23 January 2017

Cowboy - Love Child - Gold Mine

My family history journey began with a suitcase. It was a suitcase my mother had inherited and inside were hundreds of sheets of paper with family trees and family group records, and a few precious photographs. 

Many of these photos were of my great great grandfather, John Edgar Overstreet. From what I remember, there were photos of John on his ranch, of him fishing, and ones of him smiling next his children. He always struck me as a quiet, happy man. 

When my house burned down around Christmas when I was seventeen, the suitcase and all of its treasures were gone. Ever since, the foggy memories of these photos have haunted me. 

I had tried to research this man John for several years, but it yielded nothing except for a census record or two. One day for kicks, I typed his name into the google image search and something magical happened. I found this:

John Edgar Overstreet in 1888 at age 22
Immediately, I recognized him, despite being much younger in this image than in any that I had ever seen. It was in a post written by a woman named Juni Fisher, who referred to John as her great grandfather (which makes her my second cousin, once removed).

I quickly reached out to her. She responded with two amazing nuggets I had never expected to hear. 

First, Juni is a musician and writes country-folk music. She had researched John extensively because she had written an entire album about his life. This album, ‘Gone for Colorado’ had actually won several awards (the 2009 Western Music Association Album of the Year and the 2008 Western Heritage Award / Wrangler Award, to be exact.) I immediately went to itunes, and downloaded said album. 

Secondly, John had a secret love child with a woman 12 years his senior. 

WHAT?!

This was the kind of juicy drama I’d been dying to find. Who was this kid? Why had I never heard of her, or her mother-- the "other woman"? I asked around, and apparently no one had. Not my mom, her sisters or my grandpa. This was good stuff and I was eager to get to the bottom of it. So, I plugged myself into Juni’s album and started a correspondence with her, her mother “Buzz” (real name Ophelia), and her sister Susan. John’s story goes a little something like this:

View of town of Sedalia, Colorado from the south looking northeast toward Cherokee Mountain. Taken between 1880-1920.


At 14, John leaves his home in Kirksville, Missouri to become a cowboy [1]. By 1889, John is 23 and has made his way to Sedalia, Colorado. There he meets Christina Carlson Jarre. Christina is a 35 year-old Swedish widow with a daughter Annie, age thirteen [2]. 

Christina’s husband, Alphonse, and son Maurice had died in the prior year [3], which had undoubtedly left a massive hole in her heart. The situation was made particularly difficult as she now had a 600 acre ranch to run all by herself. 

According to family stories, John and Christina met because she was a camp cook, likely picking up the extra money where she could. She presumably hires John to work as a ranch hand, and the two become unexpectedly close. (wink, wink)

Although the details of our research vary a bit, my favorite song on Juni’s album addresses this surprising romance in the most beautiful, sensitive way. It is sung from the perspective of Christina and makes me tear up every time I listen to it. 

“...One night as the Ides of March howled round the door, 
I asked him if he’d like to stay. 
Maybe he spoke an answer and maybe he didn’t, 
but he held me close that night. 
And the last of my loneliness drifted away, 
lost in his lilac blue eyes. 
He stayed past the spring, and then into summer,
and I knew he would leave by and by. 
And though I tried to hide it, one day he noticed, 
my long apron strings barely tied. 
So we got married at the Castle Rock Courthouse, 
he stood there proud by my side, 
and the daughter I bore him had his last name,
and his beautiful lilac blue eyes.”

Now, as much as I love this song, I'm not entirely sure their daughter, Emma, was actually a love child. There are several conflicting birth dates for little Emma, but the most credible is a birth announcement in the newspaper that lists her birthday as 15 June 1890. [4] Given that John and Christina were married on the 14 August 1889, [5] Emma seems to be more of a "honeymoon baby" which is notably less scandalous (unfortunately... but don't worry, there is a love child later in this story).

The original Castle Rock Courthouse, where John and Christina were married.  Afterwards, it housed the Castle Rock Journal.


Still, I'm sure there was plenty of gossip making the rounds. Here Christina’s late husband and son were barely warm in their graves when she suddenly takes up with young cowboy, very much her junior, who then gets her pregnant. It would have certainly have been unexpected.

Sadly, after just six years together, Christina contracts pneumonia and dies [7]. She likely held on in hopes of seeing her daughter Annie married in June, but passed away in February [8]. The ranch is then split. Half had been bequeathed to Annie when her father had died, and now that she was married, she took her share. The other half went to Emma [9].

Annie Jarre, John's step-daughter, and her husband Louis Cramer. Her mother died just a few months before they were wed.


