Researching George Harvey Denton, Ancestor #5/52

Here is the main post for George Harvey Denton, (1870-1918), Ancestor #5/52

George Harvey Denton in the Records

1870 | 20 Mar. George Harvey was born in Nokomis, Montgomery County, Illinois. His parents were Jonathan T. Denton (1840-1904) and Eliza Jane Campbell (1836-1904). Harvey, as he was known, was the second child and eldest son of Jonathan; he was the sixth child of Eliza Jane, who had been married twice before, and widowed both times.

Where is the family in the 1870 census? George Harvey’s parents married in 1867 when father, Jonathan Denton, was living in Shelby County, Ill. (the two counties are close together). Jonathan owned land in Audubon Twp., Montgomery Co. at least by 1874, since his name appears on a plat map found from that year. Nokomis, the town of George Harvey’s birth, according to the marriage application, is about seven miles from Jonathan Denton’s land. It’s reasonable to think, then, that the family was living on their farm land in Audubon Twp., Montgomery County when their second child, George Harvey, was born.

I’ve never found the Jonathan Denton family in Audubon Twp., Montgomery Co. in the 1870 U.S. census, but the last time I looked for the family there was probably more than 15 years ago. Since then I’ve become much more jaded about the accuracy of census records. A recent re-check of that record shows a curious entry:

Jonathan_Denton_1870CensusStrange

1870 U.S. census record for Audubon Twp., Montgomery Co., Ill. Enumerated 29 Jul 1870. (Image 23/32 at Ancestry.com)

Head of household: Jonathan Denton, age 45, farmer, b. Ohio. [My Jonathan Denton would have been 30 years old in 1870, b. Illinois.]
Mary [Denton], age 44, Keeping House, b. Ohio. [My Jonathan Denton’s wife, Eliza Jane, would have been 34 years old in 1870, b. Illinois.]
Eva [Denton], age 2, b. Illinois. [Jonathan and Eliza Jane had a daughter, b. 1868, but her name was Martha Jane, known all of her life as “Mattie.”
Alfred Simmons, age 9, b. Illinois. Jonathan Denton’s wife, Eliza Jane, was married twice before she was married to Jonathan (widowed both times). Her second husband’s name was Isom Simmons, killed in 1864 in the Civil War. Isom and Eliza Jane had several children together. One of them was Alfred, born 1858. I’ve never found Alfred in the 1870 census. If this Alfred in the Jonathan Denton household is Eliza Jane’s son, then his age ought to be 12, not 9. But it’s an odd coincidence that the name “Alfred Simmons” appears in this family.
Icabod [Simmons], age 11, b. Illinois. Eliza Jane had several children with Isom Simmons, all born in Illinois and some of whom died and were buried in Campbell Cemetery, a cemetery that has since been destroyed. It’s possible that “Icabod” is one of these children.
Hannah [Simmons], age 6, b. Illinois. Eliza Jane and Isom Simmons had a daughter named Hannah, b. 1858. If this Hannah in the Jonathan Denton household is Eliza Jane’s daughter, then her age ought to be 12, not 6 (Alfred and Hannah were twins). Another odd coincidence of this census entry.
Sarah [Simmons], age 4, b. Illinois. Eliza Jane and Isom Simmons had a child who I know only as “Infant,” b. 1864 in Illinois. If this Sarah is the same child known as “Infant,” then her age ought to be 6, not 4.

Additionally, if the census was enumerated on 29 July, then George Harvey should appear with the family in the 1870 census, since his birthday was 20 Mar 1870. So there are more reasons to believe that this is the wrong Jonathan Denton than it’s the family I’m looking for; however, the coincidence of the children with last name “Simmons” is curious.

1880 | Age  10. June. The first record where I’ve found Harvey Denton is the 1880 U.S. census for Audubon Twp., Montgomery County, Illinois. Denton, Jonathan, age 39, Farmer, (all family members born Illinois); Eliza J, age 42, Wife; Martha J, age 12, Daughter; Geo. H., age 10, Son; Hattie M., Daughter, age 8; Alice B., Daughter, age 4; James E., Son, age 2.

Denton_Harvey1880

U.S. 1880 Census for the Jonathan T Denton family, including George Harvey (Geo. H.) Denton, age 10

1892 | Age 22. 14 Dec. Harvey Denton married Alice Nihiser in Macon County, Illinois. If you happen to be researching a marriage in Macon County around the turn of the 20th century, be sure to ask not only for the marriage license, but also for the license application. What a genealogical treasure!

