Clara (Leonard) Holt was among several of our cousins who had connections to historic French and Indian War sites in southwestern Pennsylvania known as Fort Necessity (site of George Washington’s first battle, a loss to the French) and Braddock’s Grave (marking the burial site of a British general mortally wounded in an attack near Pittsburgh in 1755). Clara was the wife of John T. Holt and daughter of Reuben H. and Martha (Cunningham) Leonard.
An early educator in the family, Clara taught in one-room schoolhouses in Stewart and Springfield townships, Fayette County. The book she’s holding in this image may reflect a love of learning. Tragically, her husband was killed in a freak accident near Markleysburg, PA in 1919, while en route home from a stone quarry. He fell from his truck, driven by a son, and was run over and crushed to death. Clara outlived her husband by more than two decades, remaining in their home along the National Road (U.S. Route 40) in the mountains of Farmington, east of Uniontown.
Part of her 500-acre farm was located 12 miles east of Fort Necessity and considered historic property, referred to locally as the “Camp of the Twelve Springs.” During the war, Washington and his beaten army camped there after surrendering Fort Necessity on July 4, 1754, and the following year, General Braddock made his eighth encampment there on June 25, 1755. Later, Job Clark patented the land and kept a tavern at the site. An article in the Uniontown Daily News Standard reported in 1932 that “Outlines of the old springs and the tavern are still visible.”
Clara had what a newspaper called “considerable interest in the historical significance of the farm on which she lives.” Her sons made an effort to locate each of the 12 springs on the property. In 1932, she paid to have a commemorative marker produced and placed at the site of Twelve Springs. John Kennedy Lacock, an authority on the Braddock expedition, and professor of history at Harvard University, organized a dedication service on Sept. 11, 1932. Yet the site never fully captured the public’s attention. By 1937 John P. Cowan, park ranger and historian at Fort Necessity, wrote to the editors of the Daily News Standard saying “everybody has overlooked” the area. More about our family’s links to the fort and grave sites>>>
Having struck out to a new south-central Kansas prairie home in the spring of 1884 with her husband and parents, Nettie (White) Bailey wrote a prolific series of impassioned letters to her beloved sister Helen (White) Clark who had remained in Missouri with her family. The letters which survive today, mainly penned by Nettie (seen here), describe the death of their mother Mahala (Miner) White, ever-present dust and wind, community gossip, the anguish of the sisters’ separation, and comings and goings of relatives and friends, including the April 1889 departure of their uncle and aunt James and Lydia (Miner) Brown from Kansas for a new life in central Oklahoma.
Tragically, Nettie’s life was snuffed out in a freak lightning storm in July 1889. But the correspondence between the Kansas Whites and Missouri Clarks continued through 1911. The final letter is from Nettie’s brother Layton White to his niece Blanche just before his death.
After the letters stopped, Nettie’s daughters Mabel (Bailey) Phelp and Blanche (Bailey) Peterie lovingly preserved and kept them together. They were shared among various family members until about 1984, when Nettie’s great-granddaughter Janet (Hoyt) Sperry brought them to her home in Montana and painstakingly retyped each and every one. To do so, she carefully studied the faded and small handwriting to make sure she was capturing every word correctly. In the end, on behalf of the family, she donated the originals to the Kansas Historical Society in Topeka, accession number 2003-065.02. A complete set of the retyped letters is in the Lincoln Library in Medicine Lodge, KS.
Today, with Janet’s gracious permission, these letters are being posted on Minerd.com as the “Nett Helen Letters” for all to enjoy and to bring these ancient lives into view. As of April 8, 2018, letters had been posted chronologically through Aug. 25, 1889, with more intended to be added all the time.
You may recall that Janet was featured as the Minerd.com “Photo of the Month” in November 2011. An enlarged version of Nettie’s portrait is the “Photo of the Month” for April 2018.
Every week and sometimes nearly every day during the past year, I added new material or searched new nooks and crannies to bright to light new facts about lives of our family of the past. The research and publishing are at times exhausting, frustrating and labor-intensive, but also at times exhilarating, especially when cousins from throughout the nation write and say they’ve enjoyed the experience of surfing the site.
The spigot of inbound story and image content for Minerd.com remains turned on, full force, even after nearly 18 years of active publishing. There are just too many stories and rare images distributed in households all across the country for this website ever to be complete.
