Thursday, December 31, 2015

Peru Italian Blackerby Ping (1842-1890)

                                                 Portrait courtesy of Mr. Lynn Summers.

   As we say goodbye to 2015 and hello to the new year it's time to devote 2015's final posting to a man who has duly earned the title of  "Strangest Name of the Year". Following in the stead of Omicron Pi Lockhart in 2013 and Uno Sylvanus Augustus Heggblom last December, this year's honoree hails from Kansas, where he served two terms in the state senate from Crawford County. His name? Peru Italian Blackerby PingIf you were like me, your jaw literally dropped to the floor when the sight of that impressive name caught your eye, and hiding behind that unique, lengthy name is story of a man who imbued the pioneer spirit of the mid 19th century, being a resident of Iowa, Kansas and Oregon during his short life of just 47 years. 
   I'd like to begin with a small bit of background as to how this particular article came into being. In October of last year I located the name of "P.I.B. Ping" listed amongst a number of other prominent Kansans in a work entitled "The United States Biographical Dictionary: Kansas Volume", published in 1879. After this initial discovery I had a inkling that I was about to uncover a highly unusual name. Needless to say, I was not disappointed! A Find-a-Grave listing for "Peru Italian Blackerby Ping" soon revealed his full name, and I soon set to work finding out more about the man who is very likely the oddest named individual ever to be elected to public office in Kansas! Sadly, following my initial discovery of Ping in the aforementioned work, little else could be located on him. A Facebook message to the Crawford County, Kansas Historical Society requesting a portrait and further information on Ping went unanswered, and after several months I was beginning to think that Mr. Ping would forever remain that "faceless" Kansas senator with an unbelievably unique name. 
   All of that changed in November of this year when I discovered a link to a portrait of Mr. Ping via ancestry.com, and after leaving a short message there requesting information I began a fruitful correspondence with one Lynn Summers, who, as it so happens, is the great grandson of Peru I.B. Ping!! Besides allowing the use of the rare portrait of Ping featured above, Lynn was also kind enough to send along a number of pertinent details on his great-grandfather's life, including ample information on Ping's stay in Oregon (which I'd previously been unaware of), as well as excerpts of newspaper articles written by him for the Girard Press. I am forever grateful to Lynn for sharing his wealth of knowledge on his great-grandfather, and this article would not have been possible without his help! 
    An Iowan by birth, Peru Italian Blackerby Ping was born in the Des Moines County town of Burlington on September 4, 1842. The son of Thomas (1815-1885) and Sarah Wright Ping (1818-1890), PIB Ping was the eldest of eight children.  The exact reasons behind Ping being bestowed the names "Peru Italian" have unfortunately been lost to history, but one can see that both his parents were certainly "geographically inclined" in regards to the naming of their son! The Ping family would remove to neighboring Wapello County when their son was an infant, and in the succeeding years Thomas Ping would become a standout figure in the town of Ashland, where he is recorded as owning several businesses. PIB Ping was educated at the Ashland Seminary in that county, and is recorded as having attained high marks in the "study of higher mathematics".  
    At the dawn of the Civil War PIB Ping enlisted in Co. I, 1st Iowa Calvary, U.S. Volunteers, serving with that regiment until being honorably discharged in 1864. His service receives prominent mention in the United States Biographical Dictionary, which notes that Ping "was with Fremont during his Missouri campaign" and in 1863 was one of the first Union soldiers to enter Little Rock, Arkansas after it was captured. Ping's father Thomas also served the Union during wartime, being Captain of Co. E. in the 17h Iowa Regiment. Unlike his son, Thomas didn't escape the war unscathed, as he was captured by the Confederates and held prisoner at Columbia, South Carolina for a few months.  
   At the conclusion of his service PIB Ping returned to Iowa and shortly thereafter began reading law in Ottumwa, studying under state representative and senator Edward Holcomb Stiles. He would continue his study there for about a year, and in 1866 arrived in Douglas County, Kansas, where he recommenced with reading law. Ping was admitted to the Kansas bar in 1868 and in that year entered political life for the first time, being elected as County Attorney for Wilson County, Kansas. His time as county attorney extended until 1870, and two years later removed to the town of Girard in Crawford County, his father Thomas Ping having resettled there a few years previously. After reconnecting with his family, PIB and his father established the law practice of "Thomas Ping & Son", which would continue on for a number of years afterward.

                               A small picture of PIB Ping that appeared on the 1877 Kansas legislative composite.

   Within a few years of his resettlement in the Sunflower State PIB Ping had established himself as a prominent figure in the Girard community, and in 1875 reentered political life when he was selected as assistant secretary of the Kansas State Senate. Further political honors came his way the following year when he served as a delegate and secretary to the Kansas Republican State Convention that would nominate delegates for the upcoming Republican National Convention that would be held in Cincinnati. 
   In 1876 PIB Ping received the Republican nomination for state senator from Kansas' 13th district. He would be elected to that office with "the largest majority given any candidate upon the ticket" and entered into a four year term at the start of 1877. Ping proved to be busy as a freshman senator, and his tenure in that body saw him hold a seat on a number of committees, including: Counties and County Lines, Corporations, Education, Engrossed Bills and Roads and Bridges. He would serve as chairman of the committee on Mines and Mining and was acknowledged as having been:
"An active laborious member of the Senate, served his constituency faithfully, securing the passage of several important measures in their interest, and approved himself in the Legislation of that session a man of sound practical wisdom and superior ability."
   As a rising young Republican amongst the ranks of the state senate, PIB Ping worked closely with John James "J.J." Ingalls (1833-1900), the U.S. Senator from Kansas for nearly two decades. Through information provided by Lynn Summers, it is interesting to note that during the latter portion of his senate term Ping was inadvertently caught up in a vote buying scandal involving Ingall's 1879 bid for reelection to the U.S. Senate. Lynn relates that Ping testified in front of U.S. Senate subcommittee that had been investigating the matter, and in the 1880 election year saw his reelection hopes dashed when the editor of the Girard Press newspaper received the Republication nomination for the state senate. One can surmise that Ping's connection to the brouhaha involving Ingalls led to his being passed over for renomination!
  After leaving the senate Ping continued to be active in Republican circles in Girard and in 188o traveled to Middleport, Ohio. On September 4th of that year he married in the neighboring village of McArthur to Viola Morrison (1857-1905), a former resident of Girard. Their union would see the birth of one daughter, Ethel Kate May Ping (1881-1916). 


                                    Viola Morrison Ping (1857-1905), portrait courtesy of Lynn Summers.

   Following his marriage Ping and his wife returned to Girard where PIB continued practicing law. In 1882 he was appointed to the post of "special agent for swamp lands" under the auspice of General Land Office, work that would require his removing to Oregon for a period of three years. Ping's three year sojourn through Oregon and the neighboring states was profiled by Lynn Summers earlier this year in an intriguing write-up published in the Oregon Historical Quarterly. While Ping may have been hundreds of miles away from his family in Girard, he kept in contact with them and his community through a series of letters published in the Girard Press. These "travelogues" amounted to 68,010 words, excerpts of which were collected by Lynn and published in his earlier mentioned article. 
   Based in Portland, Oregon during his first two years as a land agent, Ping's letters back home give the insight of  a mid-westerner on life in the Pacific Northwest, with the author commenting on pertinent topics relating to his life in an unfamiliar territory, including travel, the weather, business life, the political climate, as well as the people he encountered. Through his work as swamp land agent, Ping traveled throughout Oregon's frontier, visiting settlements in Yaquina Bay, Meacham, La Grande and Tillamook Bay. In May 1884 he returned to Girard, Kansas for a two month leave, and during his time home attended a political convention. He would resume his duties in Oregon sometime later, this time returning with his wife and daughter
    Ping's remaining months in the Pacific Northwest saw him visit Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and by June 1885 had returned home to Girard Kansas. He resumed his earlier law practice and real estate dealings and from 1888-1889 served a term as Mayor of Girard. Active in a number of fraternal groups in Crawford County, Ping was a member of the local Odd Fellows Lodge, the Knights of Honor, the Sons of Veterans and the Gen. Bailey Post No. 49 of the Grand Army of the Republic. Peru Italian Blackerby Ping died in Girard on August 22, 1890, a few days short of his 48th birthday. His Girard Press obituary records "consumption' (tuberculosis) as his cause of death and he was later interred under a modest headstone at the Girard Cemetery
  Following PIB's death his wife Viola and daughter Ethel relocated to Middleport, Ohio, where they would reside with Viola's mother and father. Following Viola Ping's death in 1905, Ethel Kate May Ping worked as a bank teller in West Virginia and became a pianist of some note, even attending the Sherwood Music School in Chicago. She would later teach at the Kansas State Agricultural College and married in 1913 to Carl Shafer. The couple would later have two children, John and Mary (born 1916), the latter being the mother of Mr. Lynn Summers.
   In regards to the  help and support I've received in compiling this article, I'd like to state how amazing it is that history (however obscure or forgotten) can connect people, even ones that are thousands of miles away from one another! The appreciation that I have in regards to the help Lynn has given me can't be measured in words! Rarely have I been given such a wealth of information on a politician that I'm writing about, and I'm forever grateful to Lynn for his permission to use some of the photos featured in this article, as well as for his sending along new information on his great grandfather and extended family. Many thanks once again for your help!


