Augustus Baker…his death changed history

The Civil War did not start on 12 April 1861. It started many years before with the debate over slavery and divided many citizens of the United States. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was designed to settle the dispute with Missouri entering the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state. The Homestead Act of 1862 was primarily responsible for the settlement of the west. But prior to that, in 1856, heads of families were allowed to enter 160 acres as a homestead from transferable government grants to veterans. By the end of 1857, nearly all grants were gone in Vernon County. ¹ The act of making Kansas a territory, in 1858, essentially repealed the Missouri Compromise. The border between Kansas and Missouri became a place of war with pro-slavery Bushwhackers in Missouri and the free-soil Jayhawkers warring with each other prior to the Civil war and lasting several years after. This is the environment that Augustus Baker and his family navigated.

Baker, Augustus, Land Patent Purchase from George Hamilton, 10 Dec 1859_Page_1

Deed for one of the many properties Augustus Baker owned

Augustus Baker immigrated to the United States from Germany but nothing is known of his family origins.² His was born on 21 April 1827. At the age of twenty-one, he married Rebecca Pryor on 1 March 1849. They had three daughters, Emma Ann who was born about 1852, Mary Elizabeth who was born in 1854, and Laura Rebecca who was born in 1859. Their fourth daughter, Adaline, was born in 1862 and died in 1864 after the death of Augustus.

Over the course of his short life, Augustus amassed a little more than five-hundred and seventy-six acres of land in Bates County later to be Vernon County. The majority of the land was in township thirty-six, range thirty-three, sections thirty and thirty-one. A portion of this land would later be inherited by his daughter Mary Elizabeth Baker. In addition, he purchased four hundred and forty acres of land in Bourbon County, Kansas. Several of these tracts of land that he purchased were land grants given to veterans of the War of 1812 for their service. Many times veterans had no interest in moving west and instead sold their land grant to others. In total Augustus owned a little more than one-thousand and sixteen acres of land, some of which were purchased during the Civil War. He was an optimistic and opportunistic man.

In 1858, Ben Riggins, contracted Charles Goodlander to build a 16 x 20, two-story frame business building on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Bigler (now Market) Street in Fort Scott, Kansas.³ Sometime after, and possibly as early as September 1859, Augustus and Riggins formed a mercantile partnership, Riggins & Baker.

Receipt

A Receipts from Riggins & Baker Mercantile Store

On 23 September 1861, a few months after the start of the Civil War, Riggins wrote to Augustus from Shawnee, Kansas. Because of the turmoil in the county, he traded some of his lands in Bourbon for a house in Shawnee. He never expected to move back to Fort Scott and asked Augustus to sell the building and settle up as best as he could. He and Augustus owed substantial amounts of money on accounts and others owed them a lot of money as well. Commerce at the time was done on credit and the good name of the individuals who had transactions with each other. The difficulties of the war made it almost impossible to do business. Riggins told Augustus that he would not pay out his last dollar toward his debts leaving his family to suffer. Shawnee would later be burned by Quantrill’s Raiders and Riggins and his family was forced to move to Kansas City.

“Guerilla warfare erupted on an unprecedented scale in 1862. Though nominally Union-held, much of Missouri remained a vast no-mans land tenuously controlled by small military outposts. The very conditions that created the need for more troops left many able-bodied potential fighting men unwilling to leave their homes and families for volunteer service elsewhere.”⁴ Needless to say life in Bourbon and Vernon Counties went from bad to worse causing martial law to be enacted in Missouri in August of that year.

In early 1863 Augustus was still running the Riggins & Baker Mercantile Store in Fort Scott. He and Ben Riggins continued to correspond with each other as creditors pressed them for money.