Marriage_License_app

Marriage license application for Harvey Denton and Alice Nihiser

Here’s what we learn from this one document:

  • George Harvey is using the name “Harvey Denton” in an important document for 1892.
  • Twenty-one-year-old Harvey’s place of residence is Prairie Home, Illinois and his occupation is “Farmer.”
  • Harvey was born in Montgomery County, Ill. to Jonathan Denton and Eliza J. Campbell.
  • This is his first marriage.
  • Eighteen-year-old Alice Nihiser is living in Dalton City, Macon County, Ill.
  • Alice was born in Macon County, Ill. to David Nihiser and Elizabeth Frazier.
  • This is her first marriage.
  • The were married in Decatur, Macon County, Ill. on 14 Dec 1892.
  • Witnesses to the marriage were John Simmons [later research shows that John is Harvey’s half brother, a son of one of Eliza Jane’s previous marriages. The other witness is Emma Nihiser, Alice’s sister.

 Prairie Home, Illinois

Sometime between the 1880 U.S. census when he was a child living with his parents, and his 1892 marriage at the age of 22, George Harvey moved from the family farm near Audubon, Montgomery County, Ill. to work on a farm near Prairie Home, Penn County, Ill. Prairie Home no longer exists on the map in 2015; however, Family Maps of Shelby County, Illinois by Gregory A. Boyd shows a Prairie Home Cemetery in Sec. 34 of Map Group 2, Penn County, Ill. A check of an Illinois gazetteer might provide some information about Prairie Home. (1) Since George Harvey’s father was by no means a wealthy man, able to give his children a gift of land, and since George Harvey is 22 at the age of his marriage, it’s not unreasonable to think that he was working as a laborer on a farm belonging to someone else.

Another check of my records shows a note from Doris Denton, a Denton family researcher working on the family tree from sometime in the 1970s to about the early 2000s. I trust Doris’s research. Unfortunately, I have only this note and no copy of the letter she references (but better this note than nothing):

George Harvey Denton was “of Prairie Home” on the marriage license. According to a letter from Coralei Hobson (1980), Prairie Home is on Rte 121, south of Dalton City, about 2 miles south of Bethany, Illinois–across the railroad tracks. It used to have a general store, etc. and was a meeting place for the young people. It had a dance hall above the store which, according to the people I have talked to, was a “real wild place” in its time. Milam Twp. is just southwest edge of Dalton City bordered by Shelby and Moultrie counties. Dalton City proper is in Moultrie Co.

It’s fun to imagine that George Harvey and Alice met in that “real wild place,” the dance hall above the store in Prairie Home. Caution should be observed before making that assumption, however, since Alice was a conservative Baptist when she lived in La Junta, Colorado. But maybe she had a “young and crazy” time. I hope so.

Prairie Home had a newspaper in 1892, the Prairie Home News. From the 19 Dec 1892 edition:

Harvey Denton and Miss Alice Nihiser were married at Decatur on Wednesday last.

The Witness, John Simmons

John Simmons was George Harvey’s half brother, son of his mother, Eliza Jane, and her second husband, Isom Simmons. John T Simmons was born in 1860, so in 1892 when he was signing as a witness for his half brother, he would have been 32 years old. Does John provide a clue about George Harvey’s whereabouts around the time of his marriage? John is found in a marriage record in Ohio in 1893, so it doesn’t look as though he was settled with land that belonged to him in 1892. So it’s not likely that George Harvey was working on John Simmons’ land.

1893 | Age 23. 15 Nov. George Harvey and Alice’s first child was born, Paul Harvey. According to the 1900 U.S. census, Paul was born in Illinois. According to Doris Denton, Paul Denton was born in Pana, Christian County, Illinois. Montgomery, Christian, and Shelby counties are all close together.

1895 | Age 25. 29 Jan. George Harvey and Alice’s second child was born, Edna Alice. According to Doris Denton’s notes, Edna was born in Moweaqua, Shelby County, Illinois. Pana, where Paul was born, and Moweaqua, where Edna was born, are about 20 miles from each other. Moweaqua is one of those towns that straddles a county line–Shelby and Christian counties. So it’s possible that both Paul and Edna were born in the same place in Christian County, and Paul’s birth was recorded in Pana while Edna’s birth was recorded in Moweaqua.

1896 | Age 26. 14 Apr. George Harvey and Alice’s third child was born, Chester Shirley. Chester was Doris Denton’s father-in-law, so I would expect her notes for him to be accurate. However, Doris’s information is only as good as the informants in the records.

Alice Denton wrote a letter in January of 1934 to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service concerning citizenship for her daughter-in-law, Chester Denton’s second wife, Bertha Berkelheimer Denton. The letter is typewritten and witnessed by “Mrs. Fred Gillen,” nee Edna Alice Denton. Edna was a telegraph operator for the Santa Fe Railroad; it’s reasonable to assume Edna typed the letter, although I imagine the text (“Be it known to all that I am his mother”) was written by Alice:

Dear Sir:

Regarding your attached letter to my son Chester S. Denton Chief Radio Electrician U.S.N. dated December 28 1933, regarding his birth in this country and his parentage. No birth certificates were issued at the time of his birth.

