Sunday, March 22, 2015

Justified Fear

Without a doubt, the fear was justified.

What initially began like the flu soon became much more. Within days of the beginning symptoms of fatigue, fever, headache and general discomfort, spots began to appear.  The red spots were followed by the formation of deep, painful blisters which often covered much of the body. Although not all who contracted smallpox died, all suffered greatly and the resulting deep pitted scars left their unmistakable mark on its victims for a lifetime.

The John Monroe Ganus family moved about considerably over the years. In the early years they lived in Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Colorado. In about 1897 the family moved to Indian Territory, which would later become Oklahoma.

Smallpox comes up with some frequency in the history of the early days of Indian Territory. Although smallpox certainly was not unique to Indian Territory (Oklahoma), the risk appears to have been greater than it had been in Colorado where the Ganus family previously lived.  For example, according to the "Annual Report" by the United States Public Health for the year 1909, Oklahoma had 1,328 cases of smallpox with 6 deaths as compared to Colorado's 345 cases and no deaths. (see page 188)

A microfilm at the Family History Library entitled "Creek Nation: Outbreaks" for the years 1882-1909 * covers the period my ancestors lived in Okmulgee, in Creek Nation. It was while living in Indian Territory that my Great Grandfather William Franklin Ganus died in 1906 at the age of 53, and my Great Grandmother, Sally died in 1909 at the age of 45. In addition, my Gr Gr Grandmother Olivia Ganus died there in 1902, followed by my Gr Gr Grandfather John Monroe Ganus  in 1906, Although it's obvious that my great great grandparents were considerably older,  I've always thought it was curious that the four died in a relatively short span of time and particularly that my great grandparents died fairly young while many of the older Ganus generations lived until quite old. Because no death records exist for Indian Territory for that period of time, the cause of death is not known. I wondered if there was a chance that any of my Ganus ancestors died of smallpox.


As I scrolled through the microfilm, it became very apparent that smallpox was a major concern during those years.  There were a variety of records related to the efforts taken to control and reduce the spread of smallpox, such as setting aside funds to deal with outbreaks, plans for immunization and determining where to treat the victims. From the film I learned that on February 18,1899, Okmulgee, where my Ganus family was living at the time, was quarantined for smallpox. How had this impacted the Ganus family?  What changes did they make to the way they conducted their day to day life? Were neighbors and friends ill?

In January of the following year, houses and furniture of some of the ill in the area were burned, leaving the owners of the dwellings homeless. The act was justified as being for the "benefit of all people, white, black and indian residing in Indian Territory and adjoining states and territories."  In addition, a detention camp was prescribed by the board of health. Nurses and doctors were employed to assist in treating the smallpox victims in the camps and hospitals.

As I turned to Oklahoma newspapers, I found a variety of articles pertaining to smallpox.

From the Muskogee Times-Democrat 31 Mar 1909, I learned that the detention hospitals were more than just a place to receive medical attention, but as the name implies, they were literally a place of detention, with serious consequences for those who chose not to be confined. On page 1 I found the following:
 "Sheriff Ramsey today offered a reward of $25 for the apprehension of C. O. Zinn, who escaped from the smallpox detention hospital south of the city night before last."
Some Oklahoma community newspapers carried a monthly bulletin stating which illnesses were most prevalent along with the number of resulting deaths. Some communities listed the individuals suffering from smallpox as well as the specific towns under quarantine. Such was the case in 1909 of Fort Towson, Oklahoma which is located down near the Texas border. According to page 1 of the Dailey Armoreite on May 13th of that year,  the entire town was quarantined due to smallpox and no one was allowed to get on or off the train there without a physician's certificate.

Additionally sometimes courts were cancelled due to outbreaks of smallpox.  On page 2 of The Indian Chieftain (Vinita, Oklahoma) a headline read "DANGER OF SMALLPOX" No Court Should be Held in Vinita at This time." Schools and other pubic gatherings were often cancelled as well.

As a sideline, The Muskogee Cimeter 25 January1907  included the following humorous story.
An Illinois farmer, ...one day received a note from a Chicago friend which read as follows: "My dear John, the small pox is epidemic in this part of the city and for safety, I have taken advantage of one of your many kind invitations and sent my two sons down to you. In two weeks the farmer sent a note to the city friens (sic) which read:  "I herewith return your boys: please send me the small pox."  Oklahoma State Capital, Jan 19, 1907.  (page 1) 
Did any of the early Ganus family members contract smallpox?  I still don't know for sure, but I feel fairly confident that they likely had friends and neighbors who did. While I did not find any of the Ganus family on a list of smallpox victims, I can see that smallpox touched every member of a community in some way and that the fear it generated was justified.



*Creek Nation: Outbreaks, documents 22 July 1882 - 7 Apr. 1909- FHL US/CAN Film 1666283, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Without Means of Support Part 3

What were Rebecca's options? She was a 68 year old widow and by all indications, she was completely alone. What did elderly women do mid 19th century when they were left alone and with no means of support?

