By this point, Ella had disappeared. I'm not sure where she went after her husband was institutionalized, as she doesn't seem to appear in any records after 1910. She may have moved to a different state, or remarried and changed her name. George's death records state that he was a widower, though no one is exactly sure when Ella died.

I would love to be able to complete Ella's story, so if you know anything else about her, let us know in the comments!

Friday, August 23, 2019

Bob Birch, Lone Wolf, Oklahoma 1908

"Well Ag I will
send you the
finest picture
you ear saw
this is a cold
day looks like snow
Bob Burch"

Robert "Bob" Burch was born in Yellville, Arkansas in 1890 to Frances Marion Burch and Alice Lee Hurst. Bob was one of twelve children. He had two older siblings, Callie and Hardin, and nine younger siblings, Francis, Amanda, Nancy, Bryan, Ruth, Nellie, John, William, and Clifton.

Sometime after 1900, the family moved to Lone Wolf, Oklahoma. There, Bob and his brothers worked on the family farm with their father. On December 8th, 1908 Bob sent this postcard to a Mrs. Agnes Newton, who he affectionately refers to as "Ag." Agnes was Bob's aunt, his mother's youngest sister, who lived a few counties away in Eufaula. She was only seven years older than him and may have been more like a sister to him.

Bob, along with his brothers, went on to serve in the first World War. After the war, Bob and his brother Francis took over the family farm. Their father had died in 1916, followed by their mother three years later, and their older brother was married and starting a family of his own. By their late 20's, Bob and Francis were not only running a farm, they were also caring for their seven younger siblings. I can imagine their house was a crowded place- also living with them was their sister, Amanda, and her two young daughters, Greta and Mabel.

Bob never married and continued to work on the farm with his brothers for many years, long after their other siblings had moved away. He passed away in Retrop, Oklahoma in 1956 at the age of 66.

If you know who this may be, let us know in the comments!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Dr. Percy Alexander Riddler, Missouri 1900's

This man is identified as "Dr. P.A. Riddler."

Percy Alexander Riddler was born September 19th, 1876 in Jefferson City, Missouri. His father, John G. Riddler, was a surgeon for the Union army during the civil war. After the war, he married Percy's mother, Sophia Sharp, and became a druggist. Together they had 6 children: Edith Bell, Mabel, Myrtle, Percy Alexander, Bonnie Kate, and Garth Arthur.

Percy arrived during a tragic period for his family, at around the time they lost two of his sisters. 5-year-old Mabel died in 1872 and was followed by 8-year-old Myrtle in 1877. Then, in 1887, the same year their father was elected mayor of Jefferson City, the 4 surviving Riddler children lost their mother. Percy was only 10. John Riddler placed his children in the care of their grandmother, Wilhelmina Sharp, who took over raising them.

As a young man, Percy decided to pursue medicine just as his father had. He attended St. Paul's College in Concordia, Missouri for 2 years before transferring to University Medical College in Kansas City. A newspaper article would later describe Percy as having a "quiet and serious personality," and claimed that he "impresses one with the seriousness of his individuality." In Percy's senior yearbook, he is described simply: "Likes the ladies. Guardian angel of Pi Beta Phi pledges. Can cuss if necessary."

After graduating, Percy moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas. In the 1910 census he is living as a boarder with a family and is practicing out of an office at 411 Garrison Ave. Also living in Fort Smith was 21-year-old Ethel Wier Kelleam. She was a very social young woman and appeared often in the society column of the paper. She attended many picnics, parties, and outings like the one captured in these photos. In November 1912 Percy and Ethel were married in a "quiet wedding" at the home of Rev. P.G. Preston.

Upon returning from their honeymoon, the couple moved in with Ethel's mother. By 1920, Mrs. Kelleam's residence had become a crowded place. Along with her 16 year old daughter, Dorothy, was Ethel, Percy, and their 2-year-old son, John. Also living in the house were two boarders, a tailor named Duke Sills and his wife, Edith.  In 1919 Percy was elected chairman of the Fort Smith Board of Health and later was reelected. Though he relocated his office within the city a few times, Percy never left Fort Smith. He died there in 1933, leaving behind his wife and 16-year-old son, John, who would go on to become a surgeon.

If you know who this man (or any of these partygoers) may be, let us know in the comments!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Lizzie Liming Fellows, Van Buren County, Iowa 1890's

"Mother thinks this is
Lizzie Liming Fellows,
your grandmother."