Be it known to all that I am his mother, Alice Nihiser Denton born December 10, 1873 in Shelby County, Illinois near the town of Moweaqua. His father George Harvey Denton born March 20, 1870 (now deceased) was born in Montgomery County, Illinois near the town of Oconea [sic: Oconee]. Married to Alice Nihiser December 14, 1892 in Decatur, Illinois and Chester Shirley Denton our son was born April 14, 1896 in Shelby County, Illinois near the town of Moweaqua.

I have been a resident of this town La Junta, Colorado for the past 25 years and our son Chester lived here up until the time he entered the Navy. The signed witnesses below can vouch for my son. Any other information I can give I will be glad to do so if I can. Sincerely hoping this information will assist his wife in receiving her citizenship in this country I remain

[signed] Mrs. Alice Denton, 317 Belleview Ave., La Junta, Colorado

Witnesses: R. Phillips and Mrs. Fred Gillen.

~end letter~

A newspaper announcement from the 22 April 1896 issue of the Moweaqua Call-Mail says this:

Son born to Harvey Denton and wife of Pleak on 14 April 1896.

Pleak (Pleak’s Corner), Flat Branch Twp., Shelby County, Ill.

Pleak was another one of those small (very small) farming towns, much like Doris describes Prairie Home (above), although it was large enough to have a church and school, and almost surely had a store. It is much more likely that George Harvey and Alice were farming near Pleak than they were living in Pleak–but it would have been the newspaper’s convention to refer to the family as “of Pleak”–the nearest town. Pleak was the site of the Union Church, aka the Union Predestinarian Baptist Church. Considering Alice Nihiser Denton’s Baptist affiliations later in life, it would be interesting to check the records for the Union Church in 1896 and see if Alice Denton appears in those records.

George Harvey and Alice’s second child, Edna Alice, is said to have been born in Moweaqua, Ill. Moweaqua was located 4 miles to the west of Pleak–so (assuming the couple was farming) perhaps their farm was located somewhere between Moweaqua and Pleak.

So from the records we have, we can be pretty sure that the family was in Shelby County, Ill. somewhere near Moweaqua and Pleak, in April of 1896 when their son Chester was born.

1899 | Age 29. 11 March. George Harvey and Alice’s fourth child was born, Cecil Wayne. This is my grandfather. There evidently is no recorded birth record for him, as there was none for his brother Chester. Cecil worked for the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe RR all of his life. I was able to obtain Cecil’s work file from the railroad (a potentially invaluable file, if are researching someone who worked for one of the railroads). The file indicates that Cecil was born in Dalton City, Moultrie County, Illinois. Doris Denton’s notes confirm this place for Cecil’s birth. I don’t know where her information came from.

Cecil_proof_birth

Time now to take a breath and look at the places of George Harvey’s life in Illinois before he leaves the state, sometime between his son Cecil’s birth and the birth of his next child in May, 1900. I decided the best way to do that was with a map. In all the records which mention George Harvey Denton and his early life in Illinois, not one record or mention shows him in the same place twice, for the first 29 years of his life.

George_Harvey_map

Place names where George Harvey Denton is found for the first 29 years of his life. He lived in or around 5 different counties.

The numbers correspond to the red numbers on the map:

1. Nokomis, Montgomery County, Ill. George Harvey was born in Nokomis.
2. Audubon, Audubon Township, Montgomery Co., Ill. George Harvey is found with his parents and siblings at age 10 in the U.S. census, 1880.
3. Zion Cemetery. Jonathan T. Denton and Eliza Jane Campbell Denton are buried at Zion Cemetery.
4. Prairie Home, Penn Twp., Shelby County, Ill. George Harvey, “of Prairie Home,” according to his marriage license application, 1892.
5. Dalton City, Moultrie County, Ill. Alice Nihiser was living in Dalton City when she married George Harvey Denton, 1892.
6. Decatur, Macon County, Ill. George Harvey and Alice Nihiser were married at Dalton City, 1892.
7. Pana, Christian County, Ill. Paul Denton, George Harvey & Alice’s first child, was born in Pana in 1893.
8. Moweaqua, Ill. The town of Moweaqua straddles the county line of Christian and Shelby counties. Edna Denton, George Harvey & Alice’s second child, was born in or near Moweaqua in 1895.
9. Pleak, Flat Branch Twp., Shelby County, Ill. Chester Denton, George Harvey & Alice’s third child, was born in or near Pleak in 1896 (contemporaneous newspaper record).
10. Oconee, Montgomery County, Ill. In an official document dated 1934, Alice Denton reported the place of George Harvey’s birth as “near the town of Oconea” [sic: Oconee], Montgomery County, Ill .
11. Dalton City, Moultrie County, Ill. Cecil Denton, George Harvey & Alice’s fourth child, was reportedly born in or near Dalton City in 1899.