However, little Emma was only 6 years old, so John managed her 300 acres. Living life in the wild west meant there wasn’t much time for mourning. From a purely practical standpoint, John needed to remarry if there was going to be someone around to take care of his daughter. After all, ranches don’t run themselves. 

Within a year of Christina’s death, John has made another surprising choice in partners. He marries his second wife, and my second great-grandma, Florence Ada Dow (She went by Ada) [10].

The Dow family was quite well-to-do, Here is young Ada with her siblings. 

(left to right) Back Row:Clement Haskell, Florence Ada, Front Row: LeRoy Alden, Gardner Warren, and Ethel

This is a photo of her Ada in front of her home when her family lived in Illinois. It’s a bit difficult to make out through the trees, but you can see it’s quite a substantial Victorian home. 



Ada came from a family that was wealthy enough to throw lavish parties for the whole town. The papers paint them with vivid detail, describing one such party as being "illuminated with Chinese lanterns and decorated with evergreens and vines." For this particular party, her parents hired a fortune teller and musicians and supplied tables full of cake and ice cream (which was a pretty bit deal in the days before electricity and refrigeration). [11] Ada's family was loaded.

But, being from such a place of prestige in the community, Ada's family would have been very well aware of the communal misgivings surrounding John and his late wife. Why Ada, who seems to be a singularly headstrong woman with deeply ingrained sense of propriety, would decide to marry John, always really puzzled me.

John and Ada on their wedding day.


Interestingly though, just three months before John and Ada get married, she and her parents stop by Sedalia. At the same time, the papers tout John as having "the best prospect at Mill Gulch" referring to his mining claims as "the Lost Mine." They describe some of the treasures he has uncovered including an ancient ax from eight feet underground. Ada's father was in town assessing the work for clients in Denver and apparently had invited John to dine as a guest  [12]. I suspect the combination of John's large property and everyone's palpable gold fever made John a substantially more attractive prospect for Mr. Dow's eldest daughter than he might have been normally.

When Jon and Ada are married, there is a massive party. Like many of the Dow family's larger festivities, the wedding was held at Ada's parents home. The bride wore "a pure white silk novelty, trimmed in white silk lace and ribbon" and her bridesmaids, two of which were her sisters, were dressed in pastels [13].

Like her parents, Ada continued on the tradition of hosting parties. After John had erected the iconic red and white dairy barn (which still sits on their property today) the Overstreets threw parties that were the talk of the season. These including mascarade balls and barn dances that would bring people in from miles away [14].

The red and white dairy barn built by John. It is now used for storage and hay jumps at the Tolland Falls Equestrian Center.


During this time, Ada and John had 5 children together: Frank Allen, Harry Irvin, Florence Marie, Charles Edgar, and Isabell Henrietta (my great-grandma) [15].

A photo of 4 matriarchal generations after Marie was born. (left to right) Susan Marcella Sprague, Florence Ada Dow, Florence Marie Dow, and Florence Lucinda Bailey.


Although Ada became Emma’s surrogate mother, her discomfort with her step-daughter seems to have increased over time. Maybe it was pressure from her family or perhaps having her own biological children made her role as stepmother feel strained. Either way, Ada seems very eager to be rid of reminders of her husband’s past life, and Emma was definitely that.

Tragically, Emma falls ill from pneumonia and dies at age twelve [16]. Ada seems quick to pretend she never existed, even see her denying the existence of her husband's previous marriage in the census [17].

I often wonder what John must have made of this. His children and grandchildren described him as being a “very gentle man, who would never ever raise his voice or say cross words.” [18] I suspect he was a peacekeeper, and once Emma was gone, he gave Ada the latitude to do what she needed to feel emotionally safe and comfortable, choosing to remember his daughter silently. This is probably why no one in my family had ever heard of her.

Regardless, John was also very well liked in the community. He was enthusiastic about education and built a school house [pictured below] on his property for local children, later rebuilding it, with his step-daughter Annie's husband, on the other half of the ranch [19]. Despite not having much of a formal education, every year John would purchase a Farmer's Almanac and read it cover to cover, learning all he could about everything he could [18].

Jarre Creek schoolhouse, which John built on his own property. Photo taken between 1880-1900
He also served on the executive committee [20] for the local county fair and was described as "looking happy and handing around the cigars" after the birth of his baby by the local papers [21]. In fact, he seems to have been quite chummy with the local newspaper as the Record Journal of Douglas mentions him any time he comes in for a "pleasant call" [22] and pronounces lofty blessings upon him like, "We feel sure success will crown your efforts, John, just as sound judgement and good business principles have won for you in the past." [23]

Photo taken circa 1910. (back) Frank Allen (front) Florence Marie, John Edgar, Charles Edgar, Florence Ada, Isabell Henerietta, and Harry Irvin.


