What’s the Rest of the Story, Rev. Stokes?
My Great Plains Pioneering: Grasshoppers, Gooseberries, & Indians blog post led Doug and me on an adventure to Brown County, Kansas. Our mission was to discover the rest of the story of Rev. Robert Firman Stokes, my 3rd great-grandfather.
On May 10, 1869, Robert, his sons Melville and John, along with a cousin of his son-in-law, left McDonough County, Illinois. Robert wrote letters to his wife Hannah and daughter Emma, telling of their progress in building their home. Within a few months, he wrote urging his family to begin their journey to Kansas. Family tradition believed he died of bilious fever before Hannah and Emma arrived.
Doug and I traveled to the northeast corner of Kansas and parked our RV at BBCC Campground at the edge of the town of Hiawatha. After getting set up, we hopped in the car and proceeded to the campground exit. Across the street was the cemetery, where Robert was said to have been buried. I wanted to find his grave before it got dark. As we were getting ready to turn, I glanced up, and directly across from the campground exit, at the corner of Hiawatha Cemetery, was Robert's distinctive broken headstone!
Our first objective was to clean Robert's stone and as a long shot, see if we could locate the broken top half of the stone. It was our lucky day! The top was leaning against the back side of the stone. We gave the stone a bath and then applied D/2 Biological Solution. D/2 removes dirt and lichen from gravestones. Arlington National Cemetery uses the solution to keep the military graves pristine.
After cleaning and taking photos, we tucked the top of the stone back behind the base. When we got home, I reached out to Hiawatha Memorial Auditorium museum Executive Director and Curator Lynn Marie Allen for a recommendation for professional repair of the stone. Paul Strube, the owner of Strube Monument Service, visited Robert's grave and took a photo several weeks after we cleaned it to show how well D/2 continues to work. He has ordered materials and once the weather improves, will preserve Robert's marker for generations of his descendants to visit.
I highly recommend taking the time to tour the Hiawatha Memorial Auditorium museum. It was built in 1920 as a tribute to WWI soldiers as a gift from the city. Donated by the people of Brown County, exhibits depict the history of Brown County.
Doug discovered a handbill in the museum that explained what called Robert to settle in northeast Kansas. The Central Branch Union Pacific Railroad Company offered 152,417 acres of land for $3-15/acre on the Kickapoo Indian Reservation. The terms were generous with a ten-year payoff and six years free from paying property tax.
Robert bought the SE 1/4 section of township 15 (now Powhattan), Brown County. Curiosity and Lynn's suggestion took us to the Courthouse to look for probate and property records. We wanted to discover what happened to the property after Robert's death.
The probate packet was slim, but confirmed his purchase of the 160 acres. Imagine our surprise when we discovered there were no record reflecting the transfer of property to Robert. Record keeping didn't begin in Brown County until 1871.
Brown County Genealogical Society library yielded Robert's 23 September 1869 obituary in The Sentinel newspaper. It confirmed Hannah and Emma had were still en route to Brown County and Robert was the minister at the M. E. Church.
Our final adventure was to drive to the property where my grandfather had hoped to settle with his family. Although we didn't find evidence of the Stokes' homestead, the acreage, with the Delaware River flowing through it, is beautiful, with fertile soil used for pasture, beans, and corn.
We have a tradition during any adventure that we search out an authentic Mexican restaurant and sample their top-shelf frozen margarita. So, before packing up to head back to the East Coast, we had dinner at El Canelo in Hiawatha. The margaritas did not disappoint!
So, where would you venture to discover your family's story? Where have you found the best small-town margarita? Share your thoughts, we'd love to hear from you! Cheers!
It was a fun trip – full of adventure and exploring (as well as probably the best margarita ever). I guess when Paul Strube gets the headstone repaired, we’ll have to make another trip back to see it. And of course, celebrate with another margarita.