It doesn’t seem too strong to say that these constant moves seem like some form of insanity, at least to a genealogist. I believe George Harvey was a farmer while he lived in Illinois, renting himself out to farm other people’s land. However, other than the application for his marriage license in 1892, I have no other evidence for his occupation during these years.

1900 | Age 30. 6 May. Minnie Mae Denton, George Harvey & Alice’s 5th child, was born in or near North Crowley, Acadia Parish, Louisiana. This information comes from the records of Doris Denton. I have no independent confirmation. So sometime between the birth of their fourth child in March, 1899 and the birth of this fifth child, in May of 1900, the family moved to Louisiana. The purpose of the move, we are told in a 1976 letter written to Doris Denton from Edna Denton, was rice farming. Edna was a telegrapher in her younger days, so it must have been natural for her to type in all caps:

MY FATHER WENT TO WELCH, LOUISIANA WHERE HE RAISED RICE FOR THREE YEARS, THEN WENT INTO WELS AND BUILT A HOME. THAT’S WHERE I STARTED SCHOOL. AFTER A FEW YEARS HE LEFT AGAIN AND WENT TO GARNET, KANSAS.

Edna must have meant “Welsh” Louisiana. This is a 2015 map that locates Welsh in Jefferson Davis Parish, the pink area. Welsh is #1 on the map. Crowley is found in Acadia Parish, which is the parish directly to the east of Jefferson Davis Parish.

Louisiana

Welsh, Louisiana is obviously not far from Crowley, a place also mentioned in the records for the George Harvey Denton family.

1900 | Age 30. 18 June. Harvey G. Denton is in the 1900 U.S. census for Ward 6, the parish of Acadia, Louisiana. Denton, Harvey G, Head, b. Mar 1870, age 30, b. Illinois, occupation Farmer; Alice [Denton], Wife, b. Dec. 1873, age 26, married 7 years, 5 children born, 5 children living; Paul [Denton], Son, b. Nov 1893, age 6, b. Ill.; Edna [Denton], Daughter, b. Jan 1895, age 5, b. Ill.; Chester [Denton], Son, b. Apr 1896, age 4, b. Ill.; Cecil [Denton], Son, b. Mar 1899, age 1, b. Ill.; May [Denton], Daughter, b. May 1900, age 0/12, b. Louisiana. There is no notation about school for the older children.

Why did George Harvey Denton move his family to Louisiana to farm rice? There’s a master’s thesis found on the internet, A History of the Rice Industry of Southwestern Louisiana, by Lawson P. Babineaux, Jr., 1967. Babineaux refers to Crowley as “the self-proclaimed rice capital of the world” (Chapt 1). Perhaps George Harvey saw one of the ads in a local newspaper placed by railroad agents encouraging Louisiana rice farming. Or perhaps he read one of the pamphlets mentioned by Babineaux in his document, encouraging immigrants to the state to settle in Louisiana and begin a life of successful rice farming: The Farmer’s Road to Wealth, or The Appeal of Louisiana to the Western Farmer. According to Babineaux, a 160-acre homestead could be obtained for as little as a $14 down payment (Chapt. 2). No doubt George Harvey was looking for land of his own, which, because of the price, would not have been available to him in his Illinois home. From Babineaux:

By 1900 the rice industry was a prosperous and rapidly expanding agricultural business. Local towns were growing, immigration was intense, land values continued to soar, and more and more land was being reclaimed for rice farming. At this time, there were over sixty rice mills and eighty canal plants in the rice farming district. Except for a few lean years, production steadily increased and reached a wartime peak in 1920.

I’ve done no research in Louisiana for this family, nor am I aware that Doris Denton did any research there either. The family was in the area from 1899/1900 to sometime between Oct. 1904 and Mar. 1905 when the moved to Kansas.

1903 | Age 33. 4 Jan. Glenn Elwin Denton was born, George Harvey and Alice’s sixth child. Glenn was born in Welsh, Louisiana according to information provided by Doris Denton. The place is confirmed in Glenn’s obituary, although it is spelled “Welch,” the same spelling used by Edna Denton.

1904 | Age 34. July. George Harvey’s mother died, Eliza Jane Campbell Denton. Her obituary indicates that her son, Harvey Denton, was living in Welsh, Louisiana. There’s no indication in the obituary that George Harvey attended his mother’s funeral in Illinois.

