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

Thomas Bunn Ferguson…Orphan

Ferguson, Thomas Bunn Children #2

Thomas Bunn’s wife Mollie (left) and children Thomas Carrol, Rebecca Adeline, and Sophia Ferguson.

There were three orphans…so goes the Ferguson family lore. The Fergusons came from North Carolina. The story between North Carolina and Missouri was lost. When family members became interested in the genealogy of the family, Grandma Ferguson, Lola, was in her eighties. She knew that Thomas Bunn Ferguson was one of the three orphaned children and their parents had come from North Carolina. Thomas Bunn was the father of her husband, Thomas Carrol Ferguson. It was assumed that the family lived in Fort Scott, Kansas but that led to a dead end.

Fast forward to today and we know that Thomas Bunn Ferguson was born on 28 February 1844 in Cass County, Missouri to Russel Ferguson and Sarah [Miller] Ferguson. Thomas was one of four children. Jackson (Jack) was born in 1842, Martha was born in 1847, and James C. was born in 1851. The family lived in Cass County, close to other Ferguson relatives who lived in Johnson County. The Ferguson clan had migrated from Tennessee to that area as early as 1821.

After the death of their parents in 1854, the three orphans were scattered among their Miller relatives in Vernon County about eighty miles south of Cass County. It’s interesting that none of them went to live with their Ferguson relatives that were close by. They lived with their Uncle Jacob Miller for a year as evidenced by a receipt turned in to the probate court for their upkeep. After that James went to live with his aunt, Margaret and uncle, William Miller. Martha went to live with her aunt, Elizabeth [Miller], and uncle, Jackson Beard. Thomas went to live with his uncle, Jacob Miller who was also the executor of Russel’s estate.

James and Martha were still living with their aunts and uncles when the 1860 census was taken, but Thomas was nowhere to be found. Then, in 1870, he is found living in Richland Township, Vernon County, Missouri with the Shackelford family. Rebecca was the widow of Augustus Baker and had married Samuel Shackelford after Augustus was killed by Bushwackers in 1863. Rebecca was the mother of Mary Elizabeth (Mollie) Baker.  Thomas was working as a farm hand for the Shackelfords. In the fall of that year, Mollie became the wife of Thomas on 23 October 1870. He was twenty-six and she was sixteen.

When Rebecca’s daughters married she deeded to them a part of the land homesteaded by their father, Augustus Baker. Thomas and Mollie lived in a log house on her portion of the land. This is in section thirty-one in Richland Township in Missouri. The land abutted the border between Missouri and Kansas. Mollie owned this land well into the 1900s. Many in Vernon County knew this land as the “Old Ferguson Farm.” According to Grandma Ferguson, it is on this land where the family lived the entire time the children were growing up.

Platbook Vernon County, 1903

From the State Historical Society of Missouri, Vernon County Plat Map, Page 26

However, the Ferguson’s also owned one-hundred and sixty acres in section fourteen located in Scott Township, Bourbon County, Kansas across the state line. Records show that the Fergusons sold a portion of their land in Missouri to J. H. Densmore on 28 March 1874. According to census record of 1875 and thereafter, the family lived in Scott Township in Kansas.

Within ten years, three lively children were born. Their first child, Rebecca Adeline was born in 1872. Walter Augustus followed in 1875, and Sophia in 1877. At the time of the 1880 census, taken on 3 June 1880, Thomas was listed as having the mumps. Hopefully he was over the mumps as a little more than one month later Thomas Carrol was born. The final child, Samuel Bunn, was born in 1883.

The family has often wondered where the middle name Bunn came from. There were no Bunn’s enumerated in any of the census records for Vernon County in Missouri or Bourbon County in Kansas. There was, however, a Bunn family who lived close to the Ferguson family in Cass County where Thomas’ mother and father lived. Perhaps this Bunn family was somehow related to Sarah’s Miller family. Perhaps more research can help to identify the connection between the Bunn’s and Ferguson’s.

Ferguson, Thomas B. Headstone

Grave Marker for Thomas B. Ferguson

Thomas Bunn Ferguson died on 30 December 1883 at the age of thirty-nine. Mollie was left a widow with a nine-month old baby and four children ranging in ages from three to eleven years old. My husband’s grandfather, Thomas Carrol, was three at the time. It’s safe to say that he remembered very little of his father. While the children weren’t orphans, they did lose their father at a young age like their father Thomas did.

Mollie continued to live on the farm in Kansas with her growing children. It is here that Thomas Carroll Ferguson and Lola Pope grew up in close proximity of each other which would eventually lead to their marriage. Thomas Bunn Ferguson is buried in the Coleman Cemetery in Richards, Vernon County next to his grandson Glenny, son of Thomas Carrol.

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My husband’s Ferguson line:

Moses Ferguson m. Elizabeth Cox

Russel Ferguson m. Sarah Miller

Thomas Bunn Ferguson m. Mary Elizabeth (Mollie) Baker

Thomas Carrol Ferguson m. Lola Pope

Russel Carrol Ferguson m. Mary Elizabeth Parry

Tom Ferguson, Growing Up in Bourbon County, Kansas

The fourth of five children, Thomas Carrol Ferguson was born on July 23, 1880 to Thomas Bunn Ferguson and Mary Elizabeth Baker Ferguson. The family resided in the Fort Scott, Kansas area. At the age of three Tom’s father died leaving his mother to raise five children who ranged in age from ten months to eleven years of age.

 The 1885 Kansas census shows the family still in Scott Township. They most likely continued to live and work on their farm with the help of James C. Ferguson, their uncle, a farmer and living with the family. Mary, their mother, was a housekeeper. Tom’s sisters Rebecca Adaline and Sophia, and his brother Walter, attended school. Sammie, the youngest, was two. The Pope family lived close by.

 By 1895 uncle James was no longer listed as living with the family. The Kansas census shows that Sophia, Tom, and Samuel attending school. Rebecca (Ada), married to Charles Clary, lived nearby. At the age of twenty, Walter lived at home. No record remains but I believe that Tom and Lola knew each other from a very young age and both attended the same school. A friendship most likely developed that led to their marriage in 1901.

Ferguson, Tom Woodmen Association

Tom Ferguson in his Woodmen Association Uniform

Tom was a handsome fellow. His World War I draft registration paper shows he was slender, of medium height, and had blue eyes and  dark brown hair. He was a joiner. This is evident from records of the Kansas Odd Fellows Lodge No. 395. He joined the Modern Woodmen of America, a fraternal benefit organization formed to protect the financial well-being of families after the death of the breadwinner. “Members were protected with life insurance and also enjoyed fraternal benefits …”¹. The Modern Woodmen of America organization still exists today. In researching the organization I found that many men belonged to drill teams. There were pictures of the drill teams on their website wearing the uniform that Tom wears in this picture. I wonder if it is possible that Tom belonged to a drill team?

 

¹From the website of Modern Woodmen Association, https://www.modern-woodmen.org/AboutUs2/History/Pages/Timeline.aspx