Lona Winterhalter – My Mother

My mother was born on the afternoon of September 25, 1941 to Lonnie Winterhalter and his wife Elsie Westphal. Her parents intended to name Lana, after Lana Turner, but somehow her birth certificate ended up with Lona, I don’t know why my grandparents never had it corrected – maybe they thought it was unique and decided to stay with it, who knows.  Lona was raised a Lutheran, baptized into the faith in 1951, though by the time I was born she had moved away from organized religion; I like to think she was more of a deist than agnostic or atheist.  When I was young I attended Sunday school; later in life my mother told me that she pulled me out of Sunday school when I came home one Sunday and told her we shouldn’t vote for someone because of their religion.

The earliest photograph Lona WinterhalterI have of my mother shows a young girl with bright eyes, freckles and a mop of blonde curls. You can see the joy and happiness in her eyes, she a young girl who looks forward to tomorrow. I don’t know that I can I ever saw that young girl in my mother; by the time I really was old enough to understand who she was the young girl was gone, replaced by a woman whose life was far removed from the dreams of her youth.

My mother rarely talked about her childhood. I know her grandfather would take her to the race track to watch the horses run; my Mom said she used to enjoy that. That is about the only personal story I remember my mother ever sharing. Everything else  I know comes from talking to others who knew her – but not her mind, her hopes or dreams.

The two biggest resources I have for my mother’s youth are my aunt and my mother’s best friend. Their accounts differ in a lot ways, but there is one area where they seem to agree – my mother was not happy about her home life. In their own way each paints a picture of young woman who wanted more out life.

Nobody that I’ve spoken to knows when or how my parents met. They didn’t attend the same school. Los Angeles was a smaller place in the 1950’s so it may be that they simply met at a local hang-out and started to talk. My parents eloped on October 3, 1959; it must have been one heck of a surprise to my grandparents. My mother told me once that on the trip back my father’s car broke down and they had to call my great grandfather for help.

I’m not sure where my parents lived once they returned home. My mother returned to school but dropped out not too long afterwards. My mother said she got tired of all the other girls asking my mother what it was like to married which in the vernacular of 1959 meant that they kept asking her about sex. My mother, who was already a quiet girl, found it was all too much and choose to drop out of school and become a fulltime stay-at-home wife.

After more than one miscarriage my mother finally managed to carry a pregnancy to full term – the result was me.  My parent’s marriage didn’t last very long. I suspect that neither of them was really ready to be adults, let alone the parents of a small child. Both spent time dealing with mental health issues.

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The Other Victims of July 1905

Although most of the excitement surrounding the murder of Katie James in 1905 involved the search for Katie and the woman suspected of killing her, there were other victims of which almost nothing is told; these victims were the children of Katie and Fannie Norton; Lulu Blanche James and Roy, Leta & Elsie Ham.

Lulu Blanche was only 18 months old when her mother was murdered. A newspaper article from the Weatherford Democrat says the following:

The Weatherford Democrat, Thursday, January 23, 1913

Blanche James Dead

Another chapter in one of the saddest tragedies in connection with Weatherford’s early history ended recently with the death of Little Blanche James. A letter received by the Cheyenne Marble Works of this place Monday from Mr. DeWitt at Knowles states that he had just got a letter form his sister, Mrs. Shinsteffer who had been notified of the death of the little girl on Jan. 2nd. So little can be known of the fact except that the girl had been visiting her father and took sick with spinal meningitis from which she died. The letter from Mr. DeWitt closed with the cry of the old man’s broken heart, “I think they might have might have let me know. I would like to have been with her.

Many of our readers will remember the gruesome story. Seven years ago Mrs. James, having had trouble with her husband on account of his cruelty, had come to Weatherford to her father, Mr. DeWitt. At Clinton she met with Mrs. Ham who offered to drive her through the country. Some place on that lonely drive she was murdered. The body was afterwards found hidden in the bushes near Deer Creek. A little boy related that a woman driving the wagon called hi and asked him to hold the baby as the horses were fractious, then drove furiously away leaving the little child in his arms. Two years ago a trace of the murderer was found in Colorado but she was wanted for stealing horses in New Mexico, so she could not be brought back here for trial until her sentence expires.

But many have asked, what became of the little babe deprived of its mothers care and left to strangers? The father came and took the child, never letting Mr. DeWitt have anything to do with her or to see her. Mr. James married again, but through the years the child was guarded from any knowledge of her grandfather. Mrs. Shinsteffer, the sister of Mr. DeWitt, lived in the same county, Dewey county, and through neighbors kept track of the child and informed Mr. DeWitt. The old gentleman in the course of time amassed considerable property. Mrs. James was his only child and he has no heir. It was the wish of his heart to have and to help little Blanche. Although he was not allowed to see her he could not resist sending her pretty clothes. These were sent through his sister and without letting them know where they came from. Mr. James always told his daughter that her mother still lived and that the clothes were sent by her. And so the story ends with the death of little Blanche.”

