THE STEPHENS STORY
DICIE FRANCES STEPHENS, my father's mother was born 21-Nov-1867, on the Stephens farm, Sidney Ia., Died 08-Aug-1938, Sidney. She and most of the Stephens family are buried in Sidney. She married Newton Maffitt in Riverton, Ia., and had three children: Virgil, Floyd, and Zelpha.
Those who knew her described her as very intelligent, kind, and an excellent singer. My dad often talked about his mother singing while she did her housework.
The Stephens farm taken about 1909. Floyd Maffitt is standing on the porch by the pole. The house was abandoned but still standing in 1968 when Olivia, Aaron and I visited. I have a picture somewhere of Aaron going in that same door.
JACOB HIRAM STEPHENS (Dicie's Father) was born 30-Sep-1838 near North Manchester, Wabash county, Indiana, on land entered by his father from the government and moved to Fremont County, Iowa in 1858. He married Frances Margaret Richards on the Feb. 10, 1861, at the farm house of her father Milton Richards, three miles south and a half mile west of Sidney, Iowa. They were married by John Guyles a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
They had three daughters and two sons. They were: Luella Jane, Alice Almira, DICIE FRANCES, Milton J., and Martin Luther.
Jacob Hiram Stephens with five yoke of oxen and a breaking plow, broke out a good many acres of the virgin sod of Fremont County, Iowa. He also workedthe five yoke of oxen on a large freight wagon and hauled provisions from the steam boat landing which was several miles southwest of where Hamburg is now, to Sidney which was the only town in the county at that time. He and his wife started life in a log house which was blown away by a tornado in 1875, and they helped in many ways in the settling of the county. He started, and was superintendent of a Sunday School for many years. He always worked hard for temperance and everything that would add to the morals and good of the neighborhood. He tried at different times to start some kind of an organization to band the farmers closer together. The first one was known as "The Grange," and in later years he worked hard to organize what was known as the "Farmer's Alliance." He lived on the same place where he started married life until he died in 1900. His wife continued to live there until she died in 1921.
JOHN NOBLE STEPHENS Born 8-Mar-1801, in Bennington County, near Bennington Center, Vermont, and died 7-Sep-1863 in Sidney, Ia. He married three times. By his first marriage he had one daughter Mary, and one son, Martin Luther. The Stephens family were known as pioneers, always moving on to the frontier when the country where they lived became well settled.
John Noble Stephens and son Joseph F. came to Fremont County Iowa in 1857, and John N. returned to Indiana and brought the rest of the family to Iowa in 1858, and lived in the same place until he died.
Mary married John A. Harding in Ohio, but moved to or near Iowa City and lived there until she died. Martin Luther Stephens married Jane Ann Mundon, and they had four daughters and four sons. They were: Emma, Jessie, Alice, and Lulu, and Howard, Hiram, James, and Charles. They moved to Republic County Kansas in either 1879 or 1889, taking the family all with them. John Noble by his second marriage had one son Lorenzo Dow, who married Belle Withroe(w). They had no children.
John Noble was married the third time to a widow woman by the name of Almira Story. Her maiden name was Fairbanks. They were married in Chautauqua County, New York in 1835, and moved to Wabash County, Indiana the same year. By this marriage there were five daughters and two sons. Two of the daughters died when young, the others were Margaret R., Martha A., and Lucy. The sons were Joseph Fairbanks, and JACOB HIRAM.
The following information was found among Mary Catherine Stephens' papers, mostly in her own handwriting: the rest was given orally. Mary Catherine was the wife of Joseph Fairbanks Stephens who was the brother of Jacob Hiram Stephens.
"My father, John Keller, was of German descent and my mother Barbara Wagner, born in 1819, was of Dutch descent. The Kellers had married into the family of Kanagas, of German decent, both families of whom had large holdings in the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania, rich in land and water power. A spring of clear, pure sparkling water, wasting thousands of gallons every day, was only a stone's throw from the house in which I was born. Sensing that this water could be harnessed for utility purposes, my father and grandfather made a dam about 200 feet from the spring's source, erected a flour mill, a saw mill, and one of plaster for grinding limestone, the lime being used for fertilizer. The saw mill was used chiefly for making barrels for the flour which was sent to Baltimore for further distribution. Grandfather did not stop with this; he built a church high up over the spring with steps leading up to it. Under the spring he built a milk house, constructed so that the cold water could flow under the crocks of milk. At the side was built a room where the running water could be dipped up for house use. He then built tenement houses for renters.
When General Lee was marching his troops on toward Gettysburg in 1863, he camped part of them on the enclosed clover fields of the farm on which my father was still living. The troops used to bring canteens to get water from this spring, known throughout the state for its pure water. They confiscated the flour from the mill and made my mother bake it into bread and biscuits. Then they helped themselves to the butter, milk and cream and were entirely unconcerned as to whether there was anything left for the family's Sunday dinner. When the soldiers moved on, all the horses on the place went with them, and without purchase.
Now to give a few highlights in our early married life. Before marriage both Mr. Stephens and I taught school, he received $15 a month and I received $1.50 for each student for the term. As was the custom, we boarded around from one place to another. It was mostly teaching the three R's in those days, but you know, many of our smartest men and women came from the little log school houses. I lived near the home of baby Thomas Marshall, later to become Vice-President of the United States under Woodrow Wilson. Little did I think, while caring for him as a baby , that he was destined to become one of the Nation's best-known men. In after years I received a letter from Mr.Marshall, together with his picture, on the margin of the picture being written, "This is to Mrs. Stephens, the only living person who knew me as a baby."
