Friday, March 10, 2006

Robert Smith Mabry, Jr.: War, Marriage and Children in Fayette County (1851-1884)

Robert Smith Mabry, Jr. grew up in Marion County, Illinois. After the death of his father in the mid-1840s, Robert moved south to live with his brother Joel in Pulaski County. He didn't live there long. By 1851 he had joined his brother Dudley in Fayette County.

Marriage to Susannah Smith
On December 14, 1851, Robert Smith Mabry, Jr. married Susannah J. Smith, daughter of William and Anna Smith, in Sefton Township in Fayette County, Illinois. That is where the young couple settled down on a farm. They had no children of their own, but when the 1860 census was taken, Robert's niece Sarah Mabry (daughter of Joel) and a William Nesbit*, both age 9, were living in their household.
1860 Census, p. 136, showing R.S. Mabry and household. (Note that I can't really see the information on the linked image, but if you want to take a look, the household is the last entry on the page.)
* There was a Nesbit family living near the Mabrys in Sefton Township. William, who was living with the Mabry family in 1860 and 1870, may have been a relative.

The Civil War
During the Civil War, Company F of the 7th Illinois Cavalry was primarily made up of young men from Fayette County. After suffering great losses over the winter of 1865 (mostly due to disease), the company returned to Fayette County to recruit replacements.
January 13, 1865, found the command at Gravelly Springs, numbering 199 officers and men for duty, and they subsisted for about ten days on parched corn after arriving there. On the morning of December 13, 450 men were reported for duty, showing a loss of 251 in the short space of one month. After remaining at Gravelly Springs about three weeks the Fifth Division was dismounted and sent to Eastport to receive recruits, who poured in from every quarter, until the Regiment numbered over 1,600 men.(History of the 7th Illinois Cavalry Regiment)
Among those who enlisted was the almost-40-year-old Robert S. Mabry. His wife, Sarah, had died on November 4, 1864 (buried in Guy Cemetery in St. Elmo). He had no children whose support would be neglected while he served his country. The muster roll lists him as 34 years old (probably a typo for 39). He is described as 5 foot 11 inches tall, with dark hair, gray eyes and a dark complexion. Already serving in Company F were his younger brother George, nephews Joel N. and William W. Mabry (sons of brother Dudley), and William D. Mabry (son of brother Richard).

Robert fortunately did not have to serve long; he enlisted on March 8, 1865, just one month before Lee's surrender at Appomattox. He and the other recruits probably joined the 7th Cavalry at Eastport, Mississippi, where it stayed until May.
After the surrender of the rebel armies [in April] it was sent down to Okalona, Miss., where it remained until the first of July. It then moved to Decatur, Ala., and was mounted. It remained near Decatur until October 20, when it marched to Nashville and was mustered out of service and received its final pay and discharge November 17, 1865, at Camp Butler. (History of the 7th Illinois Cavalry Regiment)
Additional Information
Previous post: Civil War Soldiers of Fayette County
Illinois muster and descriptive rolls
Company F, 7th Cavalry Roster
7th Cavalry Regimental History

Despite the relatively short duration of his service, it took a toll on his health. According to the application for a military pension by his widow:
My husband was a stout able bodied man before entering the U.S. service [...] Came back with Lung disease of which he died." (from the pension application of widow Esther (Bayles) Mabry, who married Robert in 1868. Similar statements were made by others who knew him)
According to affidavits filed by Morris German and John Goodbrake who served in Company F with Robert,
[he incurred a cold from lying on wet floor at Camp Butler] from which a hacking cough was contracted and continued until his death [A]t times could not speak above a whisper his cough became deeper every year [...]
After the Civil War
After his discharge from the army, Robert returned to his farm in Sefton Township.

1875 Map of Fayette County, Illinois. The Mabrys probably lived in southern Sefton Township, near Brownstown**. Present map of the area.
1880 Census, p.112C, Sefton Township, Fayette County, Illinois (transcription of R. S. Mabry and family).

On January 9, 1868, Robert married Esther Jane Bayles, almost 25 years his junior. Esther had moved to Fayette County from Muskingum County, Ohio with her parents, Thomas and Louisa Bayles, in the 1850s. Robert and Esther were married by Justice of the Peace George Fletcher near the town of St. Elmo, probably at Esther's home.

Robert and Esther had six children: Harry Clarence, Joel McKane "Joe", Jennie Littlejohn, Thomas Greenville, Robert Smith (who died at age 3), and Isaac Paris "Pete" Mabry.

The Mabrys continued to live on the farm in Sefton Township until Robert's death in 1884. At that time of his death, his oldest child, Harry, was only 16. The youngest sons, Pete and Thomas, each inherited 160 acres, which were held in trust until they came of age**.

Esther, Robert's widow, married for a second time, to Elkanah Smith, in 1889. She died 3 years later. Esther is buried in Guy Cemetery, in St. Elmo.

