Search This Blog

Friday, July 13, 2018

Rags, Hero Dog of the First Division

On July 14, 1918, a homeless terrier on the streets of Paris, France was rescued by two American soldiers of the First Infantry Division. Named Rags, the dog became a war hero and mascot, and spent two years living at Fort Sheridan.

First Division Rags at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, New York, circa 1930. Courtesy of Grant Hayter-Menzies.

Late on that Bastille Day eveningone hundred years agosoldiers Jimmy Donovan and George Hickman bumped into a stray dog on their way out of a cafe. The men gave the little dog a scrap of food and pat on the head, and the smart little terrier took a chance and followed Donovan down the street and into history.

Moments later, Donovan was picked up by Military Police for staying out past curfew. On the spot, he scooped up the dog and named him "Rags," claiming he had been sent to find the division's mascot. Rags charmed the MPs and was allowed to return to camp with Donovan.

Rags loved soldiers and was trained by Donovan to salute them on parade. Courtesy of Grant Hayter-Menzies.

Just four days later, the French terriernow officially the First Division's mascotwas on his way to the war front with his new companion. Animals were key in the war effort for transportation, to convey messages and to track the enemy. Donovan taught Rags to salute soldiers on parade and utilized him for carrying messages. On his own, Rags learned how to find damaged communications wire that Donovan, as a member of the Signal Corps, repaired.

At the Battle of Soissons, July 18 - 22, 1918, Rags and Donovan along with 42 infantrymen were surrounded by Germans. Donovan attached a message to Rags's collar and sent him off to military command, which resulted in an artillery barrage and reinforcements who rescued them. News that Rags had saved the day spread through the division.

At Soissons, France, Rags began to make a name for himself as a "war dog." Soissons in ruins by William L. King, 1919. Library of Congress.

Rags and Donovan participated in the final American campaign of the war, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which began on September 26, 1918. This was the largest American-run offensive and the bloodiest operation of World War I for the American Expeditionary Force.

On October 2, Rags carried a message across the battlefield amid falling bombs and poison gas. The swift delivery resulted in an artillery bombardment leading to the capture of the Very-Epinonville Road, and saved the lives of American soldiers.

Days later, on October 9, Rags and Donovan were caught in heavy enemy shellfire. Rags was injured on his right front paw, right ear and right eye from shell splinters and he suffered effects of gassing. Donovan was also seriously wounded and the two were taken to a field hospital together. Rags's health improved quickly, though he lost sight in his right eye. While Donovan convalesced, Rags was allowed to stay under his cot and was occasionally placed next to Donovan on the cot.

Donovan suffered from a severe case of mustard gas poisoning, which damaged his lungs. The best care for him would be at the U.S. Army post at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, where the hospital staff specialized in the treatment of gas and shell-shocked patients.
Fort Sheridan's tower overlooking parade grounds covered in temporary wards for Hospital No. 28, circa 1919. BBDM 95.32.1

During the journey from France to Fort Sheridan, Donovan and Rags were separated due to military procedures, but many compassionate individuals ensured the two would be reunited, including Col. Halstead Dorey. Colonel Dorey had recognized Rags as the "little hero of the Argonne campaign," and smuggled Rags onto the hospital ship in one of his bags. Animals were not allowed for fear of contagion, and were euthanized if found.

Jimmy Donovan and Rags arrived at Fort Sheridan in late 1918. Donovan settled into one of the wards at Hospital No. 28, later re-designated Lovell General Hospital. Rags was allowed into the hospital once medical staff realized he was no ordinary dog, but a war hero. Rags visited Donovan daily, which did wonders for both their morale.

(For more on poison gas treatment at Fort Sheridan see my Chemical Warfare post).

Postcard view of a ward at the Fort Sheridan hospital, similar to the one where Rags visited Donovan. BBDM 92.24.236

When Rags was not at Donovan's side he was exploring the fort. He soon sniffed out the best mess halls where cooks would feed him. He also found lodging at the post's fire station.

Fort Sheridan's fire station where Rags lived, shown here circa 1919. BBDM 92.24.361
The building (with an addition) is now a private residence.

Despite the care of the hospital's highly skilled staff, Donovan died, leaving Rags without his closest companion.

Donovan had been concerned about who would look after Rags. Thankfully, Rags had become a celebrity at the fort. His brave deeds had followed him from the battlefront and many took pride in having such a unique war hero in their midst.

Rags had spent so much time charming new acquaintances that he had become the "post dog." He also became attached to Major Raymond W. Hardenbergh, his wife Helen, and their daughters, Helen and Susan. Rags moved into the Major's bungalow at Fort Sheridan, which became his first true home.

The family quickly learned that Rags loved sweets, playing with the major's daughters and wandering the fort, but hated loud noises. Apparently, he was shell-shocked like so many of the veterans at the fort's hospital.