P.I.B. Ping's obituary from the Girard Press (courtesy of Lynn Summers).

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mortier Lafayette Morrison (1836-1919)

Portrait from the Granite State Monthly, 1895.

    Lifelong Peterborough, New Hampshire resident Mortier Lafayette Morrison's life bears a slight similarity to Grosvenor Austin Curtice, profiled here back on December 14th. Both of these oddly named men were lifelong residents of New Hampshire and both were veterans of the Civil War. Both went on to become prominent local officeholders in their respective towns and both served terms in the New Hampshire legislature. Interestingly, both Morrison and Curtis served together during the 1881-83 session, the latter in the state senate and the former in the house.
   Born in Peterborough on July 2, 1836, Mortier Lafayette Morrison was the son of Abraham Perkins (1807-1870) and Mary Robbe Morrison. A prominent Peterborough figure in his own right, Abraham P. Morrison was the owner of a paper-mill as well as a three term state representative, serving in the legislative sessions of 1848, 1862 and 1863. The eldest of two children, Mortier L. Morrison was "prevented in early life from attending school as he wished" due to "severe necrosis of the tibia", and later was affected by typhoid fever. With this lengthy bout of ill health, young Mortier was largely self educated, and after reaching aged nineteen followed his father into the paper-making trade. 
    In August 1862 Morrison enlisted for service in the Civil War, and a little over a month after enlisting was named as Quarter Master's Sergeant of the 13th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry. He succeeded future Governor and U.S. Senator Person Colby Cheney in that post and served until his discharge in mid 1865. On August 9, 1861 Morrison had married Susan Gates, with whom he had one daughter, Alice (1862-1925). Their marriage proved to be short, as Susan died less than a year later on May 1, 1862. He would remarry in March 1866 to Caroline Brooks, their union seeing the births of two further children, Mary Brooks (born 1868) and Abraham Perkins (born 1870.)
   After returning home from the war Mortier Morrison took on the management of his father's paper-mill, which he sold to the firm of Adams and Nay in June 1870. In April 1873 he was selected as treasurer of the Peterborough Savings Bank, and office that he would continue to hold until his death forty-six years later. In addition to his time as treasurer, Morrison would hold a several other local offices in Peterborough, including a twenty-five year stint as town moderator and from 1868-1870 served as town selectman
   In 1878 Mortier L. Morrison was elected to the first of three terms as a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Taking his seat at the start of the 1879 session, Morrison served as a member of the committee on Banks. He would be elected to another term in 1881 and in 1915 won his third term in the house. Further political honors came Morrison's way following his first two terms in the house, as he served as Peterborough's delegate to the 1902-03 New Hampshire State Constitutional Convention. In 1918 he was again tapped to represent Peterborough at the State Constitutional Convention of 1918-19, but died during the recess of the convention, his death occurring at Peterborough on May 1, 1919, the fifty-sixth anniversary of the death of his first wife Susan. 
  A longstanding member of the G.A.R., as well as a Mason and Odd Fellows Lodge member, Mortier L. Morrison had been preceded in death by his second wife Caroline in 1906 and his son Abraham in 1913. In an unusual twist, there are two possible burial locations for Morrison, as his name is located on his first wife's stone in the Peterborough Village Cemetery as well as on another headstone at the Pine Hill Cemetery, also located in Peterborough. All in all very curious!

A Mortier L. Morrison G.A.R. encampment ribbon from 1919.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Blackburn Barrett Dovener (1842-1914)

From the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, June 7, 1900.

