Of the tens of thousands of stories told on Minerd.com, none is as bizarre or surreal as the case of Count Anastase Vonsiatsky, seen here wearing a white-on-blue swastika armband, and the second husband of Marion (Ream) Stevens of the family of Norman Bruce and Caroline (Putnam) Ream.
From 1933 to his arrest in 1942, the Count served as Vozhd, or leader, of the All-Russian Fascist Organization based in Connecticut, with pockets of supporters in Manchuria, Japan and Russia. Born in Warsaw when it was under Russian control, Anastase had served during World War I in an anti-Bolshevik army of “White” Russians, fighting in eastern Ukraine under the command of Gen. Anton Denikin. He claimed that he and others in his unit had massacred 500 prisoners at Rostov, and that he had been wounded in the abdomen by a gunshot, which he carried for the rest of his life.
In a twist of fate, he met divorcee Marion in Paris after the war’s end, and they were married in New York City in 1922, despite her being nearly twice his age. As the daughter of one of America’s wealthiest men, Marion paid Anastase an annual allowance of $25,000, of which he was allowed to spend $10,000 on his “hobby” — the overthrow of the Soviet Union and its dictator, Josef Stalin.
Anastase traveled the world enlisting support for his political cause, joining the Brotherhood of Russian Truth and then, in partnership with Donat Yosifovich Kunle, forming the All Russian Fascist Organization, or “VFO” for short in Russian. To spread his propaganda, he began publishing the Fashist newspaper and set up a local restaurant in Thompson known as the “19th Hole” as his closet headquarters. In 1932, when a press photograph showed him playing golf with Prince Theodore Romanoff (seen here), son of Grand Duke Alexander of Russia, he was billed as “head of the American Branch of the Fund for the Liberation of Russia.” In staged photographs for newspapers, Anastase wore a type of swastika, claiming it was not the German Nazi type but rather pre-Hitler in vintage.
The U.S. government became suspicious of his activities, and one official described him as suffering from paranoia and “colossal delusions of grandeur.” Certain informants claimed that he had met with Hitler, Herman Goering and Rudolf Hess during a trip to Berlin. One source, biographer John J. Stephan, states that at least 20 investigations were opened in the 1930s and early ‘40s. Most of these came to the conclusion that he was of no significance and simply “deranged” and a “nuisance.” Stephan reports that friends and enemies alike used words such as “…erratic, outlandish, megalomaniac, and obsessed.” However, a hard-charging prosecutor, Thomas J. Dodd, who later became a U.S. senator, and seemed to relish the opportunity to gain the limelight using as his weapon the Voorhis Act, which required that certain organizations controlled by foreign powers be officially registered with the federal government. Dodd pressed the matter and compiled a persuasive case. More>>>
Jacob Minerd Jr.’s will, 1842, naming the “Christian Church in Turkeyfoot”
When my great-great-great-great grandfather, Jacob Minerd Jr., wrote his last will and testament in Kingwood, Somerset County, PA in 1842, the same year he was crushed by a falling tree and died, he requested his wife Catherine (Younkin) Minerd to inter his remains in the burying ground of the Christian Church in Turkeyfoot. He also wrote in the document, “I earnestly entreat my wife’s utmost care respectively in and about the morals and education of my children … and desire that they be brought up and instructed in the doctrine and religion of the Christian Church.”
So what was so special about the Christian Church in Turkeyfoot? The congregation’s history has been largely obscured by the misty haze of the past, and paper trail is very slim. After many years of off-and-on research, I was amazed when studying Peter Vogel’s 1887 book, Tale of a Pioneer Church, outlining how this little country church played a part in the founding of one of our nation’s leading denominations, the Church of Christ, and how many of our extended cousins were involved in some way. The denomination also has been known over the years as the “Disciples of Christ” – the “Campbellites” – and the “Christian Church,” all part of the “Reformation Movement.”
The story starts in the late 1820s with Scotch-Irish immigrant Rev. Alexander Campbell, who with his father Thomas became disenchanted with the Redstone Baptist Association. Vogel writes that the Redstone Association “seems to have been a kingdom divided against itself.” Among Campbell’s complaints were the Baptists’ practice of rituals not specifically called for in biblical teachings, and the need for more reliance on scripture itself.