The Federal forces “occupying” Missouri, under martial law, were spread too thin to maintain regular law and order, let alone effectively suppress the Guerilla movement, characterized by military law experts as “rising of the people.” Seeking to tighten their hold on the state, they attempted to organize in each county a pro-Union militia, technically a state force but in practice a Federal force.⁵

It was under this backdrop that Augustus, along with about fifty others, attended a meeting of male citizens in Nevada for the purpose of organizing a company of enrolled militia under the leadership of Colonel Marvin’s 60th regiment. Augustus, a well-respected man, was chosen over C. C. Frizell, a citizen of the county who had served with the Cedar County militia. Frizell had been on a few raids with Kansas troops and had a bad reputation. Many were concerned that he would use his position to take land from people and feather his own nest. Frizell took his defeat very poorly.

The Baker’s lived on Ball Town Road, west of Nevada, Missouri. On the evening of 6 May 1863, about 7:30 pm and while Augustus was out, two men approached their home. When Rebecca answered the door, they said they were Federals from Butler County and asked for some supper. Rebecca invited them in. When Augustus came home, he recognized the men and extended his hand to Frizell to shake. Frizell refused to shake hands with him. At that point, both men drew their pistols and demanded his arms and his money. Augustus stated his money was in Fort Scott. Rebecca had some money, about three or four dollars in silver and one and a half-dollar in paper money and offered to get it. One of the men went with Rebecca to their second floor where he took rifle molds, boxes of caps and bullets, and Augustus’ pocketbook. After they came downstairs Rebecca went to stand next to Augustus and put her hand on his shoulder. At that point, the tallest man stepped forward and shot Augustus in his head. Later at the trial of his murderers, Rebecca testified that the man who pulled the trigger was Frizell.⁶

The incidents that occurred after the trial led to the burning of Nevada, Missouri. On 24 May 1863, men from Frizell’s pro-Union St. Clair and Cedar County companies were returning home after testifying at his trial. They were recognized as Federals and attacked by Bushwhackers led by Captain Marchbanks and Captain Hill. During the attack two of the pro-Union men were killed. When word of the Bushwhacker attack reached the St. Clair and Cedar militia, cries of vengeance were made.

On 26 May 1863, Captain Anderson Morton led a hundred well-armed men from the Cedar and St. Clair Militia on a raid into Vernon County. They failed to find the Bushwhackers and systematically burned every building in Vernon. Citizens were told, “We are going to burn this house. Get your things out in twenty minutes. If you want help, we will help you, but the house must be burned. This damned Rebel den shall be destroyed.” ⁷ On Tuesday, 27 May 1863, C. C. Frizell was found guilty and hanged for his crime. John Upton, his accomplice, became a fugitive of the law and it is unknown if he was ever caught.

In 1865, Ben Riggins was still trying to get the accounts of the Riggins & Baker enterprise squared away. In November of the same year, Rebecca relinquished her right to administer the estate of her husband in favor of R. W. McNeil, Public Administrator. She signed an undated receipt which reads: Received from R. W. McNeil, Public Administrator having charge of the Estate of Augustus Baker deceased one bin of corn inventoried and appraised at the sum of two hundred ($200.) It being what the law allows me as the widow of the deceased. In December she bought 5 cows, 4 steers, 4 heifers, calves, and 1 two-horse plow for $264.50. Back then the widow was allowed to keep some of the estate of her husband. Everything else was inventoried and sold. Anything within the inventory that she wanted she had to buy like everyone else. Some of the lands purchased by Augustus were sold to pay taxes and raise cash for the family.

Baker, Augustus, Headstone

Augustus Baker’s Headstone

Augustus Baker is buried along a creek branch in view of where his homestead stood in Richards Township. The Coleman Cemetery grew up around his gravesite. We were there several years ago and found the cemetery in the woods next to the creek. It was shady and dry. Many of the headstones were broken or fallen over. Fortunately, Augustus’ headstone was still in good shape.

In 2004-5, a great-grandson of Augustus, William C. Coleman, attempted to have his remains disinterred and buried in the National Cemetery. The request was denied as military records indicated that Augustus was not, by current standards, eligible for burial in the National Cemetery as he had not been officially mustered into the military prior to his death.