** According to the pension application filed by Esther, Robert S. Mabry died at Brownstown, Illinois, where Esther lived in 1888. The information about the inheritance of Thomas and Isaac is also from that application. It is not clear if the older children also inherited land from their father - the focus was on Thomas and Isaac because they were the only minor children at the time the affidavit was filed. Joe was the only Mabry son who continued farming.

Obituary of Robert S. Mabry:
This is from a scrapbook of R. Neil Mabry prepared by his daughter Jackie (Mabry) Kolm. Unfortunately, it didn't indicate which newspaper printed the obit. It is not known who supplied the information about his birthplace, which should be Logan County, KY.
Robert S. Mabry was born Dec. 27th, in Feuknen[sic] county, Ky. Removed together with his parents to Illinois in the year 1831. Died at his residence in Sefton township, Fayette county, Ill, March 31st, 1884. Was married to Esther J. Bayles Jan. 9th, 1868, who now mourns the loss of a husband. He also leaves four sons and one daughter. He was a consistent member of the M. E. Church for a number of years, where he will be sadly missed, as he was always in his place bearing his part. he suffered much during his last sickness, but bore it with Christian fortitude, and expressed a willingness to die. On Sunday, morning previous to his death, he called his friends present to his bedside, and had them sing his favorite hymn-"O happy day that fixed my choice," &c. His remains were conducted to the cemetery at St. Elmo, on Wednesday following by a large company of friends, where he was laid to rest. "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth. Yea, saith the spirit, that they may rest from their labors, [illegible] [illegible] works do follow them".

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

When and where did Barbara (Weiser) Holben die?

According to family legend, the widowed Barbara (Weiser) Holben left Edinburg in Christian County, Illinois with her two youngest daughters, Gertie and Ora, in September of 1893. She supposedly joined the tens of thousands of other potential settlers making a "run for the land" in Oklahoma. The only land run in Oklahoma in 1893 was the so-called Cherokee Outlet, on September 16th of that year. Unfortunately, Barbara caught pneumonia before they had lived on their claim for 30 days, and they lost the land. According to the family story, "Gertie and Ora rode the wagon with her casket". You can read all the details in mom's excellent post.

It turns out that actual story may be more complicated, however.

The information we have about Barbara's trip to Oklahoma and her subsequent death are stories passed down from her daughter, Gertie, who was 12 at the time of her mother's death. I believe that most of this information comes from Vernalee (Rowe) Loy, Gertie's granddaughter. It isn't particularly surprising that some of the details might have been remembered incorrectly.

What are the main elements of the story?
- Barbara (Weiser) Holben traveled to Oklahoma in 1893 with daughters Gertie and Ora
- she made a "rush for the land" on September 16, 1893
- she died September 23, 1893, less than 30 days after staking a claim. One version of the story says she died in the town of Edmond, which is not in the area where land was being claimed, but is where her daughter Carrie (Holben) Alexander lived with her family.
- her casket was returned to Edinburg, with Ora and Gertie traveling along

Can this story be verified at all?

- Barbara Holben is not in the list of names of people who claimed land in the Cherokee Strip in 1893. This list is not thought to be complete, however.

- Most Oklahoma counties did not begin to keep death records until statehood in 1908, so it's unlikely we would be able to find a death certificate.

This leads me to the document which made me look at this information again: A small item in the Decatur Daily Review, published December 28, 1893.

Decatur is in Macon County, northeast of Christian County (and Edinburg). The Decatur paper routinely published personal items from neighboring communities as far away as Vandalia.

The problem is immediately obvious: this news bit says that Barbara died on December 23, 1893 not September 23, 1893. This was more than three months after the land run on the Cherokee Outlet, not less than 30 days.

It seems pretty unlikely that the Decatur newspaper published a three month old news item. So, what's the real story?

Here is my hypothesis: Barbara and her two young daughters did indeed travel to Oklahoma to try for some land in September of 1893. They staked a claim and camped on the site, just as the story says. Barbara did indeed fall seriously ill, but (and here is where my version diverges from the original), she didn't pass away immediately. Instead, the Holbens left their claimed land and traveled to Carrie (Holben) Alexander's home in Edmond. They stayed there for three months, and when Barbara finally died in December, her remains were returned to her former home.

I think this probably can be verified in part by finding a story in the local Edinburg or Taylorville newspaper that would have more detail. I'm not sure if such papers exist or are available. Also, the cemetery where Barbara and her husband Edward are buried - Buckhart Cemetery in Grove City - may have some information as to where and when she died. That is the first source of information I'll pursue.

If anyone reading this has any other suggestions, I'm all ears.


Map of Oklahoma showing Indian Nations and later counties. The Cherokee Outlet is the light green area at the top of the map. Edmond is further south in Oklahoma County, near Oklahoma City.

Photos of wagons gathering for the September 16, 1893 land rush.

History of Oklahoma land openings

Decatur Daily Review, December 28, 1893 (NOTE: This is only accessible if you have a subscription at

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