Eventually, John decided it was time to move on. According to the papers, John had purchased land in Fort Sumner, New Mexico in 1910 "seeking a lower altitude and warmer climate for a well-earned and needed rest" [23]. He had tried to sell the property, but he appears to have eventually passed the title of the Elk Horn Ranch back to Annie [9].

Ada and the children went on to New Mexico in February, while John finished up business and came down afterwards. [23] Once in New Mexico they created the Elk Horn II [18]. Here are some photos of them working the land at Fort Sumner:

The Overstreets at Elk Horn II in Fort Sumner, NW. (above, left to right) Charles, Harry, John, Ada, Isabell and Florence. 






Fort Sumner also came with a bit of a surprise-- an “oops” baby named Evelyn Louise [24]. She went by “Evy” to most people, but her dad and uncle called her “Bill” [18].

John and Ada then sold that ranch and went on to Wagon Mound, NM. Apparently, Ada didn’t care much for New Mexico (I kind of gathered this was a pattern with her) because Marie [pictured below] came home speaking Spanish one day [18].



By the time Marie was about 16 or so, Ada had gone to California to live with Frank and his wife (they quickly built her a house of her own, as she seemed to have been a bit difficult) and John stayed on to take care of the ranch, and to sell it. [18]

The whole Dow family. My great-grandmother, Isabell, is on the far right. 


Finally, John sold the ranch, and hurried on to California to get settled there. The buyer of the ranch defaulted on the loan, and unfortunately John got no money from the sale. [18]

In the end, Ada died of a stroke at age 63 on the 26th of October 1936 in California [25]. Afterwards, John went to live with his daughter Evy and her husband until he too passed 18 years later in his sleep [18].

___

After looking doing all this research and seeing this extraordinary life, I realised I still had one more question:

How did this all happen? What caused little 14 year old John to run away and become a cowboy? 

Well, I wasn’t about to let it rest there. It was time to go back to the very beginning. 

So, some facts: little baby John was born on 2 June 1866 in Kirksville, Missouri to Francis Marion Overstreet and Eliza Frances Crigler [26]. 

As a child born in the aftermath of the Civil War, life had to be difficult. It is unclear how they fared, but his daddy seems to have fought for the union army, which is surprising as his father was born and raised in Kentucky [27]. 

Eventually, John’s mother died when he was just nine years old [28]. Three years later, his father Francis married a woman named Rebecca Holliday [29]. She brought with her a 12 year old son named Samuel from her previous marriage [30] and a very pregnant belly.

Just one month later, Francis and Rebecca are married in a quiet ceremony in her father's home [29], Rebecca gives birth to a son, Francis Jay [31].

So, whose baby is this? Does it belong to Francis, John's father? Or someone else altogether? Perhaps we've found a love child after all...

What we do know is that a six month old Francis Jay shows up living in his grandparents house (grandpa age 65 and grandma age 56) instead of being with his mother [32]. Why that is, I do not know. But whatever the reason it must have translated into stress at home.

This is a photo of John with his brothers. (left to right: Francis Jay, John Edgar, Gorge Beard (neighbor), Louis H., Charles Irwin, and Frederick Harry) This photo was probably taken just shortly before John married Christina.
This is John's sister Emma Della Overstreet.


This is all happening the year before John decides to run away from home to be a cowboy. Frankly, I don’t blame him. Horseback riding across the open plains and sleeping under stars sounds like bit like heaven given the drama going on at home. 

So there you have it, that's the life of my great great grandfather John Edgar Overstreet. For my family that may be reading, this is how we're related.

Sources/Notes:

[1] 1870 and 1880 US Census show John with his family in Missouri. By 1900, he's in Colorado.

[2] 1880 US Census - Douglas, Colorado. This record gives the birthdates of both of Christina’s children and lists her place of birth as Sweden. It also shows her husband, Alphonse Jarre, as still living and working as a farmer. The Colorado Statewide Marriage index further clarifies Annie’s birthday as being in 1776. 

[3] Grave Transcription - Alphonso Jarre b. 1832, d. 1888, Sedalia, Douglas County, Colorado, Marius A. Jarre b.1877, d. 1887. Newspapers describe Alphonse as having a swollen blood vessel near his heart that burst. Although Marius' death is not mentioned, it does describe a relentless bought of rheumatism that his mother was taking him to the doctor for in mid 1887.

