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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