Many in that time period moved in with children, but what if they had no children? As the second wife to David Gurganus, there is no evidence that she ever bore any children. David's children all came through his first wife, Mary Swain. Ellen had been murdered and his sons, James, John and David, had long since moved away. If she had other family living nearby, I have found nothing to support that possibility. But determined and likely desperate, Rebecca appealed to two sources for help.

 On the third of November of 1851, listed in the Inferior Court Minutes for Bibb County as “insolvent,” Rebecca received a sum of $10.00.  It is the last time her name appears on the Pauper Account for Bibb County. I am not sure how she survived from that point on. 

On the 6th of November of 1852,  Rebecca next applied for a widow’s pension for Revolutionary War Soldier. Sadly, her pension application reveals very few details about her. 

On the application, Rebecca indicated that she was born in Edgefield, South Carolina and she stated that she and David were married in the Edgefield County Court house in 1816, although she indicated that she had no record of that marriage.There was no mention of her maiden name nor whether or not she had ever had children or if even this was her first marriage. 

I am sure she hoped for a merciful outcome as she made the following representation:
“She further says that her said husband has always been reputed and regarded in every neighborhood in which he has lived by his neighbors and those who have known him the longest as a Revolutionary Soldier and she believe him to have been one.”
Locals came forward to testify in her behalf, indicating that she was very old and very poor, but worthy and deserving and that they believed her to deserve the pension.  But ultimately her claim was rejected for lack of proof.

I found one final mention of Rebecca. A few weeks following her efforts to get a widow's pension, the following notice appeared in The Georgia Telegraph, p. 4 on 23 November 1852  for Bibb County:
BIBB SHERIFF SALE 
"Will be sold before the courthouse door in the city of Macon, Bibb County, on the first Tuesday in December next, between the usual hours of sale, the following property to wit.  Ten acres of land in the county of Bibb, adjoining the land of John Burkner, Esq. lying on the Forsyth road about four miles from the city of Macon and known as the place occupied by Mrs. Gurganus, together with all improvements. . . "
"Charles Ethan Porter - Autumn Landscape - Google Art Project" by
Charles Ethan Porter (1847 - 1923)
At that point Rebecca seemingly disappears. With no apparent means of support, and no place to live, where did she go? What did she do?

According to "A Digest of the Statute Laws of the State of Georgia" by Thomas Read Rootes Cobb, on page 1146, the Inferior Court was authorized to establish an asylum for the maintenance of the poor. Impoverished and aged, I wondered if perhaps Rebecca had turned to such a place. 

However, I was not able to find any information about whether Bibb County ever built such an asylum or if there was one nearby for the poor. I contacted the Middle Georgia Regional Library located in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia because of their genealogy collection and archives. They reported that there is no evidence of an asylum or facility for the poor in Bibb County during the 1850's. 

I am uncomfortable with endings that leave me hanging and so, every so often, I return to Rebecca, determined to learn what happened to her, wishing I had her maiden name, wondering if she had children, wondering where she went when she seemingly had no one and was without means of support. 

Some day I hope I find out.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Without Means of Support, Part 2

It was 1849 and Rebecca was living just outside of Macon with her husband David Gurganus.  Dependent on funds from the Pauper Account from Bibb County, Georgia, they got by.  David’s oldest daughter, widowed and in her fifties, had moved in with them.   

In the spring of 1849, an event occurred that changed everything.  David’s widowed daughter, Mary Ellen, was brutally murdered in their front yard and David was clubbed in the head with the butt of a rifle. (The complete story is told here.)

Rebecca, stood helplessly by as she witnessed the horrific scene. After the attacker fled, it was Rebecca's wails that brought a nearby neighbor running to help. Finding Ellen dead from a gunshot wound to the neck and 87 year old David, kneeling on the ground, bleeding head in his hands, the neighbor carried David into the house and then went for help.

By Harry French [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Rebecca testified at the trial of Ellen’s murderer in September of 1849, but David was not well enough to even attend the trial much less testify. Newspaper accounts indicated it was unlikely that he would ever recover. As predicted, he never did fully recover and passed away the following March.  In a relatively short time, Rebecca found herself completely alone.

Rebecca had no means to pay for David’s coffin. Inferior Court minutes show that E.B. Mims was reimbursed for the cost of David's coffin from the Pauper Account. It was also the Pauper Account that continued to sustain Rebecca.


According to the newspaper,The Macon Messenger, in July of 1850 there were three unclaimed letters addressed to Rebecca Gurganus at the post office. I can't help but wonder, who wrote her?   Did she have children from a previous marriage? Did she have living siblings that knew of her plight?  Did she ever pick up and pay for her mail and did she respond? 

What did Rebecca do next?  I will share what I know in next post. 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved