Return to Utica – Chapter 2

Back in Winterset, in February 1883, Jackson Wright married his second wife, Josie (Rebecca Josephine Chambers). Three children were born to them – Della (1883), Laura (1886), and Verner (1889). In fairly short order, George, Kate, and probably Joe left what had to be an increasingly crowded home to give Montana a try. And Laura died at three years of age when the stove in the home caught her dress on fire.

So I think this was the way things looked at the time of Jackson Wright’s death in August 1890 – what I believe was the catalyst for the second wave of Wrights leaving Madison County. The following is perhaps the most compelling description of the first-family siblings’ troubles. From Jackson’s estate file – edited for brevity and ease of reading; the bracketed comments, and the underlining for emphasis, are mine.

Petition for Modification of Order and Allowance, Filed 28 Jan 1891

Whereas, 

The minor children [Will, 17; Myrtle,14; Harvey, 12] have been residing with their elder brothers and sisters at the old homestead of Jackson and Nancy Wright ever since the death of their father in August 1890, and the elder children have been solely caring for and supporting them;

Rebecca J. Wright the second wife of said Jackson Wright, abandoned the said homestead of her deceased husband soon after his death and with her two children [Della and Verner] has been and is still residing in her father’s family at another place and house;

Appraisers set off to the widow all property exempt from the asset sale, as well as other personal property for the support of the widow and the minor children, amounting to a total of $579.60;

The widow took all exempt property (clothing, bedding, and provisions, etc.) from said homestead to the house of her father, leaving nothing whatever for the support of the minor children;

In October 1890 the widow petitioned for and obtained an order for an additional allowance of Three Hundred Dollars;

It would not be for the best interests of the above-named minor children to be compelled to live with, or to be provided for by, said Rebecca J. Wright;

With the liberal provision made to said widow, the support of herself and her two minor children was abundantly supplied and provided for without said additional sum; and 

Some provision should be made for the support of the said other minor children.

Therefore, Petitioner asks that the Administrator be directed to pay the said sum of 300 dollars to this Guardian [for the minor children] instead of to the widow.

[Which is exactly what they did.]

As for the elder siblings in 1891, Ella was married and had five children of her own; George and probably Kate were in Montana when Jackson died. Joe got married in spring 1891; Lew married a few months later and left for Montana in March 1892. 

Even in faraway Montana, Kate must have realized that the caring for her younger siblings, Will, Myrtle and Harvey, was going to be her responsibility for the near term. So it seems this series of events and circumstances forced her return from Montana.  

By early 1895, life in Madison County must have calmed down enough that she decided it was time to marry Harmon Meacham, which she did in March. She must have discussed this with her sister Ella, because that year’s state census shows Myrtle living in Ella’s home (and already teaching school at age 19). I can’t find Will (then 21) or Harvey (16) until 1900. 

Lewis Lilley Wright (1868-1935) married Eva Davis on New Year’s Eve 1891, and they left for Montana in March 1892. Their son Jack was born in May, followed by daughter Lillian in April 1896. The Fergus County Argus (FCA) kept pretty good track of the goings-on in the family’s life.

There is joy at the ranch of Lew Wright owing to the arrival of a young lady [Opal] last Saturday evening, who, they say, is “all Wright.” FCA, 28 Feb 1900.

Lew Wright has commenced hauling the material for his new residence. FCA 26 Mar 1900.

He and Eva were in the papers again in April 1901, when the proof of claim for their homestead was published. FCA 16 Apr 1901.

At some point they lost or sold the property and made their way over the Little Belt Mountains to White Sulphur Springs, and Lew transitioned from rancher to miner. Their next two children, Ed and Eve were born in that area in 1902 and 1906, respectively.

Eve’s application for a delayed birth registration certificate, filed in 1942, provided some very interesting information. For one thing, her middle name was Maybelle! I knew her for most of my first 30 years, and never knew that detail. She was born in a tiny town called Delpine, near Checkerboard Creek, out toward Martinsdale. This was the area Lew would spend the next 20+ years mining. Delpine is nowhere to be found these days – I suspect it sits at the bottom of the Bair Reservoir. 

The evidence given to support Eve’s birth date was an affidavit given by one Wilhelmina Danzer, a White Sulphur Springs resident who was a midwife for Eve’s birth. Mrs. Danzer had eleven children of her own, so she definitely knew the drill.

Eva found herself pregnant again in 1908, at the age of 42, and (I imagine) she made a decision to get herself and the kids out of what was essentially a mining camp. She packed them all up and headed for Pilger, Nebraska, near two of her brothers, leaving Lew behind. My grandpa Louie was born in March 1909 in Pilger, and the local funeral home presented her with this nifty little memento that today hangs in my kitchen.

Jack was soon back in Butte working as a miner; he married in 1915. Lillian married in 1916, and lived the rest of her very long life in Nebraska. Opal was also getting on with her life in Nebraska – she did not accompany her mother and three younger siblings when they returned to Lew and White Sulphur Springs in about 1920 or 1921; she would marry in 1922. Curious, during those ten-plus years the family was separated, I find no trace of Lew – no census reports, no newspaper mentions… nothing.

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