After marriage, on September 7, 1856 in North Manchester, Indiana, we started by covered wagon with six horses for a trek to the west - we knew not where. Our company consisted of six, Mr. Stephens' father, John Nobel Stephens, Mr. L.D. Story (his half brother), wife and daughter, Mr. Stephens and myself. It was a perilous journey with winter setting in, with rough, muddy roads - sometimes no roads at all - and with often dangerous swollen streams to ford, there being practically no bridges. There were some ferries, including the Mississippi.
We arrived in Sidney on the eve of October 29. As the weather was getting severe, we decided to stop for the winter provided we could get shelter for man and beast. Mr. Wm. Spratlin, who had recently purchased a farm some three miles south, offered us what accommodations he had, so we decided to stay for the winter. The house, with no floor boards save mother earth, was very cold, being weatherboarded outside, and inside lined with boards, with joists overhead. There were many peek-a-boos in the roof. My new rag carpet was laid over the joists instead of under our feet. Cook stoves for cooking and heating, with green wood for fuel, was the best we could do. We were without milk, butter and cream during the entire winter.
The following year we traded our two watches for a cow and a hog and thereafter were never without milk, cream, butter and meat. The winter was decidedly cold. On December first it rained, on the second it froze and sleeted, from the third on to the thirteenth it snowed, winding up with an awful blizzard that meant the loss of many lives. In the spring we moved to the 90 acre farm known as the Old Chestnut Place where Center School is located and where our first four children were born.
When returning from church one Sunday, we found our home burned to the ground - nothing but ashes remained, so all we had left were the clothes on our backs. Relatives and friends began trekking westward from Indiana and other points, buying farms and engaging in building operations. Some of the hardships endured during the next few years of pioneer life could scarcely be described.
In the spring on 1864 we purchased from Mr. Thomas Thompson of Riverton, and later of Shenandoah, the 160 acre farm between Sidney and Riverton, where the last seven children were born and where all were reared, save one, to manhood and womanhood. First, it was a one room log house where we lived for ten years, several of the children coming during this time. Complements to the house were a stable, a well and a cave. Naturally enough there came during this period the log school house, used not only for regular school purposes, but for religious services, singing schools, literary societies, spelling bees, etc. People came for miles to our entertainments, both from the rural communities and from the nearby towns.
In 1874 came the frame school house, the pride of the community. It likewise was used for many purposes. I remember that on one cold bitter Sunday in the winter, forty people were taken to the Nishna River by the Baptist minister for baptism - the ice being first cut out. These meetings were very beneficial to our community, to old as well as young, so we were glad to be able to raise our children under a wholesome, Christian environment.
In 1874 we built an eight room frame house and had the pleasure of what was then a strictly modern home, for a period of eight months, only to have it entirely swept away by the tornado of June 17, 1875. Parts of this home were found more than ten miles away. All that was left could be carted away in a wheelbarrow. This catastrophe was only one of the year's incidents. The hail and the grasshoppers did the rest, and did a clean job of it. Still we were happy and praised God because our lives were spared.
It may be interesting to knowthat in May, 1864, during the Civil War, I took my four children (Mary John, Siddy, and Lillie) for a trip back to the old family home in Pennsylvania. To make this journey it was necessary for me to go by wagon to Savannah, Missouri, the nearest railroad station. While there I visited relatives and friend at Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, and incidentally saw the city of Chambersburg burn to the ground, having been fired by the Confederates.
I have had the privilege of living through twenty-three presidential administrations - - from that of Martin Van Buren to what is now the termination of Herbert Hoover's Administration. During these years I have, through magazines and newspapers, kept in as close touch as possible with both national and world affairs, thanks to my good eyesight and through interesting, informed friends. Through correspondence I have also kept in touch with hundreds of relatives and friends from coast to coast, as in this span of years it just seems that every state in the Union is dotted with many whom I know.
I must confess that I am getting just a little old, as was evidenced by the fact that on December 22, 1932 when rising from my chair, after having finished writing a long reminiscing letter to a relative in Pennsylvania, I accidentally fell to the floor, breaking my leg just below the hip. I am now in the Midway Hospital, to a hospital the first time in my life as a patient, where I am having the finest care. Thanks to my daughter, Mrs. Rose Larimore, my correspondence is still being carried on. She has been my aid and inspiration in contact ways for a number of years, and during the last three weeks has written hundreds of letters for me.
At this time I send my love and greeting to all with whom I have had the great privilege of associating, including a close friendship with many whom I have known for a number of decades. I am the eldest of a family of thirteen sisters and brothers, and the lone survivor. I am also the only living one of all the relatives and friends who came from the East to locate in southwest Iowa. If this shock should prove too great for me, I want you all to know that I am ready to be taken into the arms of the Great Father, to whom thousands of relatives and friends have gone before. I have tried to keep the Faith through all these years and to do what little I could for the betterment of those about me.
May God continue to bless, cheer and comfort everyone.
Mrs. Mary Catherine Keller Stephens January, 1933