When Major Hardenbergh received orders for his new post, his wife and daughters gained the support of the fort community for bringing Rags with them. After all, they had given Rags his first home and, "It wasn't fair to make him homeless again."

Rags sledding with Susan Hardenbergh at Governors Island, New York, circa 1926. Courtesy of Grant Hayter-Menzies.

First Division Rags lived out his remaining years as a member of the Hardenbergh family. His war scars and fame followed him wherever he went.

Though Rags was one of millions of dogs, horses and other animals utilized during World War I as "military mascots," Rags had endeared himself to a generation of soldiers.

Rags's gravemarker at Aspin Hill Memorial Park, Maryland, placed by Lt. Col. Raymond Hardebergh. 
Epitaph: "Rags War Hero 1st Division Mascot WW I, 1916 - 1936." Courtesy of Grant Hayter-Menzies.

Rags saved the lives of innumerable American soldiers, and was a companion to Jimmy Donovan and the men of the First Division. Because of his bravery and the respect soldiers had for him, Rags was smuggled to the United States where he would live for eighteen years to the delight of the Hardenbergh family and thousands of men and women stationed at Fort Sheridan and army posts throughout the U.S.
Rags at Governors Island, circa 1929. Courtesy of Grant Hayter-Menzies.

For the full story of this remarkable war hero, read From Stray Dog to World War I Hero: The Paris Terrier Who Joined the First Division, by Grant Hayter-Menzies.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Captain Minskey's Patent Log

In the mid-1800s, Great Lakes shipping was key to the economic boom of the newly settled Midwest. Port cities big and small, such as Chicago, Milwaukee, Waukegan and Kenosha thrived from abundant commerce and growing populations. Farmers shipped produce to market via the lakes, and settlers and businesses benefited from shipments of lumber and goods.

A ship's patent log in the Dunn Museum's collections embodies Lake County's connection to Great Lakes shipping. Patent logs are mechanical logs that measure a vessel's speed/distance through water. The log belonged to Captain Hanson Minskey, and became my starting point for researching four generations of Minskey family sailors and ship captains.

Ship's patent log used by Captain Hanson Minskey on the Great Lakes, circa 1855. (BBDM 70.80.1)

In 1835, brothers, Hanson, Robert and John Minskey headed west from Baltimore, Maryland on horseback to Lake County, Illinois. They were part of the westward migration into the Midwest, following the opening of the Erie Canal and treaties with Native American tribes. (see my post on the Treaty of Chicago).

The brothers were the sons of Samuel Minskey (1778 - 1819) and Ann Merriken (1776 - 1828). Samuel Minskey (or Dominski) was a cabinetmaker in partnership with Edward Priestly (1778 - 1837). From 1801 to 1807, Minskey and Priestley produced bookcases, secretaries, card tables and dining tables.

The Minskey brothers grew up in Baltimore near shipyards and amid a vibrant trade culture, and understood the economic potential of the Great Lakes. Hanson Minskey (1809 - 1881), who had been in the U.S. Navy, wanted to pursue a career as a ship's captain.
Captain Hanson Minskey (1809 - 1881).

By summer 1835, the Minskey brothers had settled in Benton Township, Lake County, Illinois along Sheridan Road. Three years later, Hanson married Charlotte E. Porter (1822 - 1881), the daughter of Jeremiah and Atossa Porter of New York. 

Hanson and Charlotte purchased 90 acres on the northwest corner of today's Sheridan Road and Route 173 in Zion. Though Hanson's occupation was as a sailor, the family had additional income from farming the land.

Hanson and Charlotte Minskey farm (underlined in red). Benton Township, 1861.
Located northwest of today's Route 173 and Sheridan Road in Zion.

Beginning in the early 1840s, Hanson Minskey became a ship builder in Waukegan, and a ship's captain. While Hanson pursued a career on the lakes, brother Robert settled down to farming, and brother John returned to Baltimore. The family's history notes Robert also being a sailor, but no supporting information could be found. Robert's son, George J. Minskey (1846 - 1930) was a sailor and ship's captain. 

View of Little Fort (Waukegan), showing piers, schooners and sidewheel steamer, 1848. 
("Little Fort" R.N. White, Chicago)

In 1848, Minskey became the captain of the newly built two-masted schooner, the James McKay. The ship's home port was Waukegan, where there was a considerable business in ship building. The ship was named in honor of one of its owners, Scottish-immigrant James McKay, who was a businessman and county sheriff. (see my post on James McKay).

Two-masted schooner representative of ships Minskey captained on the Great Lakes. 
In the 19th century, schooners were the workhorse of Great Lakes commercial shipping. 

Hanson Minskey was captain of the schooners: James McKay (1848), Liverpool (1855), Two Charlies (circa 1866), Two Sisters, Gazelle (1870), and Eclipse (1875). These were the ships and dates found with an association to Minskey.