1904 | Age 34. 4 Oct. Clarence Irl Denton was born, George Harvey and Alice’s seventh child. According to the 1910 U.S. census, Clarence was born in Louisiana. No further information on Clarence’s birth is available.  He died in 1914 at the age of 10 when he was run over by an automobile.

1905 | Age 35. 1 Mar. The family is found in the 1905 Kansas state census for Lincoln Twp., Anderson County, Kansas. Denton, G.H. He is renting his land and is farming. Age 35. The census record states he had come to Kansas from Louisiana. Alice [Denton], age 31; Paul [Denton], age 11; Edna [Denton], age 10; Chester S. [Denton], age 8; C.W. [Denton], age 6; M.M. [Denton], age 5; G.E. [Denton], age 2; C.E. [Denton], age 6m.

1906 | Age 36. 13 Apr. Forrest Denton was born, George Harvey and Alice’s eighth child. He was born in Bush City, Anderson County, Kansas.

1907 | Age 37. The children are found in a 1907 memory book for Bush City Public School, Lincoln Twp., Anderson Co., Kansas. This document was sent to me by Doris Denton.

1907_school_List

Logic would indicate that the family left sometime after the 1907 school year and arrived in Colorado sometime before December–leaving probably earlier in the summer rather than later in the fall. Although if he had any corn to harvest, then he probably would have waited until sometime in September. This is from the letter (above) written by Edna Denton to researcher Doris Denton:

AFTER A FEW YEARS [in Louisiana] HE LEFT AGAIN AND WENT TO GARNET, KANSAS AND LIVED ON A FARM FOR THREE YEARS THEN LEFT AGAIN FOR LA JUNTA, COLORADO. HE DROVE TWO COVERED WAGONS.

The “Garnet, Kansas” that Edna mentions is Garnett, Kansas, located in Anderson County. Garnett is almost exactly 500 miles straight west of La Junta. I’ve read elsewhere that the trip would have taken somewhere between 4 and 6 weeks. If this was the summer or fall of 1907, which it must have been, Alice was pregnant with her 9th child and had 8 children ranging in ages from 14 to age one.

Garnett_toLaJunta

The trip made by covered wagon in 1907 by George Harvey Denton and his family from Garnett, Kansas to La Junta, Colorado.

Why was this family constantly on the move? His many moves show that George Harvey was a rolling stone, which might have been his inheritance from his grandfather and my 3x great grandfather, Preston Denton–the only inheritance he would have received from him. Preston was also one of those guys who was constantly on the move. When I was able to catch up with him in the records, he was in a different county (or different state) every time I found him. Preston came from a family of hard-working Illinois farm people. His brothers and sisters were successful farmers in Shelby County and were strong members of the community, constantly increasing the acres of land that they owned and farmed and frequently found in leadership positions of their community churches. Preston, however, seemed to be something of a ne’r-do-well, or in today’s language, a slacker. Or at least that’s how I always viewed him–until I read a book called The Woman and the Dynamo, by Stephen Cox (2004), a biography about Isabel Paterson, a woman called “a brilliant and neglected pioneer of libertarian thought,” and author of The God of the Machine (1943). Paterson offered a very different way to look at the (apparently) unsuccessful, constant moves of people like Preston and his grandson, George Harvey.

This is from Cox’s biography, writing about eight-year-old Isabel and her family, traveling for six weeks to a new home in Canada by covered wagon at the end of the 19th century:

It must have been a hard journey [Cox writes], but what she remembered was the absence of hardship:

“We ate flapjacks cooked by a campfire and went to sleep in heaps all over the blanket rolls and frying pans when the day was too long. It wasn’t a bad life, but somehow six weeks of it provided fewer thrills than a few days as imagined by Miss Edna Ferber [perhaps Isabel is referring to Ferber’s novel, Oklahoma!]. There is a kind of monotony about pioneer life, a peacefulness if one takes it that way, which we suspect is what the pioneers wanted. They tried to get away from the hazards of civilization, its demand on their nerves and brains, of competing, adapting, and sharing.”

Cox writes that Paterson never idealized the settlers themselves: “they were just average, and it is a moot question how civilized people are at best,” Paterson wrote. She knew very well that it wasn’t just the best people who wound up on the frontier. “For a time,” she wrote, “the West was as egalitarian as it was individual; it was a genuinely classless society.” It wasn’t that the West was too poor and simple to include people in the “elite” social class. “The prairie was lousy with nobility and gentry–and who cared?”

I got to wondering if my ancestor Preston Denton wasn’t something like that, someone who prized his freedom more than he prized “getting ahead”; someone who really didn’t give a damn about what other people “expected” of him; someone who was content to live and let live. That was George Harvey’s grandfather, who died before the grandson could have met him. However, George Harvey’s life started out with the same kinds of major moves that Preston made throughout his own life: Illinois (yearly, almost frenetic movement), Louisiana, Kansas, and then Colorado.