If "Mother" is correct, this is Elizabeth Peacock Liming, who was born on April 16th, 1871. As written in her birth records, she was born on her father's farm in Douds, Van Buren County, Iowa. Her father was William H. Liming, a farmer from Ohio. Her mother was Mary J. Peacock, who had immigrated from Ireland with her family as a baby. Elizabeth was the second oldest child after her brother Arthur and had 4 younger siblings: Chloe, Paul, Della, and Mary. Not long after Mary's birth, their mother became ill with pneumonia. She died in 1880 at only 33 years old. Elizabeth was only 9. The next year, her father was remarried to 18 year old Alice Viola McCullough and in the following years, Elizabeth would gain 3 half-siblings.

On April 21st, 1892, Elizabeth married Clay D. Fellows. He was a young doctor who, like her, had been born and raised in Van Buren County, Iowa. He had just graduated from Keokuk Medical College in Keokuk, Iowa that year. Their first child, Hazel Josephine, was born in February 1893 and their second, Esther Elizabeth, arrived in 1904. By the 1900s, the family had settled in Algona, Iowa. In 1913, 21 year old Hazel married Roy Keen and began a family of her own.  Esther never married but instead persued a career in advertising. Around 1920, their father began to suffer from a heart condition. He passed away from it in 1925 at age 58. Though Esther soon went away to work in Des Moines, Elizabeth had the company of her eldest daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren, who all lived on a farm just outside of Algona.

When Esther was offered a position as the advertising manager for a cosmetic company in Hollywood, Elizabeth sold their house and joined her a few years later.  Elizabeth, now in her 60's, seemed to thoroughly enjoy her time in California. Even when Los Angeles was rocked by an earthquake in March 1933, she wrote home that "she was experiencing everything California had to offer, and she was glad to have had the experience." Hazel's oldest daughter, Eleanor, stayed a summer in Hollywood with her grandmother and aunt in 1936. (Eleanor and her two younger siblings, Richard and Marilyn, were Elizabeth's only grandchildren. This photograph must have belonged to one of them at some point.)

Elizabeth lived with Esther in their Hollywood apartment until she passed away on Christmas Eve, 1951. She was 80.

If you know who this may be, let us know in the comments!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Part Two: L.E. Decker, Manager

Source: The William F. Cody Archives

In the 1890s, William F. Cody built the town of Cody, Wyoming in the Big Horn Basin. Envisioning the town as a tourist destination and gateway to Yellowstone National Park, he constructed the luxurious Irma Hotel at it's heart. In 1903, as the Irma was undergoing its first major renovation, Louis was made the manager of the hotel. He was reportedly told by Cody to make the Irma "just the swellest hotel that ever happened regardless of expense." Among other improvements, Louis had monogrammed crockery specially made for the hotel's dining room.

Louis and Mary both lived and worked in the hotel. In the 1910 census, they are listed
alongside several other employees of the Irma: clerk Edward Connery, cooks Robert Velick and Jess Minson, and waitress Hilda Friedenburg, as well as the other housekeepers, maids, and laborers that kept the hotel clean and functioning. A photograph taken that year shows Louis, Mary, and William Cody seated together in Cody's private room at the Irma.  Louis is older now, in his late 40's, and sports a mustache. His discussion with Cody looks serious, though there's a slight smile on Mary's face.

Louis continued to manage the hotel until 1913, the year William F Cody filed for bankruptcy and the Wild West show ended. Louis and Mary left Wyoming for Denver, Colorado and moved into 2932 Lafayette Street, a Queen Anne style home built in 1892. Louis went from being the manager of the Irma to being the manager of the White Motor Car Company, and soon became the owner of the Court Place Garage. Shortly after the move, Cody paid his sister and brother-in-law a visit. It was from their house on July 25th, 1913 that he wrote a letter to his lifelong friend, John H. Tait. "Well the old show is closed," he wrote. "But I'll soon have a better one."

In his later years, Cody frequently stayed at 2932 Lafayette Street with Louis and Mary. According to Mary, her brother often referred to the house as the "Home of Peace." It was during one of these stays in January 1917 that his health began to decline. He was 70 years old and dying of kidney failure. When told by his doctor that he had only 36 hours to live, Cody's first response was to call Louis to his bedside. "The doc says I've got 36 hours," he reportedly told him. "Let's forget about it and play some cards." William F. Cody died on January 10th at 12:05 PM. At 1:33, Louis sent a telegram to John Tait that read simply, "Colonel Cody passed away twelve five today. Louie."