Early in his career, Minskey introduced his sons to sailing. Jeremiah "Jed" (1843 - 1925) and Samuel (1855 - 1932) both began sailing with their father at a young age and became ship's captains.
Captain Samuel N. Minskey (1855 - 1932)

In 1867, at twelve-years old, Samuel began sailing the Great Lakes. Initially, he accompanied his father on voyages to Manitowoc and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, transporting goods.

Samuel Minskey was captain of the schooners: Gazelle (1879), Delos DeWolf (1892), and Magnetic (1905). These were the ships and dates found with an association to Samuel Minskey.

Captain Samuel N. Minskey sailed the schooner Delos DeWolf in 1892. 
This rare sailor's folk art of the Delos DeWolf (found online) was used for the cover of 
"The American Cruisers Own Book." Kahn Fine Antiques and Works of Art website.

In 1892, Samuel's ship brought the first load of paving bricks to upgrade Genesee Street in Waukegan from a dirt road to a paved road.

In 1902, while captaining a ship in the Gulf of Mexico, Samuel's wife Emma and their eight-year old son Lauren joined him. The family nearly lost their lives when the ship went down, presumably due to an accident. They were saved by a "hair's breath," but the ship and its' contents were lost. After this experience, it is not surprising that son Lauren, did not follow his father or grandfather into a life of sailing.

Jeremiah "Jed" Minskey was captain of the schooners: Two Charlies (1868), and Barbarian (1885); and the steamers: C.W. Elphicke, R.R. Hayes (1893), City of Genoa (1898), R.L. Ireland (1905-1909). These were the ships and dates found with an association to Jed Minskey.

Captain Jed Minskey transitioned from sailing schooners to steamers. 
Shown here is the steamer R.L. Ireland (right, covered in ice) which transported coal on Lake Superior. 
Maritime History of the Great Lakes

Sailing on the Great Lakes in the 19th century was dangerous work. Each captain and his crew had to know the location of every island, barrier, and lighthouse. When storms approached they had very little time to find safe harbor before being bombarded by powerful winds and the quick succession of waves.

Navigating a schooner took years of experience to master. The epitaph of "master mariner" on Samuel Minskey's gravemarker was a testament to his accomplishment.

Captain Samuel N. Minksey's gravermarker. 
Timber Ridge Cemetery, Catoosa, Oklahoma.

Life on the open watersaway from home for months at a timewith cold, wind, rain and ice battering the ship and its crew, took its toll on sailors.

After four decades on the lakes, Captain Hanson Minskey's health had deteriorated. He retired in 1878, and he and his wife sold their farm and moved to Waukegan. In an effort to regain his health, in 1880, Hanson removed to Wharton County, Texas. Texas had become known for health resorts that attracted "lungers," people with weak lungs or tuberculosis.

The following spring, Hanson sent for his wife and sister to join him in Texas. Charlotte was suffering from "paralysis of the brain," a 19th century term often used for cerebral palsy.

Sadly, the new climate was not enough to restore their health. Charlotte died on September 19, 1881, followed by a grief-stricken Hanson on September 21. Two days later, Hanson's sister Harriet died. Their remains were brought back to Waukegan for burial at Oakwood Cemetery.

Four generations of Minskeys were found to have sailed the Great Lakes from the 1840s to 1930s: Hanson Minskey, sons Jed and Samuel, nephew George, and great grandson Jeremiah J. Minskey.

Ad from News Sun June 26, 1935. Three generations of "transportation history."

Captain Minskey's patent log was donated to the Dunn Museum by Samuel's son Lauren, who survived the sinking of his father's ship in 1902. The patent log is on exhibit in the Museum's "An American Frontier" gallery.

Partridge, Charles A. History of Lake County, Illinois. Chicago: Munsell Publishing Company,  Publishers, 1902.
Lodesky, James D. Polish Pioneers in Illinois 1818 - 1850. Bloomington, Indiana: Xlibris Corporation, 2010.
Westerman, Al. An Early History of Benton Township, Lake County, Illinois. 2010.
Kirtley, Alexandra Alevizatos, "A New Suspect: Baltimore Cabinetmaker Edward Priestley.",
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Burns, Chester R., "Health and Medicine," Texas State Historical Association.
U.S. Census records, 
Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County, Donor Files. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

1861 Map of Lake County, Illinois

Map of Lake County, Illinois 1861. 

The Lake County, Illinois map of 1861 was the county's second official map. An earlier map was commissioned by the County in about 1845, but no copies are known to exist. 

Lithographers Leopold Gast and Brother of St. Louis, Missouri were hired to publish the Lake County map. By 1861, the American map making industry was in full swing. The lithographic process was more cost effective than copperplate engraving, allowing lithographic map publishers to make good maps at a low cost, even in small publishing runs. 

Detail from map of Lake County, Illinois 1861.

To ensure the map's accuracy, the surveys of County Surveyor, George Hale, were used along with the records of the Clerk of the Circuit Court/Recorder of Deeds, Josiah M. Truesdell. The map was a useful resource for farmers, businessmen and government officials.
Libertyville Township (partial) from 1861 Map of Lake County, Illinois.

As an historical record, the map is a snapshot of Lake County’s agricultural heritage, and settlement and immigration patterns prior to the start of the Civil War (1861 - 1865). In 1860, Lake County's population was 18,257. 

An original 1861 map in the collections of the Bess Bower Dunn Museum was in need of conservation. A grant from the Signal Hill Daughters of the American Revolution funded the map's conservation by the Book Restoration Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Detail of the 1861 Lake County map before conservation. 

The paper map had significant cracks, flaking, and the shellac coating had aged to a dark color. Its conservation treatment included, but was not limited to soaking the map in milk alkaline solution to relax flat, de-acidification, removal of shellac varnish, and mounting map pieces onto okawara paper and then onto Irish linen.

After conservation, the map is now stable and able to be exhibited for short periods of time.

Full view of 1861 Lake County map after conservation. (BBDM)

The map contains information on landowners and farms, locations of churches, dwelling houses, schools, businesses, roads and natural features. It also includes census data, a view of the public square in Waukegan, and business districts for Waukegan, Antioch, Half Day, Wauconda, Long Grove, Lake Zurich, Deerfield, Forksville (Volo), O’Plain Bridge (Gurnee), Diamond Lake and Barrington. 

Public Square in Waukegan showing Recorders office (left) and courthouse.

Similar to county atlases that included artist's renderings of farms, and county histories with biographical sketches of prominent citizens, the 1861 wall map promoted the county's civic pride and was a useful source for finding ownership of parcels of land. 

Today, the 1861 Lake County map is considered an invaluable genealogical and historical record. 

To view the map online (and other county maps) visit Lake County, Illinois Maps Online

Special thanks to the Signal Hill Daughters of the American Revolution for funding the conservation of the Dunn Museum's 1861 Map of Lake County. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

George Shatswell, 15th Illinois Infantry

Caught up in patriotic fervor to preserve the Union, George P. Shatswell enlisted with the 15th Illinois Infantry in May 1861. When Shatswell left Waukegan, he was a strong young farmer, but on his return he could barely do a day's work.
George P. Shatswell (1842 - 1904), circa 1864.
George Shatswell was born in Avon Township, Lake County, Illinois on March 23, 1842. His parents, Richard Shatswell and Margaret Sluman, had migrated from Massachusetts in 1840, and were among Avon Township's earliest settlers. In 1846, the family re-settled in Waukegan Township.

In the summer of 1859, a seventeen-year old George Shatswell went to work on Allen Spaulding's 140-acre farm. The farm was located on the east side of Greenbay Road just south of Blanchard Road in Waukegan, Illinois.

The relationship Shatswell and Spaulding forged would create a lifelong bond.

Allen Spaulding (1807 - 1901), circa 1880 LCDM 2011.0.124

Allen Spaulding and his wife, Hannah Hinkston, were among the first settlers to Waukegan Township. They came from Oneida County, New York in 1839. (Hannah's sisterFanny Hinkston Baconwas featured in a previous post). Allen and Hannah had three daughters living at home: Sarah Jane (born 1839), Mary (born 1842) and Julia Ann (born 1845).

In 1860, Shatswell again worked for Spaulding during the summer. He probably would have spent a third summer working there if not for the world-changing events of the spring of 1861. News of the fall of Fort Sumter and the start of the Civil War ignited a fierce patriotism in George. He became one of the first young men in Lake County to respond to President Lincoln's call for troops

George enlisted with the 15th Illinois Infantry, and mustered in at Freeport, Illinois on May 29, 1861.

Heading to war with dreams of crushing the Rebellion were soon dashed when Shatswell contracted typhoid pneumonia in October 1861.

Shatswell was sent to the Sister of Charity's Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. After two months, he was ordered to Benton Barracks, a Union Army military encampment. There, Shatswell "became so disgusted with treatment and quarters" that he rejoined his regiment without having fully recovered.

Benton Barracks, St. Louis, 1862. A. McLean Lithograph

George fought at the Battle of Shiloh April 6 - 7, 1862, until his "strength failed." Captain John S. Pratt ordered him to the hospital boat, and gave him his presentation sword for safekeeping.

Captain John S. Pratt (1837 - 1920), Company I, 15th Illinois Infantry

Instead of reporting to the hospital, Shatswell traded Pratt's sword to an Iowa soldier for a gun and accoutrements. Shatswell then "hunted up" his company, and "did all I could to thin the rebel ranks till the end of the battle."

After the battle, Shatswell's health declined and he was sent to hospital. Like so many soldiers who contracted camp disease and other ailments, Shatswell's health issues would cast a long shadow on the remainder of his life. (Disease caused more deaths in the Civil War than battles).

