April 2012

Oh, The Places You Will Go!

Dr. Suess’ rhyme line comes to mind when I comtemplate the movements of the Douglass families in the late 1800s and early 1900s. As modes of transportation became more available, rail and motor car, and the country expanded its development of natural resources, jobs other than farming became available to the younger sons of large farm families. Typically, but not always, the oldest son joined his father on the farm while the younger sons left home to find a job that would support them and their own family. As the country expanded rapidly westward, good farm land was taken up quickly so people kept moving to find that job they needed.

The oil fields of Oklahoma which were discovered in the 1920s drew young men from the east to work as roustabouts, pipefitters and laborers. The giant Seminole oil field was one of the largest historical oil fields ever found. Discovered in 1926, it contained an estimated 822,000,000 barrels of oil. Other important fields in Seminole County were the Cromwell field of the early 1920s and the Maud oil field. The Maud field, discovered in 1927 by Amerada Petroleum, was the first discovery using reflection seismology and marked the beginning of modern geophysical methods in the petroleum industry.

No wonder the Santee brothers came from West Virginia to Oklahoma to make their fortune. It was hard work but it paid better than farming and one had opportunity for advancement. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Prior to learning from Gretchen about her great, great grandmother, Almira Cramer Colborn, I had done very little research in Oklahoma. I had researched in Kansas where  some of the descendants of our Canadian Douglass families had moved from Kansas to Oklahoma cities. But one of Almira Colborn’s daughters, Lydia Jane Colborn, called Jennie, probably counted the number of moves in her life on the fingers of both hands and maybe her toes too.

As I began to learn about Almira Cramer Colborn’s family of eight children, at first I did not find much for her daughter, Lydia Jane, probably because she went by Jennie. The only time I have found her listed as Lydia Jane was in her childhood. Even her marriage certificates say Jennie. (It was not uncommon for women named Jane to be called Jennie; I ran into that once before that caused me many hours of searching before I was sure I was studying the right woman) I had pieced a few things together for Jennie when I received an email from another genealogist, Diana, who said Lydia Jane was her great grandmother. And she filled in some info for me.

I have great admiration for Lydia Jane Colborn. She was one tough cookie. She had to be in order to survive. And survive she did. There are pictures of her with her family, probably taken about 1915. She was a comely woman and looked pretty good for age 65.

Lydia Jane “Jennie” Colborn was born in Oxford County, Ontario, Canada in 1851 and moved with her parents to Sauk County, WI before she was old enough to start school. Her father, William Colborn, enlisted in the Union Army in 1861 and died two years later having contracted a disease while in service. His widow, Almira, did not remarry. Jennie age 19, was not in Almira’s household in 1870, probably “working out”, household help for a neighboring family. Almira’s oldest son, Amos, also was in the Civil War, from 1862 until 1865. He would have been able to help the family once he was mustered out.

In 1874 Jennie married George Palmer in Marinette, Wisconsin. George died three years later. When he died, Jennie was 7 months pregnant with baby Walter who was born Feb 1878. Little Walter died a week before his first birthday, at “Mr. Armstrong’s house” in Reedsburg, WI.

Jennie’s older sister, Mary Armstrong died in May 1879, leaving three small children, and Jennie was probably helping to care for Mary and the James Armstrong family during that time which would explain why Walter died at the Armstrong home. At first I thought Jennie had married James Armstrong, not uncommon for men to marry their deceased wife’s sister, but the 1880 census shows James with three children and no housekeeper, so Jennie probably was helping but was not living in the household.

In January 1882, Jennie married Noble Armstrong in Reedsburg. James Armstrong had remarried, so Jennie’s help was not needed there. Noble, probably related to James Armstrong, was living in Reedburg with a married brother in 1880. Noble and Jennie moved to Kansas soon after their marriage. Bessie Armstrong was born later that year and Jennie Armstrong was born in 1885. Things were looking good but, unfortunately, Noble, age 39, died in December 1885 in Barber County, Kansas.