In 1919, the editor of the Daily Pantagraph traveled from Bloomington, Illinois to Denver to interview Mary about her brother. The editor describes the large cabinet case that sits in the living room of their home, filled with souvenirs and gifts from Buffalo Bill, and how Mary spoke of her brother with "solemn pride."

In 1926, after three months of illness, Mary Cody Decker passed away at age 73. According to her obituary, Mary's last words were murmured to her husband: "I'm going west." Louis suffered from heart disease in his later years and in 1935 passed away at the home of a friend in Denver. He was 71. Louis's obituary claims that he was the manager of Buffalo Bill's Wild West for two decades, a claim that I've found repeated elsewhere. As far as I can tell, Louis was never the manager of the show. He was, however, many many other things. He was the cousin, brother-in-law, and employee of the famous showman, Buffalo Bill. He began as a ticket-seller and through hardwork became a secretary to Buffalo Bill and to his manager, Nate Salsbury. He was the manager not of Bill's show, but of his luxurious Irma Hotel. He was the owner of a successful garage in Denver, Colorado. He was at Buffalo Bill's side when he died.

Researching Louis Decker's story has been fascinating. If you're interested, here is an article about the restoration of Louis and Mary's home in Denver.

If you know anything else about Louis, let us know in the comments!

A few of the sources I used for this post:
  1. Center of the West article on the Irma Hotel
  2. Denver Library Article on the Whittier Neighborhood and San Rafael Historical District
  3. 1913 letter from William F. Cody to John H. Tait
  4. Virginian-Pilot article, "The Last, Great Performance of Buffalo Bill Cody"
  5. 1917 telegram from Louis Decker to John H. Tait announcing the death of William F. Cody

Friday, June 21, 2019

Part One: Louis E. Decker, Youngstown, Ohio 1880's

Writing on the back reads:
"Louis is nicer
looking now
than in this

Louis E. Decker's rather interesting life began in Youngstown, Ohio in 1864. He was the youngest of Bartholomew Decker and Sophia Billings's seven children. His father was the owner of a feed store, B.S. Decker & Co., where Louis's older brother Charles would work as a store clerk during his teenage years. Charles would follow in his father's footsteps and go on to own a shop of his own, a grocery and confectionary. It's possible Louis may have worked in his father's store at some point as a young man, but he was certainly not destined to become a grocer or clerk.

In February 1882, Bartholomew and Sophia took a trip to Cleveland, Ohio. They were visiting Sophia's cousin, William F. Cody, who is perhaps better known by his nickname: Buffalo Bill. Cody would not form his famous Wild West show until the following year, but he had already gained a reputation as a skilled hunter, rider, and scout during the Indian Wars. Louis's parents must have seen an opportunity to get their youngest son a job with the famous showman.

Louis began working as a ticket seller for Buffalo Bill's Wild West about 1885 when he was 20 years old. That same year, sharpshooters Annie Oakley and Frank Butler joined the show. Louis continued to sell tickets for several years and possibly sold tickets during the show's European tours between 1887 and 1892. Then in 1893, the Wild West came to Chicago and set up in a lot right next door to the fairgrounds of the World's Columbian Exposition (after a committee declined to include the show as part of the fair itself). While researching Louis, I was surprised and very excited to discover a brief mention of him in one of my favorite books, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. In order to illustrate the success of the fair, Larson describes how Louis "sold 17,843 tickets during his shift, the most by any one man" and as a result won a box of cigars. Though Larson mistakenly refers to Louis as Buffalo Bill's nephew, there's no doubt to me it's the right man. Why exactly he was selling tickets at the fair instead of at the Wild West show is unclear to me. Maybe he was looking to earn a little extra money while in Chicago, or perhaps he just really wanted to win that box of cigars.

According to an 1896 souvenir book titled "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Route Diary," the traveling show made a stop in Grand Rapids, Michigan on August 9th. Louis, or "Lew" as he is called here, took the opportunity to visit his sister in Elk Rapids. Though she isn't named in the diary, I believe he visited his oldest sister, Carrie, who was living in Michigan around this time. The diary also says that Louis made the visit with his wife, and a "Mrs. Lou Decker" is listed as the Matron of the Camp. This is interesting considering the fact that, as far as I know, Louis wasn't married until 1906. If she's a different woman, I haven't been able to find a record of her.