In June 1862, Shatswell was given 20 days furlough to go home to recover. When he arrived back in Lake County, his father and siblings did not recognize him because he had lost so much weight.

In Waukegan, a doctor recommended extending his leave, but George insisted on returning to his regiment. The following year, he fought in the Siege of Vicksburg, May 18 - July 4, 1863.

George P. Shatswell in his 15th Illinois uniform, circa 1864.

In January 1864, George was joined in the 15th Illinois by his father Richard and brother William. The men remained with the regiment until they were captured at Ackworth, Georgia on October 4, 1864. They were sent to Andersonville Prison.

Confederate Canteen used by Richard Shatswell, his sons William,George and John, 
and comrade George W. Noble while prisoners at Andersonville (Fort Sumter).

In George's words, they "starved for six months and fifteen days." Fortunately, the Shatswell men survived and were paroled at war's end.

Ever industrious, before George mustered out on May 30, 1865, he secured a position at the grocery store of J.H. Porter in Waukegan. He worked there until June 1866 when he left for Washington, D.C. to "settle with the Gov't" where E.B. French, Auditor of the U.S. Treasury, "made mine a special claim."

Shatswell then made his way to California where the dry, warm climate did his health good. He settled in Yuba County, California (north of Sacramento) and worked as a shipping clerk for Walker Moore and Company.

In May 1867, he received a letter from Allen Spaulding, reviving the connection they had formed years before.

To George's delight, Spaulding asked him to return to Waukegan to "take charge of his farm." And offered to "give [George] his daughter to help manage" the farm.

Portrait in charcoal of Julia Ann Spaulding Shatswell (1845 - 1893), circa 1867. LCDM 57.2.5

The daughter in question was Julia Ann, known as "Ann," who had been sixteen the last summer George worked on the Spaulding farm. Apparently, Ann was amenable to this arrangement or it is doubtful her father would have suggested it.

George later recalled: "I accepted the invitation (who wouldn't)."

George Shatswell's description of events, in his own hand, leading to his return to Waukegan in 1867. 
(Original filed at Lake County Clerk's office, Waukegan)

With the death of his son in the war, Allen Spaulding faced a dilemma. He was 60-years old, and had no son to take over the family farm. Clearly, his impression and rapport with George Shatswell led him to the decision to create a stronger bond by having George marry his daughter Ann and take over the farm operations.

George Shatswell arrived home on June 10, 1867, and he and Ann were married on June 18.

Unfortunately, George's war-related health issues returned. "The strain proved too severe for my constitution. My lungs began to trouble me again worse than before... I was completely prostrated and put under the treatment of Dr. John Row Bullock of Waukegan. I was not able to perform any manual labor for about a year."

George and Ann's first child was born in July 1869. The joy of the birth of their son Fredrick was overshadowed by George's continued ailments. In the fall of 1869, Dr. Bullock advised George to "go west and get away from the Lake region."

George headed to Grand Island, Nebraska and settled on a Homestead Act claim. It is assumed that he brought Ann and their baby boy with him.

Homestead certificate of eligibility for veteran George Shatswell, Grand Island, Nebraska, 1874. 

George's health improved enough for him to labor on his farm in the summer months. He could "not endure outdoor work in winter" and found a position teaching school. By the summer of 1873, he had given up on his farm and rented it. In the spring of 1876, he went back to work on his farm, telling Ann: "I would stick to it till she planted my bones on the hill."

George and Ann continued their lives on the Nebraska farm until Ann's mother, Hannah Hinkston Spaulding, died in fall 1878. With Allen Spaulding alone on the Waukegan farm, George and Ann were called back to Illinois to "superintend" the farm.

The couple and their young family lived with Allen Spaulding on the farm. In 1879, Allen Spaulding married his wife's older sister, Onor Hinkston.

Shatswell was only able to work on the Waukegan farm in the summer "about half the time" and "in the winter keeping pretty close to the house."

In 1884, he applied for a veteran's disability pension from the U.S. Government, stating that: "I did not apply for a pension before... because I did not wish to embarrass the Government until it was abundantly able to pay me what I consider I am justly entitled to. The time has now arrived."

George's forthright statement made under oath before the county clerk in Waukegan was sent to the Pension Office in Washington, D.C.. In his summation George wrote: "If you think I am not entitled to a pension after this statement of what I endured to save this grand Nation from ruin and destruction, please give me a situation in your department and I will be satisfied."

Indeed, he did become a "pension claim agent," advocating for veterans, and a Justice of the Peace. He was also active in the Grand Army of the Republic, Waukegan Post No. 374, including serving as its commander.

George and Ann had three children: Frederick (b. 1866), Nellie (b.1875), and Hattie (b.1877).

Ann passed away on February 17, 1893. On October 6, 1904, George died suddenly while in Burnett, Wisconsin.