The Ham children spent their last days together as a family traveling to Guthrie Oklahoma. On July 11, 1905 they were placed for adoption by their Mother Mary Francis Norton, who then left for Shawnee where she eventually committed suicide. Roy, the older brother was 13, his two sisters Elsie and Leta only eleven and seven.

The records that survive show the children placed with families in August 1905; sadly they were not kept together. The entries state:

* Roy Ham-With farmer, good people man and wife of Quaker faith.
* Elsie Ham-With intelligent family, who will give the child a good home. Methodist faith.
* Leta Ham-With Dr. B. and his wife, no children, fine people. The child will have good advantages. Presbyterian and Methodist Churches preferred.

Roy and his sisters had little contact with one another. All letters between the siblings were sent via the Children’s Home. While the records are incomplete they do show that at least in the beginning the children tried to maintain contact with one another. Transcripts of the few remaining letters show the children adapted well to their new lives. Only Roy seems to make any mention of their mother, and even that is only a short sentence to say he is sorry to hear she is dead.

I haven’t been able to track down anything about the family Roy Ham was placed with. He kind of disappears until October 1918 when dies of pneumonia. Roy’s obit in the Kansas City Star of October 20, 1918 reads:

Ham-Roy L Ham, 26 years old, died Friday at the home of Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Gilmer, 5948 Brooklyn Avenue, of pneumonia. He made his home at that address. His father, Taylor Ham, lives in Turlington, Tex. Two sisters also survive him.

Roy’s sisters never knew what happened to their brother.

Elsie Ham married in October 1913. She and her husband had three children, a boy and two girls. Her son died during World War II; I don’t know what ever became of her daughters or if she ever shared with them the sad story of their grandmother’s life and death.

Leta was perhaps the luckiest of the three Ham children. She was placed with a doctor who eventually adopted her. She wrote to her brother of her little pony and of the four dolls she had. Leta too went on to marry, raise children and live her life.

Who Are We?

I went on a little road trip a couple weeks ago to meet a distant cousin who lives a couple of hours south of me. We had a very enjoyable visit; we discussed more than just genealogy, we talked about growing up, the history of California and other topics like kids and work. I’ve even been invited to come down for a day of fishing in the spring, which is technically only a few days away.

Of course the main purpose of the visit was to share family information, and we did a lot of that. He shared with me some photographs, a couple of letters and a partial diary that his grandmother kept. She wasn’t very good at writing in the diary and most of what she wrote talks about the loneliness she feels being in her 80’s and isolated from family and friends.

One of the photographs he shared with me has become quite the little conversation piece because we don’t know who it is. At first we thought it might be Jesse Slack, the common ancestor from whom our two branches of the tree originate; we thought this because that is what his mother wrote on the back of the photograph. I had some doubts because in all the other photographs I’ve seen of Jesse he has long white hair and a mustache where the gentleman in this photograph doesn’t.

I sent the photograph to Myrtle, one of the only people still alive who knew Jesse and his wife Emma Hobson, to see if she recognized these two people as Jesse and Emma or if they were perhaps someone else. Myrtle confirmed the people in the photograph are not Jesse and Emma. My next thought was that it might be Henry Slack and his wife Tamar Hobson, Emma’s sister, but the clothing worn by the couple seem to be from the late 1920’s or early 1930’s; Henry and Tamar died in the early 1920’s.

So here I am with but another little mystery that needs solving. In all likelihood this couple is from the generation after Jesse and Emma. Maybe one day I’ll connect with a family member who will recognize them. In the meantime I’ll just hold on the photo in my electronic box of stuff.

Katie Dewitt James – Our Family’s Ghost

I’m not sure if every family can lay claim to a ghost but my family does. I didn’t know about our ghost until a few years ago when I was told by a distant cousin, but since then I have collected just about everything I can about our ghost: who she was, how she died, who were the other characters in the story.

Our ghost was a young mother named Katie DeWitt James; Katie was the daughter of Lucy Slack and Henry DeWitt; Lucy Slack was the sister to my 2nd Great Grandfather Jesse Slack.

Katie was born in Iowa in 1874 and was an only child from all I’ve been able to learn. Throughout her life she had a very close relationship with her parents.  Katie and her parents moved to Kansas sometime 1885 and 1895. When Katie was of age she worked as school teacher. Lucy Slack died about 1895 while the family lived in Kansas.

In 1900 Henry and Katie moved to Dewey county Oklahoma where they both began to homestead in the newly opened territory. By all accounts Katie was a model member of society; she was popular and well liked. In 1901 Katie married Martin Luther James. In May of 1904 Katie gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Lulu Blanche.

It’s difficult to tell what kind of relationship Martin Luther and Katie had; I haven’t been able to find anything to document the early days of their courtship or marriage. What I do know is that by 1904 the marriage had become stormy with the couple frequently engaged in arguments that at times may have become physical.