It isn’t clear what George Harvey’s original idea was when he took the family to La Junta, but I imagine he went there with farming in mind. Was this move just the “next best thing” over the horizon?

Edna Denton’s 1976 letter to Doris Denton continues:

AFTER ARRIVING THE MONEY PANIC WAS ON SO HE SOLD OFF EVERYTHING AGAIN AND RENTED A HOUSE AND WENT TO WORK FOR THE SANTA FE RY. AS A FREIGHT CAR INSPECTOR. SO I GUESS THAT’S WHY WE ALL TURNED OUT TO BE RAILROADERS. AND WHAT SCHOOLING I GOT WAS THERE.

1907 | Age 37. Mid-October. A U.S. financial crisis known as the Panic of 1907. Panic extended across the nation as vast numbers of people withdrew deposits from their regional banks. So evidently, according to Edna’s letter, the family would have been in La Junta at least by October. [Note this in the letter: “He sold off everything again” (emphasis mine)].

1907 | Age 37. 5 Dec. Lester Denton was born, George Harvey and Alice’s ninth child. He was born in La Junta, Otero County, Colorado.

1908 | Age 38. The date is approximate. This is a poor version of this photo–a copy of a photocopy, not the original photo. However, a poor copy is better than nothing, and actually it looks better here than the original of the one I have in my files. This was sent to me and the children identified by Doris Denton. She believed that it was taken in 1908, after the move from Kansas. I normally date unknown photos by approximating the age of the youngest child in the photo and working backwards. However, it seems that around this time Alice always had a baby. So here’s my attempt to identify these children, and I generally agree with Doris (which, I found in the years that I worked with her, was a good idea about 99% of the time):

For sure the two oldest children, standing in the back, are Edna and Paul. Paul was the oldest, and if this is 1908, then he would have been 15 years old. Edna came next. She would have been 13 in 1908. She looks younger than that, although age 13 for this girl is possible. Edna was always a bit overweight with a round face, so I think that tended to make her look younger. The little girl in front of Edna would have to be Minnie Mae. She would be 8 years old in 1908, and again, she looks younger than that–but age 8 is possible. She looks very tiny, and maybe Minnie was just tiny all of her life. So that leaves 4 little boys, which means that two boys are missing. Doris thinks that the two missing boys are the middle boys, Chester and Cecil, who in 1908 would have been 12 and 9. Her guess is that they were probably at school when the photo was taken. So what’s left are four little boys: Glenn, age 5; Clarence, age 4; Forrest, age 2, and Baby Lester on Alice’s lap. The last baby has yet to be born, Elsie in 1910. Alice would be 35 years old in a 1908 photo. Where’s George Harvey? I hope he’s at work, with all of these mouths to feed.

1908_AliceDenton_andChildren

The Santa Fe Railroad was one of the major employers of the area in and around La Junta. A look at the depot from the early 1900s makes it possible to imagine La Junta as a thriving town. I was recently in La Junta, and it’s almost impossible to imagine what the area must have been like 100 years ago, since today it seems like one good gust of wind would blow away what’s left of the town.

LaJunta_depot

1908 | Age 38. The date for this photo is approximate. I think Alice looks a bit older than she did in the previous photo, but it’s basically the same time frame.

GeorgeHarvey_andAlice_c1907

George Harvey Denton and Alice, c.1908, La Junta, Colorado

1910 | Age 40. May. U.S. Census for La Junta City, Otero County, Colorado. It looks as though the family was living on Fourth St. No house address noted. George Harvey owns his house, with a mortgage. George Denton, Head, age 40, married 17 years, b. Illinois, occupation Laborer, Rail Road; [everyone else also “Denton”] Alice, Wife, age 36, married 17 years, 9 children born, 9 children living; Paul, son, age 16, single, Laborer, Rail Road, has not attended school during the past year; Edna, dau., age 15, single, attending school; Chester, son, age 14, attending school; Cecil, son, age 12, attending school; Minnie, dau., age 10, b. Louisiana, attending school; Glenn, son, age 7, b. Louisiana, attending school; Clarence, son, age 5, b. Louisiana; Forrest, son, age 4, b. Kansas; Lester, son, age 2, b. Kansas.

Again, I don’t have a specific date for this photo, but it’s approximately 1910.

GeorgeHarvey

George Harvey Denton and Alice Nihiser Denton, c. 1910, La Junta, Colorado

1910 | Age 40. July. Elsie Bessie Denton was born, 10th and last child of George Harvey and Alice.