Campbell initiated discussions with other congregations expelled by the Redstone Association, and then reached out to other churches in the region, among them the historic Turkeyfoot Baptist Church in Ursina, Somerset County, PA, familiarly known as the Jersey Church. On Sept. 7-9, 1827, Campbell met with a number of Somerset County representatives, among them Dr. Jonas Younkin, to begin to map out a novel plan for a shared future.
In June 1829, Campbell’s father Thomas and brother Archibald visited the county seat of Somerset where they “preached a few times” and then went to Turkeyfoot “to work up interest in the Jersey church.” Then in September of that year, a reorganization of the movement was put in place in Somerset, with election of officers and charter membership, among them Dr. Younkin and his wife Martha (Prinkey) Younkin.
Some of the names of the Disciples leaders are familiar – Chauncey Forward, a former congressman who resigned to become Somerset County register of wills and part-time evangelist, and for whom Chauncey F. Minor (born 1840, the year after Forward died) may have been named –William Shadrack, a clergyman, who may have been the namesake of William “Shedrick” Younkin, born in 1838, at the height of Forward’s popularity – and Aaron Schrock, likely the namesake of Dr. Younkin’s son Aaron Schrock Younkin (born 1845).
Writes Vogel: “Dr. Jonas Younkin and Harmon Husband could preach pretty well. Forward visited them as often as he could, and so did Wm. H. Postlethwaite. Most of the evangelists that came to Somerset also took in Turkey-Foot…. They met for awhile in a shabby log school-house on the Turkey-Foot road. Afterwards they built a log meeting-house, which is now occupied by the German Baptists (Dunkards).”
Elijah Younkin wrote about the group in the church’s Millennial Harbinger newspaper, saying “The disciples in this place number about one hundred. The opposition from the sects is considerable, but is surpassed by the faithfulness of the Christians.”
One of the cousins ran afoul of church governors in the mid-1820s. Vogel writes about punishments which had to be meted out from time to time: “A stray line alludes to some church troubles in 1823 that broke out afresh in 1826, and then lasted about a year,” he says. “But the demon Drink always works such wicked havoc that it is still clearly remembered that Wm. Philson, Abram Younkin and Dr. Bruce, had to be frequently disciplined for drunkenness, and that their copious tears of penitence were never wholly able to wash this stain out of their natures.”
In 1834, a new Disciples congregation was planted in Milford Township, with 23 members, several of whom formerly had belonged to the Methodist church. When “brother Younkin” preached to the Milford congregation, an old woman in the audience stepped forward and asked to be baptized, saying that “she had been a praying woman for upwards of forty years, and a member of the Methodist church – but as the Lord required her to be baptized for the remission of her sins, she was resolved to obey Him.”
David Younkin of Milford Township was one of those fortunate to have been baptized by Forward and was a great admirer. Some 53 years after the baptism, David wrote: “That good man, had he lived, I have no doubt, would have revolutionized this whole country.”
Wesley Lanphear and John Henry are known to have conducted a preaching tour at the Turkeyfoot church on Oct. 27 and 28, 1840.
As with many new institutions led by dynamic leaders, interest waned after these leaders eventually departed. Harmon Husband migrated to Illinois, “leaving the church a hundred strong,” Vogel writes. “But emigration thinned them rapidly, the reaper Death claimed his share, ‘the beggarly elements of the world’ devoured others, and drink got the better of the Doctor [Younkin], who then went to Iowa for a grave, and so, in the latter part of the fifties, the candlestick was removed. The light that goes out in this world is darkness forever.”
Rev. Charles Louis Loos, who had moved to Somerset in 1850, preached at Turkeyfoot as well as at Berlin and Shade and, on rarer occasions, Laurel Hill, Stoystown and New Centerville. He once wrote that “Outside of the town [of Somerset] I frequently preached in German. I found a very cordial reception among the ‘German brethren.’ I preached among them a good deal – in every one of the meeting-houses in the county but one…. My preaching at the other points in the county, as at Berlin, Turkeyfoot, etc., was principally at the good will of the church at Somerset. These places paid something, but by no means for the full proportion of my time. My going to these stations was an act of generosity, largely on the part of the Somerset brethren.”