There is a marriage record showing that Jennie Armstrong married Terrel Parks in Barber County, Kansas in January 1888.  A son, Lee Parks, was born in Kansas in May 1889. His twin sisters, Mary and Myra, were born in Oklahoma Territory in September 1891. That must have been some feat, to bear and nurture twins in a area struggling to create order out of the chaos following the Oklahoma Territory runs.

There were several “runs”, those times when land seekers could run into the designated area and claim a portion of land for themselves. After the first run in April 1889, which land was free, land seekers had to pay for their claim as well as establish it by improving it. As the various Indian tribes were persuaded to accept allotments, the “unclaimed land” was opened to settlers in four additional “runs”, but it is likely that Terrel Parks participated in the initial run, since Kingfisher County where he died in 1893 was opened as part of the initial run of 1889. As a matter of fact, Terrell, Jennie and their three children are enumerated in the first OK Territorial Census, taken June 1890.

Jennie would not have gone on that first run, being 8 months pregnant with their son, Lee. But since Terrel might have had to stay to defend his claim, she likely followed as soon as she was able. Many squabbles broke out over land claims and there was no legal way to settle disputes until, belatedly, Congress established the Territorial Government a year later in 1890. Diana says the story is that Terrel Parks died from falling into the well he was digging on his property in Kingfisher County, OK.

How Jennie survived from 1893 until 1899, with a family of five, including three very young children, is unknown. Did she stay on the property her husband had claimed? Not likely, but at this point I don’t know. She might have. In January 1899 Jennie married Richard Baker, a widower, with a six year old daughter, Lillie, in Garfield County, OK, the next county north of Kingfisher.

But by 1910 they were separated and Jennie was living in the city of Lawton, OK, the county seat of Comanche County. What drew her there, I wonder. Lawton is a long ways from Garfield County or even from Kingfisher. Maybe that was the object. Maybe she had had enough of homesteading. Comanche County is where her daughter married Henry Russell and it was with this daughter that Jennie (Lydia Jane Colborn Palmer Armstrong Parks) was living when she died in 1936 in Muskogee, OK, at the age of 85.

Lydia Jane Colborn sure had bad luck with her marriages. George Palmer m. 1874, d. 1877, Noble Armstrong m. 1882, d. 1885, Terrel Parks m. 1888, d. 1893, Richard Baker m. 1899 and in 1910 he says he is widowed (but he’s really divorced; Jennie took back the name of Parks) Each time one of her husbands died, he left her with very young children and in two cases she was pregnant when her husband died.

Lydia Jane Colborn, born in Canada, moved to Sauk County, WI, to Marinette, WI, back to Sauk County, to Barber County, KS, to Kingfisher County, OK, to Garfield County, OK, to Comanche County, OK and died in Muskogee, OK.  She certainly went further south than most of the Douglass descendants from Canada. She died 1500 miles from the place where she was born, not a great distance today, but she must have seemed a world away to her mother and her siblings, most of whom stayed in Wisconsin.

Oh, yes, about the Santees. Hershel Santee, and his older brother, Daniel, came from West Virginia to work in the oil fields of Seminole County. Hershel married Myra Parks, one of Jennie’s twin daughters. In time this couple moved even further south – to Texas.

No wonder the settlement of the west inspired so many romance stories and historical novels. Jennie Colborn’s life could make a great movie.

Jennie’s lineage: (Lydia Jane/Jennie-5 , Almira Colborn-4 , Mary Ann Cramer-3 , John Douglass-2 , Alexander Douglass-1) To view the Cramer branch of the Douglass family, click here.




4 thoughts on “April 2012

  1. Finally got a chance to read

    this and found it so very interesting, as I do anything that you write!! I a great look into the past plus involving our own relatives. Thank you for all the hard work you do on all the Great Writings. Sis

  2. As always, really enjoyed reading this little bit of Douglas history. Always fascinating to peek into the past and imagine what our anscestors went through. They were a determined lot and we are grateful as our own exisitence depended on this. A real testament to their character!

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