According to the City Directory, which I found in the La Junta library, the family’s address in 1910 was “4th 2 W Barnes Ave.” I think the family probably lived on 4th Street (which matches the address in the 1910 census) at W. Barnes Ave., which would have been the 900 block of W. 4th. In 1910, they may have been one of the only houses on the block. In the 1919 City Directory, which was after George Harvey’s death, Alice Denton was living at 907 W. 4th Street. I need to do a records search at the courthouse in La Junta.

George Harvey was a member of the I.O.O.F., as were perhaps most men of the town at that time. See the discussion of the organization here.

1911 | Age 41. Edna Denton, the second child and oldest daughter, was 16 years old. By this time she had begun supporting herself, working as a telegraph operator for the Santa Fe RR. As of 1915, she was still living in her parents’ house, according to the city directory.

1912 | Age 42. Paul Denton, the oldest child, married Alma Blanche Bickett. The couple was married in La Junta. The Bickett family were neighbors of the Denton’s. Paul worked for the railroad all of his life.

1913 | Age 43. Chester Denton, the third child, was bucking the trend in the family. By the age of 17, he was living in Rawlings, Wyoming and working as a telegraph operator. He would soon join the Navy and never look back. However, he provided significant financial support to his mother after his father’s death.

1914 | Age 44. Clarence Irl Denton died, George Harvey and Alice’s seventh child. He was nine years old. Doris Denton’s typed record from “Mother Denton’s Bible,” dated 1964, indicates that Clarence was run over by a car. It’s a good bet that a story of Clarence’s accident and death was printed in the La Junta newspaper, but the reel for 1914 in 2012 was listed as “missing” in the La Junta library.

 

Clarence_Denton_headstone

Clarence Irl Denton, 1904-1914. Fairview Cemetery, La Junta, Colorado

In that same year, 1914, the fourth child, Cecil Denton, began work at the age of 15 as a telegraph messenger, working for the Santa Fe Railroad. He was part of the railroad apprentice program, as his siblings must have been as well.

1916 | Age 46. Summer. Cecil Denton was married in Trinidad, Colorado. He was the second child of Alice and George Harvey to marry. Cecil was 17 years old and working for the railroad in Trinidad. He would also work for the railroad all of his life. It’s unknown whether Alice and George Harvey attended the wedding.

From 1907 when the family arrived in La Junta, to 1918 when he died in La Junta, I know very little about George Harvey Denton, other than the fact that he worked as a yard inspector for the railroad, which would have provided a steady income for his family. He and Alice belonged to the Baptist church, and he belonged to the I.O.O.F., which was fortunate, since one of the organization’s mandates was to provide for the widows and orphans of its members.

1917 | Age 47. Thanksgiving Day. This is the last of the few photos I have of George Harvey Denton. The occasion was probably Thanksgiving. His son Cecil (my grandfather) had his camera with him that day, and he took photos of everyone in the family.

GeorgeHarveyDenton_andAlice_1917

George Harvey Denton and Alice, 1917, Thanksgiving Day

1918 | Age 48. April 11. George Harvey Denton died of heart disease. His death was not sudden nor was it probably unexpected. His daughter Edna said in her 1976 letter that her dad spent “almost a year” in the Santa Fe Hospital. The hospital was owned by the railroad and located in La Junta, Colorado. Continues Edna: “He left mother with five children still in school. As I was making good money I kept right on working as a telegrapher.”

Another family story has 11-year-old Forrest Denton starring in a dramatic deathbed scene. According to one of Forrest’s sons, Forrest was told that his father was dying:

That my dad, even though he was not quite 12, was now the man of the family and responsible for his younger brother and sister. He was to help his mother in every way possible. As a result, as soon as he was able (after finishing the 8th grade) he dropped out of school to work and help support the family. He joined the apprenticeship program for the Santa Fe Railroad, probably like his brother Cecil [and his brother Paul, sister Edna, brother Chester, and brother Glenn]. He studied to become a coppersmith.

That’s the thing about family stories. They need context, and context isn’t always provided. Reading between the lines, it’s easy to imagine that Forrest felt abandoned by his older siblings who were leaving home to get on with their adult lives. It can’t have been easy to have been told that you are now “the one” designated as the man of the family. However, leaving school after the 8th grade and joining the railroad apprentice program had nothing to do with his father’s death, as the storyteller seems to imply, since all of Forrest’s older siblings had done the same thing. Lester and Elsie were the two children left who were younger than Forrest, ages 11 and 8. Minnie, Forrest’s 18-year-old sister, was also living with Alice and the younger siblings at the time of their father’s death. It wouldn’t be long before Lester would also join Forrest in the “family business,” and it probably wasn’t long after (if it was after) the age of 18 that Forrest, like his older siblings, left La Junta.