During the winter of 1872, Rev. Edward Bevins, a native Englishman, organized another church at New Centerville, a 23-member congregation comprised of “remnants” of the Turkeyfoot and Laurel Hill and also drawn from local “transient preaching.” Bevins and M.L. Streator oversaw the organization of the church and appointed David Younkin as one of the elders. Then in July 1877, after a slow start, the church re-organized, with David accepting the role of deacon.
What rituals were practiced at the Turkeyfoot church? Vogel reports that “From two other sources have Somerset Disciples, as well as many others in Pennsylvania, been influenced. On one side this influence came from ‘The Church of God,’ and on the other, from ‘The German Baptists.’ The former practice, feet-washing as an ordinance, and the latter, feet-washing, trine immersion, anointing the sick, and the holy kiss as ordinances. As a result from these influences the Turkey-Foot Church of Christ practiced feet-washing as an ordinance and saluted with the holy kiss.”
At one point, the congregation in nearby Laurel Hill suffered a split over where to locate a new church building, centering on the “shades of difference between kindred creeds,” writes Vogel. “Self-interest, self-love, pride of self-consistency, etc., are so many microscopes which we either are not aware of possessing or know not how to tear from our eyes…. [It] was left to the Somerset church to select, under the guidance of Thomas Campbell, a committee or board of arbitration. The selection made consisted of Thomas Campbell as evangelist; Harmon Husband and Jonas Younkin, elders of Turkey-Foot…” When the arbitrators chose that the building should be centrally located, and charged the parties to forgive and forget, the losing party “refused to submit to the finding,” and ultimately left the Disciples.
The small Mt. Bethel Methodist Church in Paddytown, Somerset County was the center of a controversy in the spring of 1836 or 1837. (This was in the years before Rev. Harmon Younkin took the pastorship there.) A local Welshman named John Thomas took offense at some statements about the design of baptism that Disciples founder Alexander Campbell allegedly had made in print in the Millennial Harbinger. At issue was the doctrinal belief that the “blood of Christ, abstractly considered, does not avail for the removal of personal transgression; but in the concrete form of specific obedience, as the baptism of a penitent believer, it cleanses from sin.”
The parties agreed to settle the matter in debate at Mt. Bethel, at which Dr. P.G. Young, Henry L. Holbrook and Rev. Turner participated. They held three sessions in a day, morning, afternoon and evening. Vogel writes that:
…the chief reliance of Elder Thomas was I. John i.7: ‘The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.’ Dr. Young stood erect with hand resting on staff and called attention to the fact that (1) this passage is not predicated of aliens seeking an interest in Christ, but of “us” who “walk in the light” and “have fellowship one with another;” that (2) it does not say, the blood of Christ “alone” or “abstractly;” but (3) it is a “concrete” offer through the “specific obedience” “if we confess our sins” and “walk in the light.” Jonas Younkin had demanded of Elder Thomas the particular year and number of the Harbinger in which he claimed to have found his wording of Campbell’s language. At a suitable juncture William Scott, a teacher, was called on to read the editorial publicly, but no such wording was found as Thomas had alleged. By this time the moral atmosphere was getting decidedly close. To add to other inconveniences, before the close of the afternoon sessions Chauncey Forward and Charles Ogle had arrived from Somerset with a formidable array of books. Before the night session the Methodists and Baptists, who had made common cause on this question and against the Disciples, had laid their heads together and decided on a course of action. In that conference the Methodist minister stated to Hiram A. Hartzell and other Baptists, that on some pretext or other the debate would have to be stopped that night or the “Campbellites” would ruin both Baptists and Methodists. Accordingly, at the close of the night session, Rev. Turner stated that the debate must end, since he one of the moderators, had important business to attend to, which demanded his absence. Ogle replied that there were plenty of able men who could take his place, and that the move looked to him like a lame trick to run from a foe they could not face and to flee from truth to which they had not the manhood to surrender. Turner answered that such language was unbecoming a consecrated house. Ogle rejoined, “Where lies this ‘consecration’? Is it in the plastering? in the boards? In the shingles? Or in that modern invention yonder, the ‘mourners’ bench’? And what has so ‘consecrated’ this house that truth dare not be here elicited, and that lame error must be here hidden by tricks and still steadfastly worshiped?” Nevertheless the debate ended then and there – a fact which is of itself a verdict.
