Sunday, May 11, 2014

Isaac's Neighbor Joseph

Stone in Neelands Cemetery of Harriet Tousley
 Sometimes the adventure of documenting facts while researching Isaac B. Werner and his neighbors is a story in itself!  The serendipity of a discovery may seem too implausible to be believed, but here is one of those stories.

During some recent construction, my husband and I were at Lowe's for supplies.  As Larry was loading our purchases in the bed of our pickup, a gentleman noticed our Stafford County tag and struck up a conversation.  Since the man's interest dealt with history, my husband suggested that he speak with me, where I was waiting inside the store out of the cold.  We had a brief conversation and exchanged business cards, and I promised to check my list of surnames mentioned in Isaac's journal to see if his family surname might be among them.

It wasn't, and after e-mailing him that information I expected nothing further.  He did, however, forward my blog address to his cousin in Idaho because he thought she might find my blog about the suffragettes interesting.

Four days later he received a reply from his cousin, reminding him that a common ancestor named Tousley had lived in Stafford County.  She asked him to relay her interest in Stafford County history to me and to inquire whether I could add her name to my weekly reminder list.  He forwarded her request to me, along with her comment about their ancestral link to the Tousley settlers in Stafford County.  I immediate recognized the names she mentioned as familiar from Isaac's journal.

Harriet Gerst Tousley
Many surnames appear in Isaac's journal, with neighbors arriving in the community and struggling to survive on the prairie for a year or so before giving up their claims and moving on.  Joseph Tousley's name first appeared in the journal in 1885, and although there was no mention the following year, the Tousley name appeared frequently from 1887 through 1891 when the journal ends.

One name stood out for me because during my search for Isaac's grave (See "Finding Isaac's Grave, at 1-13-2012 in the blog archives) I had noticed a stone nearly identical to Isaac's gravestone, with the following engraving:  "Harriet G. Tousley, wife of J.C. Tousley, Died April 17, 1883, Aged 38 Years."

The 1880 Federal Census identified Joseph G. Tousley, his wife Harriet, and their three children, George (age 11), Carl (age 7), and Alice (age 4), and I knew from the gravestone that those young children had lost their mother only three years later.  Eager to learn what the descendant in Idaho might share with me about her ancestors (just as she was eager to learn what I knew about them), I began corresponding with her, and now I have a photograph of Harriet, believed to have been taken near the time of her marriage to Joseph.

Joseph Tousley
Joseph Tousley and Isaac were friends through their involvement in the Populist Movement, and they shared a curiosity about the co-operative farming colony in Sineola, Topolobampo, Mexico.  I had found a Passenger Manifest for Joseph Tousley from 1907 showing his arrival in Tampico, Mexico, and the 1900 Federal Census showed George and Carl, by then in their mid-twenties, living in Oklahoma.  Since I knew the family had left Kansas, I wondered if Joseph had finally visited the farming colony in Mexico that he and Isaac had discussed so many times.  I had also discovered that by 1893 Alice had married in Lawton, OK.

Some of the information I had gleaned from these records was confirmed by my Idaho correspondent, who shared what she knew from family records and oral history.  Joseph and his family did go to Oklahoma, where he had a newspaper for a while and continued his activity in politics.  I learned that Alice and her husband raised a family, and my correspondent was a descendant of the little girl I had worried about being raised in a male household after her mother's death.  My correspondent confirmed that Joseph had gone to Mexico, her understanding being that he had some sort of contract to sell government horses there.  I had found a Joseph Tousley living in a Soldiers' Home in Idaho in the 1910 Federal Census, and she confirmed that in the early 1900s he was in Idaho, very active in the GAR as an Ohio veteran of the Civil War.

George Tousley
I was particularly curious about the older son, George Tousley, since he had worked as a hired hand for Isaac in his late teens.  Now, because of a chance conversation with a stranger in a Lowe's parking lot, I have photographs of Isaac's close friend, the woman whose grave I had visited, and the young man who worked on Isaac's farm, planted a small plot of ground there to raise his own crop, and borrowed Isaac's horses not only to hire out as a laborer but also to travel to social engagements.

As I have mentioned in other blogs, (See "Isaac as Photographer" at 6-27-2012 in the blog archives) I know that neighbors came to Isaac's prosperous farm to have their pictures taken when their own farms were too impoverished to use as a background.  I know that pictures of Isaac's neighbors working their cooperative potato field on his land were taken.  I believe many photographs of early settlers who lived near Isaac Werner in Stafford County, KS and northern Pratt County near the Byers community must exist--if only their descendants knew how much I would love to locate those photographs!

I cannot give up hope that if a stranger in a different city managed by happenstance to lead me to these images of the Tousley family, perhaps others will appear to provide a path to more neighbors' stories and photographs!

(Please go to "Did Your Ancestor Know Isaac?" at 4-26-2012 in the blog archives if you had an ancestor living in the south part of Stafford County or the north part of Pratt County.  That blog contains a partial list of Isaac's neighbors.  If you find a family surname or know that your ancestor lived in the area during the late 1800s, and you have a photograph or story to share with me, contact me at or leave a comment at the end of this blog.)


The Blog Fodder said...

That is fantastic good fortune. A good reason to talk to everyone that goes by in one's life.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Thank you to everyone who is using face book to help me spread the word that I am searching for photographs and stories about early settlers in Stafford and Pratt Counties!

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

From Ramona in Idaho: "Lyn, what a thrill this morning to read your blog about my Great Grandmother Hattie Gerst Tousley and her husband, friends of Isaac. In years past, before the internet, we had not been able to locate Hattie's gravesite, thinking as you did before finding Isaac's that it may not even exist. A million thanks for opening up their world to us."

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Laura, Your comment has been accepted but for some reason is slow to load so I am answering before it is posted. The Webber family is mentioned often in Isaac's journal. The first time Isaac served as a clerk on the election board, the election was held at "old man Webber's pre-emption house." The reference to "old man" appears in reference to other older men, particularly to differentiate them from their sons. It didn't seem to be intended as a derogatory term. Also, Isaac had corn ground at "Webber's Mill." Thank you for your comment!

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Laura, I just realized that your comment was posted on the blog "Did Your Ancestors Know Isaac?" in the archives! I approved it and kept waiting for it to appear here. Thank you for the comment. Very interesting information! Lyn

~Laura~ said...

John and Abi (pronounced Ay-bi) Webber Tompkins were married in the home of her father, Ezra Weber. I do not know the location of the house, but understand that the Webber Mill was located 1/2 east of Neeland Cemetery. I was told that the grist mill was at the start of a spring which used the flowing water to power the mill. Based on the time Ezra lived, the census information in family records, and other family documentation, it is most likely that Ezra and Issac knew each other. Ezra was married to Mary (can't remember her maiden name). She died in 1902 and is buried in Neeland (NE section of the cemetery). She divorced Ezra based on abandonment after he left her and went to Oregon. I wonder if Ben Webber was a brother to Abi or more likely a brother of Ezra.