The death certificate indicates the following. The informant for his personal information was Alice Denton. The physician was R.S. Johnston, M.D. of La Junta.

Name: George H. Denton.
Address: W. 4th St., La Junta, Colorado
His birth and death dates are as expected.
His father’s name was “John” Denton, b. Illinois; his mother’s name is “Unknown,” born “Unknown.” That’s quite an interesting omission, since it’s clear from the places they lived in Illinois in their early marriage that Alice would have known George Harvey’s parents.
He was attended by a physician, who last saw him alive on the day of his death. He died at the Santa Fe hospital in La Junta.
Cause of death: Aortic Incompetency, which is also known as aortic insufficiency. Rheumatic heart disease is the most common cause of aortic insufficiency. In the space marked “Duration,” someone (presumably the physician) has filled in “21” years. That’s a pretty specific date. Where was George Harvey and what was he doing in 1897? He was married to Alice, living in Pleak, Illinois and had just had his 3rd child. It would be interesting to know if he was left incapacitated–was he someone who forever after the age of 27 was known to have a “bad heart”? Some patients with aortic insufficiency enter a compensated phase and may be totally asymptomatic. However, the specificity of “21 years” suggests that George Harvey may have been one of those who had symptoms from the condition, symptoms which may have included shortness of breath on exertion, heart palpitations, or angina. There is no contributory or secondary cause of death noted.

Heart disease and early death is part of the Denton legacy. George Harvey’s grandfather, Preston Denton, died at the age of 48, the same age as his grandson. George Harvey’s son Cecil Denton, my grandfather, died at the age of 45 of heart disease, and Cecil’s older brother Paul died at 59 of a heart attack. My aunt, Cecil’s daughter, died at the age of 55 of a heart attack and her cousin, Paul’s daughter Pauline, died at the age of 51 of the same cause. George Harvey’s sisters lived to be 60 and 65, cause of death unknown. He had a brother who went to the Philippines with the Army, date and cause of death unknown.

His obituary, from the La Junta Tribune:

Death of George H Denton

After an illness of about two months, George H. Denton passed away at the Santa Fe Hospital in this city Thursday at 2:30 o’clock.

Mr. Denton had been a resident of La Junta for the past ten years, having come here from Kansas. At the time of his death he was employed by the Santa Fe as yard inspector. He is survived by his wife, nine children, and three grandchildren. The funeral was held Sunday at 2:30 o’clock at the Baptist church, services being conducted by Rev. J.F. Findley, of the Christian church. Interment was in Fairview cemetery. The I.O.O.F., of which the deceased was a member, had charge of the services at the ceremony.

The three grandchildren mentioned: two were children of Paul; one was a child of Cecil.

The obituary is notable for what it leaves out. There is no mention of names of pallbearers. Neither is there mention of family members who attended the funeral, either from in town or out of town. If any of his siblings from Illinois attended the funeral, none are mentioned. Left off is the typical boilerplate of obituaries of the time chronicling the “host of friends, left behind to mourn the good man’s loss.”

George Harvey Denton is buried with Alice and their son Clarence at the Fairview Cemetery. He has a small headstone that was provided by the I.O.O.F. There is a larger DENTON stone placed beside Alice. Who placed that stone or when is unknown. The stone is large and blank except for the family name. It looks as though something was meant to be written on the stone, but it was never completed.

GH_Denton_4

The Fairview Cemetery is very large and beautifully maintained.

GH_Denton_top

A view of the cemetery looking from the back of the Denton stone. The top of the stone is in the foreground.

Notes

(1) At the St. Louis County Library: Illinois Place Names, by James N. Adams. Illinois State Historical Society, Springfield, 1989.

Research Questions

Are there records available for the George Harvey Denton family from their time in Louisiana?

Did George Harvey and his family move either to Louisiana or to Kansas with anyone they knew, either a relative or a friend?

Why did George Harvey choose Lincoln Twp., Anderson County, Kansas. Did he know someone there? And then why La Junta?

Normally these ancestors’ stories leave me filled with questions for further research. For George Harvey, I’m pretty much at a loss for further inquiry. He lived in La Junta, Colorado for eleven years. A search of the available La Junta newspapers so far has yielded nothing. The I.O.O.F. probably kept records of their membership, but whether archives exist for the La Junta chapter is unknown. The archives of the Baptist church that the family attended might have some information about George Harvey.

References

Family Maps of Shelby County, Illinois, by Gregory A. Boyd, J.D., 2007. This book is on my shelf.

A History of the Rice Industry of Southwestern Louisiana, by Lawson P. Babineaux, 1967, U of Southwestern Louisiana. No page numbers. http://library.mcneese.edu/depts/archive/FTBooks/babineaux.htm

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