While there is nothing more on the record about the Paddytown church debate, arguments continued over the decades about doctrine and practice. One of these was about the proper role of baptism for infants versus the free will baptism of a consenting adult. Many years later, on May 6, 1884, a conference of Lutherans gathered at Hooversville, with Rev. John Frederick Kuhlman among the participants. The proceedings were compiled and sent for publication to the various county newspapers. One of the paragraphs said that:
…the following subjects were discussed in well prepared and able papers: “Proper Subjects of Baptism,” by Rev. J.F. Kuhlman; “The Mode of Baptism,” by Rev. J.H. Zinn. It was conclusively shown that infants, as well as adult believers, are proper subjects of baptism, and that no particular mode is essential to the validly of the ordinance. This church question was thoroughly and impartially discussed, and the right of choice of Christian liberty fully allowed.
The final reference in Vogel’s book to one of our cousins was the summer 1879 formation of a Somerset branch of the Christian Women’s Board of Missions. The group had 46 members, with the presidency held by Martha Knable, daughter of Major John and Mary “Polly” (Younkin) Knable. Vogel reports that “The exercises of these meetings are of a superior character; their essays especially are all worthy of publication.” The branch’s fund of $73.16 was higher than Allegheny County’s (Pittsburgh) and Philadelphia’s.
The founder of the movement, Rev. Campbell, established Bethany College in Virginia (later West Virginia) in about 1840, which he used as a base of operations for educating future Disciples pastors and publishing his newspaper, the Millennial Harbinger.
Today, the Church of Christ is considered a mainline denomination in the Reformed tradition, with local churches governed by their congregations. National membership as of 2015 was 497,423 within some 3,267 individual congregations across the country. Its official website is http://disciples.org/.
Milton R. McMillan (1851-1935) grew up on the farm of his parents Jehu and Mary Ann (Ream) McMillan near Listonville, Somerset County, PA and in 1890, at the age of 39, served as deputy sheriff of the county, working for his uncle Rush McMillan. Among the prisoners he was charged with overseeing at the county jail were David and Joseph Nicely, who were facing death by hanging for their brutal slaying of a local farmer. On one fateful day, in a selfless act, he made a name for himself while in the face of deadly danger. Said the Meyersdale (PA) Republican, “In the whole history of Somerset County, or for that matter of any other county in Pennsylvania, who has done a braver act than that of Milton R. McMillan … when the Nicely brothers, convicted murders, attempted to escape?”
At noon on Sept. 16, 1890, “the day watchman had been let out for the purpose of procuring a bucket of water,” said the 1906 book History of Bedford and Somerset Counties, Pennsylvania, as quoted in the Republican.
On his return, Deputy Sheriff Milton McMillan unlocked the jail door from the outside and admitted him. As the guard stepped away from the door, and before the deputy sheriff could close it, Joseph Nicely stepped forward and pointed a revolver in the deputy’s face. A struggle at one took place between the two men, in the outer hall leading to the door of the jail corridor, during which the deputy sheriff was shot twice by Joseph Nicely, and was at that time supposed to be fatally wounded. The deputy had, however, during the struggle with Joe, succeeded in locking the door, but could not take the key out of the lock. David Nicely put his hand through a small opening in the door, turned the key and made his escape from the jail while the struggle between his brother and the deputy was still going on. On being shot the second time, Deputy McMillan released his hold on Joseph Nicely, who at once ran out of the front door…. The plucky fight made by the deputy was something that had not been anticipated by them, as they supposed he would throw up his hands, and they could lock him up in one of the jail cells while all the prisoners could make their escape before any alarm could be given.