On the 29th of May 1905 the James’ were engaged in an argument when, according to Katie’s divorce pleading, Martin Luther “brandished a chair” and told Katie “You ought to die; I have a notion to brain you with this chair.” On the first of July Martin Luther went into town, telling Katie he would get drunk and come back and “Show who was running things around there” and give Katie something to remember. While Martin Luther was in town Katie arranged for a friend to stay with her. The two women were in bed when Martin Luther came home late that night, drunk and shouting for them to “get out of there.” A physical altercation took place between the two women and Martin Luther. Martin Luther was struck in the head and received a large gash that required medical attention. Martin Luther’s divorce pleading gives a slightly different account, but the basic facts remain that a rather violent fight occurred on the night of July 1, 1905.

After the fight Katie fled to her father’s homestead with her young daughter. On July 6th Katie formally filed for divorce from Martin Luther. The following day Henry Dewitt took Katie and her daughter to train station in Custer City and placed them on the train; Katie was to stay in Ripley with her Aunt and Uncle until the situation cooled down.

Here is where the mystery begins. When the train arrived in the town of Weatherford Oklahoma Katie got off the train with a woman by the name of Fanny Bray Ham Norton. Why Katie got off the train in Weatherford with Mrs. Norton, and whether or not Katie and Mrs. Norton knew each other prior to that day is unknown. All we know is Katie got off the train and the two women stayed at a hotel operated by Mrs. Norton’s sister America and her husband William Moore.

When they checked in Mrs. Norton introduced Katie as Mrs. Smith. Prior to going up to their room Katie purchased some writing paper; in the process she displayed to both Mrs. Norton and her sister the contents of her wallet – $23, a sizable amount in 1905.

The following morning Katie and Mrs. Norton rose early. Mrs. Norton hired a buggy, telling people the two women were heading for Hydro and would be back in three hours. The only description we have of what happened on the trip comes from Mrs. Norton who claimed that while they were out the women were met by a man and two women in a covered wagon and that Katie and her daughter left with these other people.

Katie’s body was found a few months later. Custody of Lulu Blanche was eventually given to her father Martin Luther, though Katie’s father fought vigorously for custody of Katie and for control of her estate. Lulu Blanche died in 1913 – it’s unlikely she ever really know what happened to her mother.

Katie’s ghost is said to haunt the area of Dear Creek near the place where she died. Perhaps she’s still out there trying to protect her daughter from whatever really happened that day.  A search for “Dead Woman’s Crossing” will bring up several sites with information on the murder of Katie James. Maybe one day I’ll finally come across that one piece of information that will clear up the mystery that surrounds Katie’s murder but until then my family and I still have our ghost.

New Family Members

My family tree has grown a few more leaves recently.

A few weeks ago I noticed a family tree on Ancestry.com that contained people in my own tree. I contacted the owner even though it had been a while since they had last logged in; I really didn’t expect to hear back from them but I was actually surprised when they got right back to me. After a little bit of probing to see how we might be related, it turned out that the owner of the other tree was the daughter of someone I had been looking for!

Later than night I received a call from a woman named Myrtle who graciously spent over an hour giving me little updates to my tree and filling in some leaves. Myrtle is in her 70’s but still sharp as a tack; she has personal knowledge of many of the people in my tree and is helping me bring them back to life.

Just this week I received an e-mail from someone who provided me with a brief history of my family; a couple of days ago I called the individual who sent me the e-mail. His name is Mike and he is the grandson of someone in my tree. We spent some time talking about family history and just getting to know one another.

These past few weeks have really energized me to keep working on my family history project. Who knows what gems these two contact hold, or what new family members I might discover next.

The Old Family Homestead in Iowa

Not long ago I sent a letter to the people who currently own the farm my 3rd great grandfather purchased in the 1850’s. Part of me expected to never hear back from them, part of me expected a polite “we don’t have anything for you”. What I never expected is that they would not only be interested in the history of the farm but would go to the local library and dig up information without my every asking!

They have provided me with so much information I don’t know where to begin, and they have more coming in the next couple of days. I can never thank them enough for the help they have provided me.

The Old Family Farm

Sometime Between 1846 and 1852 my 3rd Great Grandfather packed up his family and migrated from Canada to the new American state of Iowa. It wasn’t an easy trip; travel by horse drawn wagon would have been slow; wagon’s had no supsension making the ride over what were really nothing more than dirt paths rough on anyone riding in them. But the lure of good farm land was too good to pass up.

Daniel settled his family in what is now New Providence on 80 acres of land he obtained from the US Government under the land act of 1820. He put his $100 and paid $1.25 per acre. Daniel finished paying off the land in 1855. The land stayed in family until 1911 when it was sold to pay off debts associated with Rebecca’s estate.

The land consisted of the West 1/2 of the South East Quarter of Section 5, in township 86 North, Range 20 West. The land is still used for farming to day.