In the 1899 "Route Book," Louis has moved up to being a secretary for Cody and for Nate Salsbury, Cody's manager, though it appears that he continued to help sell tickets and work as a mail carrier. During his time working for the Wild West show, Louis must have been introduced to William F. Cody's sisters, Julia, Eliza, Nellie, and Mary, who also went by "May." Cody was close with his sisters and wrote to them frequently. Photographs show that the Cody sisters were rather stern, serious looking women. The youngest, Mary, had been married to Edgar Bradford, a locomotive engineer, until his death in 1896. She was left a widow at 44, with two adult children. She and Louis had likely known each other for a while, as Louis was an employee of her brother (not to mention the fact that they were technically cousins.) Though she was 10 years his senior, a relationship formed. Mary and Louis were married in Big Horn, Wyoming on December 30th, 1906.

Before the marriage, Louis experienced big changes in his career as William F. Cody embarked on an ambitious new project- a tourist destination that would serve as the gateway to Yellowstone National Park.

Find out more next week in Part Two! And if you know anything about Louis, let us know in the comments!

A few of the sources I used for this post:
  1. 1882 letter from William F. Cody to Al Goodman in which Bartholomew and Sophia's visit to Cleveland is mentioned
  2. Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, page 319
  3. Buffalo Bill's Wild West Route Diary, 1896
  4. Route Book Buffalo Bill's Wild West, 1899

Friday, June 7, 2019

Mary Katherine Southall, Florence, Alabama 1900

Writing on the back reads:
"Mary Katherine Southall
c 3 years"

Mary Katherine Southall was born in Florence, Alabama on February 24th, 1897. She was the youngest child and only daughter of Charles Morton and Ida Mae Hester Southall. She had 2 older brothers, James Morton and Eugene H. The Southalls were fairly wealthy. Mary's father was a successful druggist in Florence and he appears often in the Florence Herald advertising such miraculous cures as "Electric Bitters," "Herbine," and "Dr. Howard's Specific."

Growing up, Mary was a bit of a social butterfly. The early years of her life were full of parties, clubs, and outings with friends, all of which were recorded in detail in the Florence Herald. At age 9, Mary served punch at a friend's birthday party "beneath the roseate glow of pink-draped chandeliers." Mary hosted her first tea party in 1908 at age 11. That same year she was the hostess of the T.F. Club and served refreshments at a party held for her Aunt Maney Hester when she visited from Chicago (the house was decorated with white and yellow). At 15 Mary and friends served frappe in the music room of Miss Olive Rogers "where pink and white roses rioted in lovely profusion." She attended countless other events, including dinner parties, barbecues, plays at the Princess Theater, and a football game between Vanderbilt and Auburn in 1919.

Mary was not only an excellent hostess, she was also well-educated. In 1916 she left Alabama for Pennsylvania, where she attended the Baldwin School, a private girls school, and later Bryn Mawr College. There she studied economics and politics and graduated in 1919. On February 26th, 1920, shortly after Mary's 23rd birthday, the Florence Herald announced Mary's engagement to a Mr. Benjamin Hall.

Benjamin Homer Hall was born in Illinois but had lived in Hoosick, New York for much of his life. He was a reporter for, and later the owner and editor of, the Rensselaer County Standard. I'm not sure what brought Benjamin to Alabama in the first place- did he meet Mary in Florence or did they meet while Mary was attending school in Pennsylvania? Friends and family poured into Florence from across the country to celebrate. The week leading up to the wedding was filled with luncheons, tea parties, and receptions all in honor of the bride-to-be. The ceremony itself was held in the Southall home on April 29th. I was surprised that I couldn't find any descriptions of the wedding- maybe Mary wanted to keep this particular event private.

Not long after the wedding, Mary and Benjamin moved back to Hoosick, where Benjamin continued to run his newspaper. During WWII, Benjamin served in the Office of Strategic Services both in Washington and overseas and, according to his obituary, was "closely connected" with William J. Donovan, the head of the OSS. After the war, Mary and Benjamin lived in Pittsburgh for 14 years. When Benjamin retired, they moved to Tryon, North Carolina where he built a home for them. The couple lived there together until Benjamin passed away in November 1965.  Benjamin and Mary never had children, but they were close with their nephews Derick and Donald Hulme. In Benjamin's will, he passes several family heirlooms onto his nephews. Mary passed away ten years later in 1975 at the age of 78.

If you know who this may be, let us know in the comments!