It took a year for Milton to recover from his gunshot wounds. As he convalesced, in the spring of 1891, the Nicelys were executed by hanging in the county jail, generating sensational coverage in newspapers from coast to coast. Later that year, Milton was pictured in a commemorative booklet about the affair, authored by Edward H. Werner, and entitled The Umberger Tragedy, with a Criminal History of Somerset County, Pa., in which this image was published. The Republican later reported that he “recovered from his wound and lived to a ripe old age, but the bullet remained imbedded [sic] in his body until the day of his death.”
Norman Bruce Ream, born in 1844 in a small log cabin in Ursina, Somerset County, PA, survived two Civil War wounds and a disastrous fire in his hometown to venture to Chicago, help build some of the nation’s mightiest industrial and cultural empires, and then become one of the nation’s wealthiest men in New York City, working alongside the most influential men in the country. In this photograph, courtesy of the Library of Congress, he stands with fellow U.S. Steel board directors Richard Lindaburg, Percival Roberts and Elbert H. Gary (for whom the city of Gary, Indiana is named). Enlarge>>>
In action at White Marsh GA, in February 1864, Norman was shot in the right thigh, with the enemy bullet lodging in the pelvic bone. Then at Weir Bottom Church, on June 1864, during the Battle of the Wilderness, he was wounded behind the right knee, the minie ball cutting through the back part of the leg. Cousin Sanner carried him on his shoulders for about a mile before arriving at a safe place. He received an honorable discharge and returned home, only to lose virtually everything in a fire. He decided to relocate to Osceola, Iowa, about 100 miles southwest of Chicago, along with his widowed father Levi Ream and several siblings.
While in Osceola, Norman worked in the grain and agricultural tool business, but a season of poor crops in 1870 forced him to suspend business. He pushed into the city of Chicago, where he began to make a living as a merchant in livestock and grain in partnership, dealing in livestock and then into commodities. Circa 1883, he is known to have sold in one day a half million bushels of wheat in Chicago, and due to the economics of the time, the move led to a price drop of three-quarters of a cent, which in essence allowed him to manipulate the market. He also helped his friend Philip D. Armour, founder of Armour Meats, corner the market in pork in 1883.
He became a friend and trusted confidante to many of the giants of Chicago, including Marshall Field, Cyrus McCormick and Robert T. Lincoln, son of the president. He helped organize the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and form the Marshall Field Museum of Natural History. When he moved east to to New York City in 1908, he became an associate of John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan, among others. He was a pioneer in the consolidation of the steel industry and brought together a number of steel plants in the west which formed the Federal Steel Company. When Federal was absorbed by United States Steel in 1901, he became a board director of the corporation. In addition, Norman served on the boards of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the Pullman Company, National Biscuit Co. (Nabisco) and the Equitable Life Assurance Society. It’s said that during his business heyday, Norman frequently rode the B&O Railroad, often taking a route along Laurel Hill Creek past his hometown of Ursina and so he could view the graveyard where his mother rested. He once ordered the timber to be cut so he could better view the graveyard and once ordered a retaining wall to be built along the creek to keep floodwaters out. More>>>
In the early years of the 20th century, Austin Bruce “A.B.” Garretson of Iowa was widely known and respected in the railroad industry in United States and Mexico, and his work took on a national character. He was so admired that he was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to the United States Commission on Industrial Relations, where he is pictured here in a meeting, seated third from left.
Founded by Congress in 1912, the Commission’s purpose was to study the nation’s labor law and industrial work conditions. Among the tasks was to interview those with a deep interest, among them many actual laborers — influencers such as lawyers Clarence Darrow and Louis Brandeis, activist “Mother” Jones, Theodore Schroeder — and corporate giants Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford. The final report of 11 volumes was produced in 1916, containing tens of thousands of pages.
Married to Mary “Marie” Ream (of the family of Samuel W. and Mary [Rheims] Ream), of Osceola, Iowa, Austin began his railroad career as a conductor on the Burlington Railroad. In 1894, he became an officer of the Order of Railway Conductors, an early union, and was elected president in 1906, holding that position until retirement in 1917.
One of Austin’s early tangles was in 1903, when he offered a proposal to the Northern Pacific Railroad for increased wages, only to be turned down. Reported the Mason City (IA) Globe Gazette, “It was he who became the chief arbiter in the historic railroad strike that threatened to wreck our transportation system during World War I.” He was linked professionally to three other presidents of railroad unions, among them Warren Stone of the Locomotive Engineers, W.G. Lee of the Railroad Trainmen and W.S. Carter of the Railroad Firemen, and was pictured in newspapers for his work to negotiate wages and better working conditions, including threatening a strike of 400,000 railmen until Congress passed an eight-hour workday law. In 1916, he authored an article, “Will Ye Serve God or Mammon,” published in the Order’s newpaper, Railway Conductor, promoting Wilson for president, with distribution to all railroad men in the nation in advance of election day.
Minerd.com Photo of the Month for July 2017 — Magdalene and Opal Deola Mayle were two years apart in age and about as close as young sisters could be during the Great Depression years in the coal mining town of Meriden near Philippi, Barbour County, WV.
Magdalene, born in 1925, and Opal, in 1927, were the daughters of Enoch and Dosha L. (Newman) Mayle of the family of William Stephen and Ruth Ann (Minerd) Mayle of Philippi. The pair seemed destined for a long life of friendship and companionship and sharing all sorts of experiences as sisters do — including losing their father and grandfather in the same year (1929), but also having their photograph portrait taken together.
But cruel fate intervened. During the hot and muggy mid-August of 1935, the 10-year-old Magdalene contracted pneumonia and appendicitis which turned into acute gangrene and peritonitis. Dr. L.S. King of Philippi was summoned to the Mayles’ mountain home, and he performed an incision to drain the infected area. Magdalene’s life hung in the balance for four excruciating days. Nothing further could be done.
Magdalene succumbed on Aug. 23, 1935, relieved of her agony, but leaving behind her mother and sister Opal to try to reason with what had just taken place and how they were going to go on. After an autopsy, the girl’s remains were brought back home for the funeral. This snapshot captures the haunting moment of the final goodbye from one sister to another, with Magdalene’s long hair decorated in ribbons, and the casket filled with fresh flowers, while Opal grasps the handle, perhaps in an attempt to hold onto her beloved sister for as long as possible. Burial was in the Chestnut Ridge Cemetery, where their father, grandfather William Stephen Mayle and great-grandfather, Civil War veteran Henry C. Minerd, already were at rest.
View these images in larger formats on our Photo of the Month page >>>
Jerome B. Jennings and his fellow Civil War veterans
Minerd.com Photo of the Month for June 2016 — Standing at attention at far left, Civil War veteran Jerome B. Jennings — of the family of David and Catherine (Ream) Jennings — poses with his fellow members of the Ross Rush Post of the Grand Army of the Republic at the historic burying ground of the 1775 Turkeyfoot Baptist Church, later renamed the Jersey Baptist Church near Ursina, Somerset County, PA.
The Rush Post was founded in July 1883 as part of a national organized effort to advocate for patriotic education, make Memorial Day (“Decoration Day”) a national holiday, lobby Congress to establish regular veterans’ pensions and support Republican political candidates. Its peak national membership, circa 1890, is said to have included more than 490,000 members.
In 2016, the original antique membership ledgers of the Post were purchased with private funds from an eBay seller in New York and then digitized, repaired and placed into the ownership of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Mt. Union Church Camp #502. As well, cousin Barbara Bowers of the family of Bertha (Ream) Conn stepped forward to donate original application papers which the soldiers had filled out when pursuing membership.
At the invitation of the Mt. Union Church Camp, Minerd.com’s founder was a guest speaker at a memorial program held at the church on May 21, 2017, and later re-recorded the presentation as a series of three podcasts. Click to hear the first podcast with stories about Jennings, J.J. Rush and Forquer — the second podcast about veterans H.K. Younkin, Enos and Andrews — and the third and final podcast about F. Younkin, B. Younkin and Rose. Minerd.com extends its gratitude to Mt. Union Camp organizers Robert Wrigley and cousin Linda Marker of the family of Frederick J. Younkin.