Rebecca was left to raise their daughters and suffer the loss of two-year-old Adaline a year after Augustus died. She would marry Samuel L. Shackelford in 1866 and would bear him two sons, John and Augustus. She died of malaria at the age of fifty-five. She is likely buried in an unmarked grave next to Augustus and Adaline. In 2006, a stone was erected to mark her grave in Coleman Cemetery without knowing for sure that is where she is buried.


Augustus Baker (1827-1863) m. Rebecca Pryor (1830-1885)

Emma Ann Baker (Abt. 1852-?)
Mary Elizabeth Baker (1854-1940)
Laura Rebecca Baker (1859-1932)
Adaline Baker (1862-1864)

 

Sources

¹From the website, http://www.history.com/topics/missouri-compromise
²William C. Coleman, Search for Augustus C. Baker (1827-1863) & Rebecca (Pryor) Baker (1830-1885) Among the Jayhawkers and the Bushwhackers (Self-published)
³Ralph Richards, The Forts of Fort Scott and the Fateful Borderland (Kansas City, MO, Lowell Press, 1949 and reprint 1976) P. 155
⁴Mark Lause, A Brief History of the Enrolled Missouri Militia, http://www.geocities.com/CollegePrk/Quad/6460/CW/WMM/WMMhist.html. (Can no longer be found at this web address.)
⁵Patrick Brophy, Fire and Sword, A Missouri County in the Civil War (Nevada, Missouri Bushwacker Books, 2008) P. 147.
⁶Ibid, P. 146.
⁷1887 History of Vernon County, Missouri, P. 312-314.

 

 

 

Mary Elizabeth Baker…Tough, Resilient, Pioneer Woman

Baker, Mary E. Redone

Mary Elizabeth Baker, About 1900

Mary Elizabeth Baker (Mollie) was born on 28 Dec 1854 as the old year was quickly ticking toward the new. The second of four girls, she was born to Augustus Baker and Rebecca [Pryor] Baker in Vernon County, Missouri. She was born in an uneasy time, a time when slavery was a burning issue. And the Baker family lived in Missouri close to the Missouri/Kansas border, an area where pro-slavery sentiments were strong. To say the area was a tinderbox waiting to explode is an understatement. And explode it did affecting everyone who lived along the border.

Augustus Baker, Mollie’s father and an immigrant from Germany, most likely had anti-slavery sentiments. He was a well-respected man in his community which led to his being elected as captain of a small federal militia in Nevada, Missouri in March of 1863. Not two months later he was murdered, while his wife stood by his side, at the hands of John Frizzell, the one he defeated in the election in March. The whole incident will be described in my story about Augustus Baker.

Rebecca Baker was left a widow with four girls to raise. Emma Ann was eleven, Mollie was nine, and Laura Rebecca was four. Baby Adeline was a year old; nine months after her father’s death Adeline would also die. It was a sad time for the family.

It’s unclear just how well off the family was after the death of Augustus. He had several pieces of property and was a partner in Baker & Riggins. People bought and sold on credit in those days and there were many claims from those whom he owed money and those who owed money to him. There is no doubt that the disruption to the economic system during the Civil War made it difficult to settle his estate.

On 2 January 1866, the family dynamics changed when Rebecca married Samuel Shackelford. Sam had a son, John, who was born in 1860. Augustus Shackelford was born to the couple in 1867. As mentioned in my story about Thomas Bunn Ferguson, he was working for the Shackelford’s as a farm hand in 1870 in Richland Township, Vernon County, Missouri. He was twenty-six and Mollie was sixteen. They were married that year on 23 October 1870. Rebecca deeded part of the land homesteaded by Augustus to each of her daughters as they married. Mollie and Tom lived in a log house on her portion of this land.

