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.
For the second consecutive Christmas season, Minerd.com is pleased to promote a cousin-authored book published during the past year. Here, Jack and Carol (Surber) Lewis, of the family of Anna Belle (Miner) McCormick, display his inaugural title of fiction, Storm Coming: A Novel of the Civil War in Western Virginia.
Produced by Carol’s company, Surber Press, and based on a true story, Storm Coming is the first of a trilogy of Civil War novels chronicling the fateful events of 1861 in western Virginia, as a young man learns to cope with his world turned upside down by war. View Jack’s website for ordering details.
You may recall that Jack was featured in the Minerd.com “Photo of the Month” for January 2006, in an image showing him and his U.S. Coast Guard Academy rifle team meeting then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon circa 1957.
Jack has had careers as a U.S. Coast Guard officer, marine engineer, corporate CEO, software developer, horse breeder/trainer, textbook author and, late in life, a registered nurse, volunteer paramedic and washtub bass player in an oldtime string band. Educated at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and MIT, Jack is a registered professional engineer. He is an avid history buff, has had a decades-long fascination with the Civil War and has contributed significantly to this website. He and his brother Tom have helped host Lewis Reunions over the years.
Last December’s “Photo of the Month” featured Jeff Minerd — the guest speaker at the Minerd-Minard-Miner-Minor national reunion in July 2000 — and his first book, a fantasy adventure novel named The Sailweaver’s Son.
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.”