  • George Shatswell's Civil War veteran's pension statement of December 8, 1884, provided most of the detail for this post. (Copy of handwritten statement LCDM files). 
  • "Past and Present of Lake County, Illinois," Elijah M. Haines, 1877. 
  • "A History of Waukegan Township Lake County Illinois 1835-1850," Al Westerman, 2013.
  • (census records, city directories)
  • (pension files)

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Bain Wagon

For museums, an object's story is essential to preserving and telling a community's history. And sometimes an object has more than one story to tell.

Take for instance, "The Bain" wagon donated to the museum in 2011. The wagon's story encompasses that of an immigrant farmer, local dairy industry, and Libertyville and Kenosha businesses.

Simon Roppelt's "The Bain" wagon, 1910. (2011.18.1)

Simon Roppelt (1876 - 1931) was born in Bavaria, Germany to Christian and Margaret Roppelt. In 1893, at the age of 16, Roppelt set sail for a new life in America on the SS Darmstadt. Shortly after his arrival, he settled in Lake County, Illinois.

On October 5, 1900, Roppelt became a naturalized U.S. citizen at the county courthouse in Waukegan. John Hertzing and John Bauer (husband of Margaret Herzing) were his witnesses. Both witnesses were also German immigrants and probably related to Roppelt.

On February 17, 1906, Simon Ropplet married Elizabelth "Lizzie" Herzing (1878 - 1946). The couple settled on acreage in Sections 11 and 12 of Fremont Township to farm the land and raise a family.

In 1910, Roppelt decided to make the important purchase of a new farm wagon. For many American farmers, the choice was clear: "The Bain" produced by the Bain Wagon Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Bain Wagon advertisement, 1916.

The Bain Wagon Company was one of the most recognized and respected wagon makers in the United States. It began in the late 1830s as Mitchell & Quarles. Edward Bain and George Yule worked for the company. In 1852, Bain took over the Kenosha factory and established the Bain Wagon Company, and promoted Yule to superintendent. 

George Yule, had worked his way up from wagon maker in 1842 to president and owner of the Bain Wagon Company in 1911. Yule had emigrated from Aberdeenshire, Scotland to Somers, Wisconsin with his father and siblings in 1840. A number of family members settled in Millburn, Lake County, Illinois, including George's brother James Yule.

For Simon Roppelt, the closest Bain dealer was the Schanck Hardware Co. on Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville.

The Schanck Bros. store is at the far right in this circa 1907
photo postcard view of Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville. The Schanck building 
can still be seen today on the northeast corner of Cook and Milwaukee. (M-86.1.649)

Mundelein native, George Schanck (1837-1915), established his hardware store in 1870. The original building burned in Libertyville's fire of 1895. Schanck rebuilt in brick on the same site.

"The Bain" wagon purchased by Simon Roppelt has 
advertising for Schanck Hardware painted on the seat.

Like all Bain wagons, Roppelt's came with the company's name stenciled on the side.
The Bain Wagon Company painted its logo
on the side of  "The Bain" wagons.

Simon Roppelt used "The Bain" wagon to haul milk cans to the Soo Line Railroad "milk stop" at Harris Road in Grayslake (today's Prairie Crossing depot) for shipment to Chicago. Milk production was a big industry in Lake County and supplied a growing need for milk in Chicago. Daily "milk trains" took dairy farmers' filled milk cans to Chicago in the morning and returned the emptied cans in the evening. Each farmer had a number that was painted onto the milk can for identification.

Simon Roppelt with his team of horses and John Deere sickle mower, circa 1910.
The mower was also donated to the museum (2011.18.11).

Roppelt's "The Bain" wagon was used from 1910 - 1928. The wagon was never repainted and retains its original color and advertising.

Simon Roppelt, 1893, New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,
Simon Roppelt, 1900, U.S. Naturalization,
"Prairie Farmer's Directory of Lake County," 1917. 
"Portrait and Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens in Racine and Kenosha Counties," 1892 (Chicago: Lake City Publishing Co.)
Lewis Miller's Mitchell Collection blog
"George Yule and the Bain Wagon Company" by David Sneed 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

James T. Bacon (1830 - 1895)

In the early winter of 1834, citizens of the village Hannibal, New York were stirring about the prospect of moving west.

James Bacon, who was just a toddler, did not understand the great fuss of the "western enthusiasts" who included his uncle Hudson Bacon.

By February 1835, a small group of men, including Hudson Bacon, and led by John Bullen, Jr., formed an investment companythe Western Emigration Company. The goal was to establish a "colony" in which its members would aid one another and "mutually share profits and losses in the enterprise."

This was the start of James Bacon's noteworthy and tragic life.

The settlers sent a small group ahead to explore sites. In June 1835, a claim was made on the north side of Pike Creek in today's Kenosha, Wisconsin.

About fifteen families from Hannibal and Troy, New York arrived in the new settlement via the Erie Canal and Great Lakes. Among the settlers was five-year old James Bacon and his father, Peter Bacon, mother Clarinda Trowbridge Bacon, and sister Jane.