By 1875, Mary and Thomas were living in the Fort Scott area. Adeline was three and Mary was pregnant with Walter who was born in May. Their farm and estate were valued at $3,000.00. Considering how the Civil War in that area almost brought commerce to a stand-still, the Ferguson’s would have been considered more successful than the average farmer. In May, at the time when Walter was born, vast swarms of grasshoppers, or Rocky Mountain locusts, descended upon the eastern part of Kansas and western Missouri. They covered the earth devouring wheat and young corn. The land the Ferguson’s owned in Richland Township had one of the largest infestations of locusts in Missouri. If they were farming on their land in Richland there is no doubt that their entire crops would have been lost. By June the swarms were gone and most farmers had time to replant their crops.¹

Locust, Public Domain from pixabay.com

Multiply This By Millions and You Have a Mess²

I can’t imagine what it would have been like having a new baby and dealing with locusts. Besides the crops, wells would have to be covered. The attempt to save the vegetable garden by placing a cloth over the plants would fail as the cloth would have been devoured. Even clothes could have been eaten off one’s back if one ventured outside. The sound would have been unbearable not to mention locusts everywhere one stepped. It must have been a terrible thing to experience.

Over the next several years the family continued to grow. Sophia was born in 1877, Thomas Carroll was born in 1880, and their last child, Samuel Bunn, was born on 27 February 1883. Tragedy struck the family later that year when Thomas died on 30 December 1883. He was thirty-nine. Mollie was a widow at twenty-nine with five children under the age of eleven.

To the rescue came James Ferguson. James was the brother of Thomas Bunn and uncle to Mollie’s children. She is shown living with him and the children in the 1885 Kansas census. The older children were attending school, she was keeping house, and James was farming. James most likely played a huge role in helping Mollie raise the children and keeping her farm afloat. He was single and would remain so throughout his life. He had land of his own and when he died in 1920 the bulk of his estate went to Mollie’s children.

Unfortunately, the 1890 U.S. census was destroyed so we have no idea of Mollie’s situation between 1885 and 1895. However, by 1895 the family is still in Kansas, the boys are older and are helping forty-year-old Mollie with the farm. Sophia is helping with the housework. Adeline has married and left home. Mollie has several parcels of land in Vernon County which she bought and sold during this time period. Walter, Tom, and Samuel are still helping Mollie with the farming in 1900. Sophia has married and left home.

Baker, Mary E.

Mollie Later in Life

All good things must come to an end, unfortunately. Each of the boys married between 1901 and 1906. Most likely they wanted to start families of their own and set their own course in life. Mollie never remarried and like most widows of that time, they often wound up living with their children. This is born out by records from 1910 in Sedalia, Missouri that show Mollie living with Thomas, Lola and their children, Mildred, Clyde, and Dorothy. She is still living with Thomas’ family in Webster Groves, Missouri in 1920. Two more children, Russel, and Mary have been born.

According to her death certificate, Mollie moved to Grass Valley, Nevada County, California about 1930 to live with her son Walter and his wife Hattie. Hattie died in 1931. She and Walter had no children so life was probably much calmer for Mollie who was seventy-five. When the 1940 census was taken in March, Mollie was living with Walter, and her widowed daughter, Rebecca Clary. Also living in the area was her daughter Sophia Emmerson.

Baker, Mary E. Death Certificate

Mollie’s Death Certificate

On the 21st of May, 1940, the life of this tough, courageous pioneer woman ended from a cerebral hemorrhage. She was eighty-five years of age. She had seen her father die at the age of nine, endured the trials and tribulations caused by the factious sides of Kansas and Missouri during the Civil War, lost her husband at the age of twenty-nine, and had somehow managed to raise five healthy children who went on to lead successful lives.

Baker, Mary E. HeadstoneMollie’s funeral was held on the 24th of May at the W. R. Jefford and Son Chapel in Grass Valley, California. She is buried in East Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Sacramento, California.

My husband’s Baker Line:

Augustus Baker m. Rebecca Pryor
Mary Elizabeth “Mollie” Baker m. Thomas Carrol Ferguson
Thomas Carrol Ferguson m. Lola Devin Pope
Russel Ferguson m. Mary Eizabeth Parry

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¹Patrick Brophy, Three Hundred Years, Historical Highlights of Nevada and Vernon
County Missouri (Boulder, Colorado). Donna G. Logan, DGL Info Write, 1993), p. 198.

²Locust, in the Public Domain from pixabay.com