The Year Grandma Ferguson’s Chickens Drowned

There is nothing worse than a wet chicken unless it is a dead chicken.

A free range Frizzled Tolbunt Polish hen after being caught in the rain.

As I reflect on the year 2020, the year of the pandemic and historical numbers of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, I recall the story my husband told me of the hurricane that came up the Mississippi River and drowned Grandma Ferguson’s chickens.

A little sleuthing found that indeed, we know when Grandma’s chickens drowned. A category four hurricane, the 1915 Galveston Hurricane, formed near Cabo Verde on August 5, 1915, and tracked west. Cabo Verde is a group of islands west of Africa. The United States Weather Bureau knew nothing of the hurricane until it passed the Lesser Antilles on August 10th. It hit landfall in Galveston on August 17th.¹  

In 1915, the Ferguson’s lived in Webster Groves, Missouri. Grandpa Ferguson worked for the United Postal Service as a railway postal clerk. Grandma Ferguson was thirty-one years old and the mother of six children. Her first son Glennie had died in early childhood. Her last child, Mary, was born in July of that year.

Many families back then had gardens and raised chickens to supplement their incomes. Grandma Ferguson was no exception. The Ferguson family enjoyed vegetables from their garden and the eggs from the chickens. The chickens ate the bugs that attacked their garden.

Living in St. Louis, we are quite familiar with storms from Texas that take a northeastern path as they pass over us. They are fast and loaded with rain that floods our streets. Many times, I’ve rerouted my way to work because of flooded creeks.

A view of Jefferson Memorial, in Forest Park, from DeBalievere Avenue

Leading up to the time when the hurricane finally reached the St. Louis region, rain filled the skies every day of the week before saturating the ground.² The rain began on Thursday night, August 19th, and continued into the next day. The 5.82 inches of rain set a twenty-four-hour record in St. Louis. Trains and streetcars were at a standstill. Sewers were over-taxed. Water stood in many low spots throughout St. Louis city and county. The storm forced hundreds from their homes and others to be rescued from their second-story windows or roofs.³     

As of Saturday, the 21st of August, 7.4 inches of rain had fallen in the region. The storm moved over the Ohio Valley and dissipated over the Gulf of St. Lawrence three days later. According to Wikipedia, “Levee breaches in along the White River in Arkansas and the Mississippi River in Illinois flooded entire towns. St. Louis, Missouri recorded its rainiest 24-hour period in history, experiencing a deadly flood of the River Des Peres and Meramec River that impacted much of the city and surrounding suburbs, killing 20 people and destroying over a thousand homes.” ⁴

The Ferguson home was at 679 Clark. The Ferguson’s were in one of the lower points of the street. We don’t know if Grandpa Ferguson was home or stuck on a railway line somewhere. But, it’s not hard to imagine the concern in the Ferguson home as they listened to the unrelenting rain on the roof during the night and waking to a flood outside their door. And their dismay at the site of their drowned chickens. Given the magnitude of the storm, it’s easy to say the Ferguson’s got off lightly.


¹Wikipedia, (https://wikipedia.org), “1915 Galveston hurricane”

²St. Louis Star and Times, 14 Aug 1915, p. 5, c. 5; digital images, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 29 Sep 2020)

³St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 20 Aug 1915, p. 1, c. 4; digital images, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 29 Sep 2020)

⁴Ibid, Wikipedia.org

Starting a New Life Together…the First Years of Tom and Lola’s Marriage

Tom and Lola Ferguson

Tom and Lola Ferguson

In the early years of the twentieth century, the Ferguson’s started their new life together in Kansas. Automobiles were not being produced for the general public so the main mode of transportation was via horse, wagon, or train.

 Family stories show that sometime after their marriage the couple went to Colorado where Tom became a hired hand on a ranch. Because Kansas was the crossroads for several train lines Tom and Lola most likely traveled by train. Tom grew up on a farm so he was probably used to the hard work, but we are not sure just what he did on the ranch. And no one knows the circumstances, but Lola wound up cooking for the ranch hands.

 According to my husband Dave, his Grandmother’s cooking was plain but good. She made great fried chicken and saved the hearts and livers for him. We make meatloaf using her recipe and Dave has fond memories of her Buckwheat pancakes. This has carried over into our life as Dave makes Buckwheat waffles for our grandchildren when they spend the night.

Ferguson, Glennie Button

A button from an article of Glennie Ferguson’s clothes

 How long the job on the ranch lasted can’t be determined. The Ferguson’s most likely returned to Kansas prior to the birth of their first child Glennie who was born on November 3, 1903. I can’t imagine losing a child, especially a young child, but Glennie died on August 15, 1905. How heartbreaking. Glennie was one year and nine months old when he died; Tom was twenty-five and Lola was twenty-two. How poignant is the button, taken from a piece of Glennie’s clothes, one of the few remembrances of that short life that remains one hundred and four years later. And as Glennie’s life ended, the life of a new child was forming within Lola, probably unbeknownst to the young couple at the time.

The Genealogy Bug

The Genealogy Bug

I really can’t remember what started me on my search for my ancestors and those of my husband. Retired, I have several hobbies that I enjoy. Perhaps I became bored with those hobbies; all I know is that I am now addicted to genealogy and the intimate details of the lives of my ancestors.

I have to thank my sister-in-law Judy for her help in getting me started. She has been searching for information about the Ferguson and Pope families for many years and gladly shared what she had with me. Judy was fortunate to have been stricken with the bug while my husband’s grandmother, Lola Pope Ferguson, was alive. Although grandma Ferguson was late in her years she furnished Judy with information to get her started. Through time Judy collected information the old-fashioned way via snail mail and eventually with a subscription to Ancestry.com.

And to my benefit, Judy shared her data and pictures with me and sent me on my own journey into Ferguson land. For the next year I gathered information, followed blogs, attended genealogy seminars, and honed my skills. That work on all fronts continues today.