The Bacon family were one of the first settlers in Kenosha, Wisconsin. They witnessed the great surge of emigration to Kenosha and Lake Counties in the 1830s and 1840s. Ships arrived daily with passengers both American and foreign born. Like the vast majority of settlers, the Bacon family took up farming.

In late 1850, twenty-year old James Bacon purchased property in Lake County, Illinois, striking out on his own as a farmer.

Isaac Winter and Samuel Miller at the site of their 1830s mill pond, Newport Township Section 33.
This mill site was down the road from James Bacon's homestead.
(Browe School History, Lake County Discovery Museum)

Soon after settling in Lake County, James became acquainted with Frances "Fanny" Hinkston, the sister of prominent Lake County citizen, Lorenzo Hinkston. (read previous post on Fanny Hinkston).

James and Fanny wed on May 10, 1855.

In April 1856, James purchased 80 acres from Tryphena Bingham north of Yorkhouse Road and west of Delany Road in Newport Township (part of today's Waukegan Savanna Forest Preserve). Newlyweds, James and Fanny, settled there. In October, James purchased 19 acres in Warren Township from DeWitt Spaulding.

1861 map showing James T. Bacon's property (highlighted left of center) where he and Fanny lived.
Allen Spalding's property (below right) is where Fanny Hinkston lived with her sister's family 
before marrying Bacon. York House School where Fanny taught is also highlighted.
(1861 Lake County plat map)

The first tragedy in James's life occurred on April 15, 1858, when Fanny died. She was only twenty-seven. Her ornate tombstone at Union Cemetery is a living witness to James's grief. After his wife's untimely death, James continued to farm the Newport Township property, but also spent time with his family in Kenosha.

By the fall of 1863, James had re-married. He and his new wife, Maria C., made their home in the same house he had shared with Fanny.

The Civil War was raging, but James did not enlist until January 14, 1864. Nathaniel Vose of Newport Township recruited him into Company I of the 17th Illinois Cavalry.

While he was away at war, James's mother died, and his health began to decline. On May 31, 1865, he mustered out of military service due to illness.

There was one bright spot the summer he returned homehis wife gave birth to a baby boy, Elliott Parker Bacon, born July 8.

James's happiness again was interrupted when his wife Maria died on January 16, 1872. She was buried at the Spaulding Corner Cemetery (today's Union Cemetery), on Grand Avenue in Waukegan.

Grave marker for Maria C. Bacon (1833-1872), second wife of James T. Bacon. 
Union Cemetery, Waukegan, Illinois.

Following Maria's death, James made his way to Indiana where his father was living. There he met the widow, Mary Pugh Freligh (1839 - 1917).

James married Mary in 1875, and the couple returned to Lake County with James's son Elliott, and Mary's children, Hattie and Charles. The family settled in Wadsworth, and a son, Joseph Blaine Bacon, was born on August 28, 1877.

Five years later, James and Maria sold their property and moved the family to Thayer County, Nebraska. James continued in farming, but appeared to suffer greatly from "paralysis contracted" since his military service.

The last ten years of James's life were difficult as he struggled with poor health.

In 1886, James was considered an "invalid" (probably due to the paralysis) and admitted to the Western Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Soldiers' homes were established to care for the great number of Civil War veterans, who had returned from the war missing an arm or leg, or suffering from wounds that would not heal, or post traumatic stress disorder (which was entirely misunderstood). These homes were a great relief to families who could no longer care for their veteran.

In 1888, James was transferred to the Northwestern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (now the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center). It is unclear how long James remained at this facility.

Historic buildings of the former Northwestern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Soldiers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where James T. Bacon lived. (Photo by James Rosenthal from the website)

James Bacon's deteriorating health became public knowledge when on May 31, 1895, the Lake County Clerk issued a "command" to the County Sheriff George H. Brown to "summon James T. Bacon if he shall be found in your County," to appear before the court.

Mary Bacon filed an application for the appointment of a conservator for the care and management of her husband's real and personal property.
Notice regarding James T. Bacon published in the Waukegan Gazette, June 1, 1895. 

James Bacon appeared in court in Waukegan on June 15, 1895. His attorney made the following statement: "James T. Bacon... is of sound mind and fully able, fit and competent to properly manage and control his properties."

The court determined that Bacon was a "distracted person." This terminology was commonly used to describe mental illness. Charles A. Partridge was appointed as Bacon's principal conservator. Partridge was also a Civil War veteran, having served with the 96th Illinois.

James returned to the soldier's home in Milwaukee where he died on December 22, 1895. The cause of death was meningoencephalitis, a condition caused by a virus, bacteria or parasite.

Entry for James T. Bacon in U.S. Burial Register Military Posts and National Cemeteries.

James Bacon was buried at the Spaulding Corner Cemetery with his first two wives, Fanny and Maria.