[4] 1900 US Census - Sedalia, Douglas, Colorado. Emma’s birth date is given as part of the census, but the year differs from a birth announcement in the Castle Rock Journal, June 25, 1890.

[5] Colorado Statewide Marriage Index - John E. Overstreet and Christina Jarre

[6] Castle Rock Journal, February 27, 1884 

[7] Grave Transcription - Christina Overstreet b. 1854, d. 1895, Sedalia, Douglas County, Colorado

[8] Colorado Statewide Marriage Index - Annie Jarre and Louise Cramer

[9] Biographical Sketch of Louis Cramer http://www.memoriallibrary.com/CO/1898DenverPB/pages/pbrd1028.htm.  I'm unsure of the sources this person used as I have not been able to track down the will or land records of Alphonse or Christina.

[10] Colorado Statewide Marriage Index - John A. Overstreet and Ada Dow

[11] Castle Rock Journal, "Acequia Items" Aug 22, 1894

[12] Castle Rock Journal, January 22, 1896

[13] Castle Rock Journal, March 25, 1896

[14] Castle Rock Journal, March 14, 1902

[15] 1910 US Census - Fort Sumner, Guadalupe, New Mexico. John, Ada, and five oldest children are accounted for.

[16] Castle Rock Journal, March 13, 1903

[17] 1930 US Census - Los Molinos, California. Ada lists her husband's age at his first marriage incorrectly, suggesting that she was his first marriage. Interestingly, the funeral announcement in the paper announcing Emma's death lists her with the wrong name. It is unclear if this had anything to do with Ada's feelings toward Emma or if it was simply a mistake by the newspaper, but interesting to note.

[18] Juni and Susan Fisher shared these details with me via email correspondence.

[19] Record Journal of Douglas Newspaper - 20 June 1908 "Jarre Creek News"

[20] Record Journal of Douglas Newspaper - 20 Aug 1909 "Jarre Creek News"

[21] Record Journal of Douglas Newspaper - 7 Aug 1908 "Jarre Creek News"

[22] Record Journal of Douglas Newspaper -  July 10, 1908

[23] Record Journal of Douglas Newspaper - Feb 25, 1910

[24] 1920 US Census - Wagon Mound, Mora, New Mexico. Evelyn is shown in this census. 

[25] Record Journal of Douglas, November 13, 1936

[26] 1870 US Census - Buchanan, Sullivan, Missouri

[27] U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934
Francis M. Overstreet, 12th Regiment, Missouri Union Calvary, Company F - wife listed on the 1890 pension

[28] Familysearch user data from Barabara Owens

[29] Missouri, Marriage Records, 1805-2002 - Frances M. Overstreet and M. R. Hollida - Note that the index erroneously assigns ages to the individuals that are not on the original record. Original record shows that wedding took place at Rebecca's father's home.

[30] 1870 US Census - Corydon, Wayne, Iowa, Household of Samuel and Elizabeth Holliday

[31] California, Death Index, 1940-1997 - Frank J. Overstreet

[32] 1880 US Census - Buchanan, Sullivan, Missouri, Household of Samuel and Elizabeth Holliday, Francis Jay's maternal grandparents. 

Individuals Mentioned (or Alluded to) in this Post:

John Edgar Overstreet, Christina Karlson, Alphonse Jarre, Annie Cecelia Jarre, Maurice Jarre, Emma E. Overstreet, Ada Florence Dow, Frank Allen Overstreet, Harry Irvin Overstreet, Florence Marie Overstreet, Charles Edgar Overstreet, Isabell Henerietta Overstreet, Evelyn Louisa Overstreet, Marion Francis Overstreet, Eliza Frances Crigler, Mary Hattie Overstreet, Mattie M. Overstreet, Charles Irwin Overstreet, Louis H. Overstreet, Emma Della Overstreet, Frederick Harry Overstreet, Francis Jay Overstreet, Rebecca Holliday, Samuel Wilson Holliday, Elizabeth J. South, Gardner Warren Dow, Florence Lucinda Bailey, Susan Marcella Sprague, Ethel Dow, Clement Haskell Dow, Le Roy Alden Dow, Marcella Adelaide Dow, Mabel Eleanor Dow, Allen Sprague Dow, Thelma Marie Dow, Donald Eldon Summers, Meredith McPherson, Clifford Wayne Summers, Louis Cramer

If anyone out there has additional photos or relevant images, please send me a copy! I'll happily send you all the images above in exchange. :) Also, if you feel I've gotten something wrong, please don't hesitate to let me know. This post is for posterity! Just email me at youngrubbish@gmail.com. 

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