Nettie (White) Bailey – Impassioned Kansas Prairie Letter Writer and Lightning Victim of the 1880s


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 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 “Photo of the Month” in November 2011. An enlarged version of Nettie’s portrait is the “Photo of the Month” for April 2018.


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