Mary J. Bacon died in Waukegan in 1917 and was buried in Indiana.

James T. Bacon's gravemarker at Union Cemetery, Waukegan, Illinois with recognition
of his service in the 17th Illinois Cavalry.

Special thanks to Ann Darrow, Waukegan Historical Society, for her Bacon Family genealogy, and Al Westerman for land purchase research. 

Lake County Recorder of Deeds, Waukegan, Illinois.
Newport Township Browe School History, 1918. Lake County Discovery Museum.
Waukegan Township York House School History, 1918. Lake County Discovery Museum.
1861 Lake County plat map, L. Gast Bro. & Co. Lith., St. Louis, Missouri.
The History of Racine and Kenosha Counties, Wisconsin, Western Historical Company, 1879.
Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War, Brian Matthew Jordan, 2015.
Lake County Court Probate records, James T. Bacon, 1895.
"James T. Bacon" U.S. Burial Register Military Posts and National Cemeteries, 1862 - 1960, 
Veterans Affairs National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers:
"Union Cemetery"

Thursday, August 11, 2016

One-Room School Teacher, Fanny Hinkston

A picture is worth a thousand words.

In the case of Frances "Fanny" Hinkston, her photo was my starting point for uncovering a forgotten life.
Fanny Hinkston Bacon (1831 - 1858)
Photo circa 1855. Collections of Lake County Discovery Museum

It was difficult to research Fanny due in part to her short life, and that women's lives tended not to include activities that made it into the public record, since they were not allowed to vote or hold office. If not for this photoso carefully placed by students in the York House School history (written in 1918) and preserved in the museum's collectionswe may never have known of Fanny's existence.

Fanny Hinkston was born in New York in 1831. The date of her arrival in Lake County is unknown, but her relations were here as early as 1836. One of the county's most distinguished settlersLorenzo Hinkston (1819-1905)was most likely Fanny's brother. Lorenzo settled in Waukegan Township in 1836 in the company of Leonard Spaulding.

According to the York House School history, Miss Fanny was its teacher in 1849. This would have been during the spring/summer school term. It was generally believed that female teachers could not handle large farm boys, so they taught during the spring/summer term when boys were needed most on the farm and did not attend school.

The one-room York House schoolhouse was located in Waukegan Township on the southeast corner of today's Greenbay Road and Yorkhouse Road (near Bairstow Avenue).

York House School as it looked in 1855. (LCDM Collection)
The plain rectangular building with no embellishments was typical of Midwestern one-room schoolhouses.
The school was first built in the early 1840s as a log cabin. This frame structure may have been 
built by the time Fanny Hinkston taught there in 1849.

In October 1850, Fanny was residing a couple of miles south of the schoolhouse with Hannah Hinkston Spaulding (Spalding) and her children. Hannah was the wife of Allen Spaulding and sister of Lorenzo Hinkston. Although no online family histories connect Frances "Fanny" Hinkston to Hannah and Lorenzo, it is believed they were siblings.

Among Fanny's pupils were Hannah's daughter, Mary (1842 - 1910), and their neighbor (and relative) Emily Hinkston (1844-1931), daughter of Eber Hinkston, Jr.
Emily Hinkston Moulton started attending the York House School 
when she was five years old in 1849. She is pictured here about 1865.
(LCDM Collection)

Fanny's other pupils included: Thomas, Jerry and Oliver Brown; John, Charles and Elisa Miller; Minerva Buell, Mary Emmons, Augusta Phillips, Lily Putnam, and Mary White.

According to historian, Wayne E. Fuller, in the one-room schools, it was said that "no school, no matter how well equipped, was better than its teacher." The teacher was a one-person show, setting a good moral example for the students, in addition to teaching Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, and taking on janitorial and administrative duties.

During her time as a teacher, Fanny met farmer James Bacon. The Bacon family had moved from New York to Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin (just over the stateline).

On May 10, 1855, Fanny Hinkston married James T. Bacon, the son of Peter and Clarinda Bacon.

Three years later, in April 1858, Fanny died. There is no record of the cause of death, but she may have died in childbirth. Fanny's obituary stated that she was the sister of "L. Hinkston." This is more than likely Lorenzo Hinkston.
Tombstone of "Fanny wife of James T. Bacon" at Union Cemetery, Waukegan. 
(Photo by Pence on

At just twenty-seven years old, Fanny's hopes and dreams for a life with James had come to an end. Her family's grief is reflected in the symbolism on her tombstone: a weeping willow tree for their sadness, and a tree stump for her life cut short.

The story of James T. Bacon's life after the loss of Fanny will be discussed in a future post.

~ ~ ~


  • Waukegan Township York House School History, 1918. Lake County Discovery Museum. 
  • One-Room Schools of the Middle West: an Illustrated History by Wayne E. Fuller. University Press of Kansas, 1994.
  • 1850 U.S. Census. 
  • Illinois, Marriage Index.