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

Remembering Lola and Hattie Pope on Mother’s Day

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Hattie and Lola Pope were sisters who grew up on the edge of the prairie near Fort Scott, Kansas. Born nine years apart, their father and mother were William David Pope and Elizabeth Ellen Smith. Down the road from them lived two brothers, Walter and Thomas Ferguson. Their parents were Thomas Bunn Ferguson and Mary Elizabeth Baker. The two families were destined to be intertwined when Lola married Tom and Hattie married Walter.

Lola, the younger sister, married early at the age of eighteen. Hattie married at the age of thirty-two. They were both tiny women. In a time when babies were born at home, Lola delivered six children; one died in infancy. Hattie delivered three children; all died. We don’t know if the children died at birth or in infancy, but how sad for Hattie. And while her children thrived, it must have been sad for Lola to see her sister lose one child after another.

Mother’s Day became a national holiday in 1914 and by the mid-1920s people were wearing red or white carnations to honor or remember their mothers. On Mother’s Day, Lola’s children wore a red carnation to church to honor her and a white one to remember her in later years after she was gone. While Hattie was loved by her husband and extended family, no children would wear a red or white flower for her. Was Hattie sad to know there would be no child to remember her when she was gone? Perhaps she was, or perhaps she accepted what life gave her.

Today people are more likely to send their mothers flowers for Mother’s Day or get together as a family to honor Mom. Hattie and Lola are gone, as are my mother Bonnie and my mother-in-law Betty. So Happy Mother’s Day. We love and miss you everyday. And this white rose is a symbol of our remembrance, especially for you Hattie, you are not forgotten.

I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad

Lola with Mildred

Lola with Mildred

Within two years after the birth of their first daughter Mildred, the young Ferguson family moved to Sedalia, Missouri. While in Sedalia, Tom took a job with the U.S. Postal Service as a railway mail clerk. This job provided a good middle class income for the family that would see them safely through the Great Depression of the 1930s. His route went from Sedalia, Missouri to Parsons, Kansas. While in Sedalia, their second daughter Dorothy, was born May 2, 1908. Clyde followed shortly being born on May 7, 1910.

In June of 1911 the family moved to Webster Groves, Missouri. Tom was transferred to St. Louis where he worked on the St. Louis to Sedalia line. Mary Elizabeth Baker, Tom’s mother, lived with the family in Sedalia and moved to Webster Groves with them. She stayed until the early 1920s when she moved back to Fort Scott, Kansas. Russ was born December 12, 1912 and Mary was born June 13, 1915.

Railway postal clerks spent long periods of time away from home. They loaded the mail onto the car, sorted, cancelled, and filled sacks with the mail for delivery to post offices across the U. S. The postal rail car, officially known as the Railway Post Office (RPO) car, located behind the locomotive, was in a precarious position in the event of an accident. In early days they were made of wood making the cars vulnerable to fire. Because postal rail cars carried mail containing money, jewels, and other valuables, they were often the focus of robberies. I’m sure Tom carried a shotgun with him while working. Railroad postal clerks were looked upon as the elite of the postal service and Tom Ferguson was one of them.

    Sorting the Mail on the RPO

Sorting the Mail on the RPO