· Searching for Alice, Finding Elizabeth:
Alice Elizabeth Thomas Hartford
It’s Tuesday, February 12, 1935, at 108 E. 14th Street, Hutchinson, Kansas. Alice Elizabeth Thomas Hartford, 80, is on her death bed.
“Ethel, Ethel,” Elizabeth cried out, “stay with us, we love you.” Elizabeth was talking to her eldest daughter who was dying of typhoid malaria on a Saturday night, September 8, 1894, when Ethel Winter was 15 years old.
“You’re our pride and joy, Ethel,” continued Elizabeth. “You’re so bright and accomplished. School awaits you.”
But, the grim reaper stepped in and claimed Ethel for his own.
“Harry,” said Elizabeth, “I still remember the day your father started treating me as a woman, not just a neighbor girl. Our family had known the Hartfords since we homesteaded in 1873. Back then Little River Township was larger than it is today. Your father helped promote our very own Medora Township.
“We married February 28, 1879. As with you and Jennie, there was a big age difference between us, but it was of no consequence. Henry was a Civil War veteran, a stockman, and farmer. He’d already been Reno County sheriff. I’d been a school teacher. He was 42. I was 25.”
“Teachers help change the world. It was 1875 when I was hired to be the teacher in District 32, Obee School. The one-room schoolhouse is long gone now, replaced by a modern building.
“Free schools were important to a free country. For me, it was quite the stepping out party.
“It was difficult and exhilarating. The school terms were short, the students interested in their studies, but attendance was determined by their farm chores and the weather.”
“Daile,” said Elizabeth, “your papa raised pure-blood Shorthorn cattle, Berkshire hogs, and crops; I raised you children. We all accomplished a lot. Now, you and John have loving children.”
“Grandma Hartford, is that you?” asked Elizabeth, speaking of Henry’s mother who died in 1904 at age 92.
“Yes, dear, it’s me,” answered Martha.
“You lived a long life,” said Elizabeth. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Life is nothing without death,” said Martha. “The machinery of life wears out and then we go to our just reward.”
“Henry, you were a courageous man,” said Elizabeth. “In 1913, when you visited Gettysburg for the battle’s 50th anniversary, I was concerned whether you’d survive the memories. You were already my champion. I knew you were a hero on the battlefield, having been wounded twice at Gettysburg, but I was worried what the visit might do to you. I remember hearing about you being sent home to die and how your mother probed the wound in your hip because it wouldn’t heal. Fortunately, she found a piece of your uniform. She saved your life.”
“We all grew close together at Hillsview,” said Elizabeth. “It was our home for births and birthdays, marriages, deaths, and holidays. Eventually though, one thousand acres was too much of a ranch for us to handle.”
“It was another world from being born in Londonderry County, Ireland,” said Henry. “My father was a coach maker, but you and I drove automobiles.”
“Hello, Elizabeth,” said a voice. “It’s Sarah King from the Needlecraft Club.”
“Have you made any fancywork recently?” asked Elizabeth.
“You know us,” said Sarah with a laugh, “needlecraft is only an excuse for gossiping and eating.”
“Henry,” said Elizabeth, “the 30 foot tall monument represents all Union veterans of the war. I’m so glad you lived long enough to see it. Citizens, especially today, need a reminder of the sacrifices made by individuals who fought and died to keep this country as one.”
“Elizabeth,” said Henry, “your leadership with the Women’s Relief Club, locally and at the state level, has honored countless veterans. The programs of the Grand Army of the Republic wouldn’t have been successful without women as the doers, preparing the flowers and wreaths that decorated graves.”
Click the following link to see Alice Elizabeth Hartford’s US Army Widow Pension Record
“Mother,” said Elizabeth, “us women have to bear life without our husbands. When you two married in 1852 in Jennings, Indiana, did you imagine you’d outlive Papa by 28 years?”
“Elizabeth,” replied Emily, “We were about the same age and we figured we’d live a long life together. You know what they say about looking too far into the future, ‘if you want to make god laugh, tell him your plans.’
Elizabeth gave a weak smile, laughed, then coughed uncontrollably.
“You’re coming home, Elizabeth,” said her mother. “We’ll see you on the other side.”
“Elizabeth,” said Henry, “I’ll be with you soon. You were the love of my life. You were a woman of great character and clarity. You were of pioneer stock and weathered days of hard living in a new country, yet you were always prim and proper. You were a leader in many phases of your life, especially around Medora and in Hutchinson. Together, we raised the best children in the world. Thank you for all you’ve done and for who you were.”
Elizabeth died the night of Tuesday, February 12, 1935. Her funeral services were held two days later at 3:30 o’clock from the First Christian Church in Hutchinson, Kansas, where she was a long-time member. Reverend Claude J. Miller was in charge of internment at Eastside Cemetery.
“Blessed Assurance” is a Christian song sung by Alan Jackson (2017), but the text was written in 1873, the year the Hartford and Thomas families settled in Little River Township, Reno County, as neighbors. The text was written by Fanny Crosby and the melody by Phoebe Knapp.
Click the following link to hear the 2:20 minute recording by Alan Jackson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vfqYwfTqlE
Thanks so much to Lynne Hartford for helping me answer questions about her ancestors that I couldn’t find in the US Census, a city directory, or in an old newspaper. “Alice” is the name used in her widow’s pension paperwork, in her obituary, and on her gravestone, but with friends and family she answered to “Elizabeth.”
Note: Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. once said, “For women have constituted the most spectacular casualty of traditional history. They have made up at least half the human race; but you could never tell that by looking at the books historians write. The forgotten man is nothing to the forgotten woman.” Introduction to the book, Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier, by Joanna L. Stratton (Simon & Schuster, 1981).
Until next time, happy writing and reading.