Minerd.com’s content is written for two different audiences. One is the readers and inquirers of today. The other has not yet been born, but may crave to know something about their ancient people 100 and 200 years from now. Afflicted with the “tyranny of the urgent,” a focus on the here and now and immediate gratification, Americans do not think in these terms. Minerd.com and its archives will continue to produce content and preserve materials to keep old, forgotten lives alive in some flickering way far, far into the future.
Among the plans for 2018 are a return visit to present at the annual Junghen-Younkin Reunion in July in Somerset County, PA — a continued posting of the “Nett Helen Letters” between two sisters of the 19th century, one in Missouri, the other in Kansas who was killed in a freak lightning storm — and a few days of research in the National Archives in Washington, DC to examine and copy the Civil War records of 14 newly discovered soldiers of the Minerd, Younkin and Owen clans
As Minerd.com is now in its 18th year, it’s exciting that this work never ends. The site continues to be fascinating, surprising, exasperating, eye-opening and never ever dull. New material continues to be shared by long-lost cousins near and farm.
Thank you again to everyone who has contributed your special part from your own family’s trove of family treasures. This site is for you, and would not be possible without you.
Held together by tape, this rare, fragile photograph shows ill-fated John David Evans and a colleague aboard a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad locomotive in Pittsburgh. Rendered fatherless at the age of eight, John spent time in a local Catholic orphanage until his mother Eva remarried George Henry Minerd and settled in the city’s Carrick section.
After marrying Margaret Elizabeth Casey, John was employed in the early 1920s as an locomotive engineer for the B&O. He was a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, an early union. His duties involved work in the Allison Park suburb of the city, near what today is Route 8.
On the frigid and fateful evening of Jan. 26, 1924, John was caught in a freak accident at work. The Pittsburgh Post reported that “Evans’ overalls ignited at Allison Park … when a sudden gust of wind blew the flames toward him from a bundle of oily waste burning on a shovel which he was holding. Evans … was endeavoring to thaw a frozen pipe on his engine when the accident occurred.” Suffering from second and third degree burns of his left thigh and left hand, he was rushed to St. Francis Hospital. There, after 10 agonizing days of suffering, he succumbed.
Solomon “Sollie” and Elizabeth (Troutman) Sturtz, natives of Somerset County, PA, were pioneer settlers of Ohio and Indiana before settling for good on a farm in Greene, Butler County, Iowa. The parents of nine children, they lost a son and several nephews during the Civil War. This image likely dates to the late 1890s or early 1900s.
A local newspaper, the Greene (IA) Reporter, once said that the quality of Solomon’s farm was “among the best in the county, having a fine residence, 18 by 30, two stories high, and the largest barn in the county, it being 40 by 65, with all improvements in arrangement of the modern ‘bank barn’… He was at one time the sole possessor of a single-roofed house in the township.” The story also documented how Solomon and other pioneers “experienced some hardships as hauling grain in Cedar Rapids and Independence and made one trip to Dubuque for goods. There was plenty of deer in those early days and he made it a point to have his share of the shy, but out-witted, creatures. The wily wild turkey was overtaken by the swift bullet guided by an unerring aim.”
Solomon and Elizabeth were charter members of the Presbyterian Church of Coldwater, founded in 1863. A journalist with the Reporter once noted how “well do we remember as a child watching that stern face of Mr. Sturtz as he sat attentive and almost unmovable in his pew at regular services. Here we might mention that one of the early ministers who ‘watched over that flock’ was one Elder James, a sort of circuit rider, we presume, but he preached there, led the song service, and otherwise conducted the affairs of christian supplications. His song for opening the services was usually ‘Pull for the Shore Sailor, Pull for the shore,’ and ‘Lead Kindly Light’ was the other.”
At Solomon’s death in 1907, the Recorder said that “the town of Greene and Butler county lost one of her oldest men and one of her best citizens… His memory was clear until the last few weeks and he delighted to tell the story of his life in the early days of Butler county. His many friends marveled at the patience with which he bore the last sufferings and the release that came to him was not unwelcome. He was honest in business, kind to his friends, faithful in service and has a place in the hearts and minds of a large circle of acquaintances.” More>>>
Within a short time, she was named Librarian of the San Diego Public Library, at a monthly salary of $70. One of Lulu’s first accomplishments was to organize the 7,800-book collection by the Dewey Decimal system and produce the first printed reference catalog, published in 1889. In the 212 page document, she reported that the library had “grown to a leading position among the public libraries of the State, being now second only to that of San Francisco. The institution is now an honor to the public spirit, taste and culture of San Diego.”
Fate began to intervene in the fall 1895, on an extended visit in Denver, when Lulu met an old friend from school days, Dr. Horace G. Anderson. To the great shock of her hundreds of relatives and friends, reported the Los Angeles Times, they decided to marry immediately. She resigned from her librarian position and relocated to Pitkin, Gunnison County, CO, a small mining town located 100 miles southwest of Denver, where Horace had a medical practice.
After a little more than two years of marriage, something went terribly, horribly wrong.
Lulu gave birth to a healthy baby daughter in October 1897 but apparently suffered a post-partum reaction. A story in the San Diego Union said she was afflicted with a “mental aberration” occurring “since the birth of her child a few weeks ago. [She] has been in a critical condition, resulting in her mind becoming unbalanced. Her many friends hope for her speedy recovery.” In reality, she had attempted suicide.
Lulu was admitted to what today is Patton State Hospital in Highlands, CA, where she succumbed at the age of 39 on April 25, 1898. Her grieving husband is believed to have not lived long as a widower, or abandoned the scene, but soon was gone from his baby girl’s life.
The infant, Belle Gilcrest Anderson, had been named in honor of a beloved friend and college classmate of her mother’s. Now motherless, the girl was taken into the Iowa City home of a loving uncle and aunt, Arthur and Loie (Thompson) Younkin, with an adoring uncle Edgar C. Younkin also in the household. Then in 1903, when Belle was age 5, she formally was adopted by her grandmother Mary Catherine (Jones) Younkin. A related story in the Iowa City Press-Citizen observed that “The mayor of Denver, Robert R. Wright, Jr., sanctions the adoption.”
Belle relocated into her grandmother’s home in San Diego. After high school graduation, she “showed promise of a brilliant career as a chemist,” reported the Oakland (CA) Tribune, and enrolled in the University of California. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1921 and a master’s degree in 1923, leading to an instructor’s position in the university’s department of bacteriology in Berkeley. Belle placed a very high degree of pressure on herself to perform and aimed to become a doctor of philosophy. Her ambitious drive led to a terrible mental or emotional collapse in December 1926, possibly also a suicide attempt.
Determined to earn a third degree, Belle relocated to San Francisco in early 1927. She secured a position as a research associate in chemistry as part of the Hooper Foundation of Affiliated Colleges. But when she took an oral examination for the Ph.D. degree, she failed to pass. Friends heard her say that “I’d rather be dead than a failure.” She confided to friends that “she was losing control of the brilliant mind which had brought eminence in her chosen profession,” said the Petaluma Argus-Courier, and that since her mother had committed suicide, she thought she was destined to the same end.
On the fateful day of May 19, 1927, Belle told co-workers that she was going to correct some test papers in an upstairs laboratory at the office. But instead, the 30-year-old mixed a lethal dose of poison and took a walk to a lonely spot on the Old Trocadero Road. Drinking the mixture, she died instantly, with her body discovered in an underbrush an hour later by a gardener. The tragedy was big news in the Tribune, which stated “In this manner she ended a brilliant career as a chemist,” and with her photograph illustrating the story.
In a newspaper column, Dr. Frank Crane of the McClure Newspaper Syndicate wrote that the death was “Another one of those ‘rashly importunate.’ Why hurry? Why not see what time will do? Time solves more problems than all our wit…. It is a long road that has no turning. Keep trudging along and surely some opportunity will come to you to get away from the hated routine.”
Belle’s death was not the last of the related tragedies.
Her adoring uncle Edgar Younkin, with whom she had lived in girlhood in Iowa City, and also having relocated to San Diego, must have thought Belle the bright light of his life as she grew into prominence.
But after receiving the profound shock in of Belle’s death, however, the darkness weighed on his mind for days which turned into weeks and then months, one sleepless night after another.
On the fateful day of Sept. 26, 1927, the 66-year-old Edgar went to work in his position as a night janitor at the First Trust and Savings Bank. All alone in the building in downtown San Diego, he shot himself in the head.
As the year winds down, here’s my list of favorite news articles and blog posts since May, which initially were posted on my award-winning website, Minerd.com. These stories have some connection to my favorite themes of Americana, culture, art, journalism, genealogy … and regional Pittsburgh, the epicenter of our family’s growth and development since 1791.
In our uber-fast-paced society today, with seemingly unprecedented opportunity to shape our own lives and destinies, we still seem to live in the shadow of history, with current events somehow shaped by people of the past.