   Six term U.S. Representative Blackburn Barrett Dovener can rightly be considered an "old guard" strange name political figure, as I first happened across his name over a decade ago! One of the most prominent public figures in West Virginia at the turn of the 19th century, Dovener represented West Virginia's 1st congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives for twelve years, and had earlier served one term in the state legislature from Ohio County.
  Blackburn Barrett Dovener was born in Cabell County, Virginia (now part of West Virginia) on April 20, 1842, being the son of Dr. Robert George and Julia Ann Barrett Dovener. His early education was gained via the district schools of Cabell County and he would later attend the Parkersburg Academy.  He would put his education on hold to enlist for service at the start of the Civil War, and remained a staunch Union man throughout the conflict. At the age of just nineteen he raised a company of men, Co. A. of the Fifteenth Reg. West Virginia Volunteer Infantry, and during his war service rose from first lieutenant to captain
   At war's conclusion Dovener resettled in the city of Wheeling where he would marry Ms. Margaret Lynch in December 1865. In 1867 he took on the position of chief clerk in the office of West Virginia Secretary of State John M. Pipes and during his service began the study of law. He was admitted to the state bar in 1873 and soon after established his first law practice in the Wheeling. Throughout the remainder of that decade Dovener built up a reputation as an "able and  successful" practitioner of law, and was recorded by the 1903 "Men of West Virginia":
"As a counselor he is safe and wise, and ready in the comprehension of the salient features of a case. As an advocate he is earnest, making his clients case his own. He is ready in debate and fluent in expression. As a man he is affable courteous and polite."
  During the mid to late 1870s Dovener was a member of the firm of Davenport and Dovener, eventually taking over the firm after George O. Davenport's death in 1880. In 1882 he was elected to represent Ohio County in the West Virginia House of Delegates, and served during the 1883-85 session. He was a candidate for reelection to the house in 1886 but was "defeated along with the balance of his ticket." Dovener experienced similar results in 1887 when he was the Republican candidate for Mayor of Wheeling, being defeated by Charles Seabright.


  Returning to his law practice following his mayoral loss, Dovener waited until 1892 to reenter political life. In that year he announced his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia's 1st congressional district and in that year's election faced incumbent Democrat John Overton Pendleton (1851-1916). On election day it was Pendleton who eked out a narrow victory over Dovener, winning another term by just 206 votes. In 1894 Pendleton decided not to be candidate for renomination, and in that year's contest Dovener was once again the Republican nominee, this time squaring off against Democrat John A. Howard. On election day 1894 Dovener coasted to a 4,000 plus vote victory, garnering 21,822 votes to his opponent's 17, 375
  Taking his seat at the start of the 1895-97 session, Dovener served as a member of the committee on Rivers and Harbors during that term. A candidate for reelection in 1896, Doverner won his second term that November and would subsequently be reelected to four further terms in 1898, 1900, 1902 and 1904. In 1906 he failed to win the Republican nomination for a seventh term (the nod instead going to William P. Hubbard), and upon his retirement from Congress Dovener was given a "lively reception and warm hearted farewell" by his fellow West Virginians.

From the Washington Times, February 18, 1907.

  Unfortunately for Dovener, his time in retirement appears to have not been a happy one. Ill health plagued him for "several years" following his leaving Congress and by January 1914 an application was introduced in the West Virginia courts for a "lunacy commission" in regards to Dovener's state of mind, the application being brought about by his wife Margaret.
   In a Fairmont, West Virginian article published in January 1914, Margaret Lynch Dovener alleged that her husband could no longer "take proper care of himself or manage his financial affairs."  A court hearing began on January 17, 1914 with Dovener representing himself during the proceedings. In what must have been a surreal scene inside the courtroom, Dovener "personally cross examined" each witness and "wound up each inquiry" by asking the witness "Do you think that I'm crazy?" The Fairmont West Virginian also noted that during the proceedings Dovener appeared lethargic and would "frequently drop off into naps while cross examining witnesses."
  On January 22 the court decided in favor of Margaret Dovener's application, with the former congressman being placed in the charge of Ohio County Sheriff A.T. Sweeney. A few day's following that decision, newspaper reports noted that Dovener would be removed to a recently constructed "soldier's home at Nashville, Tennessee." Sometime later he was removed to a sanitarium in Glen Echo, Maryland, where he died on May 9, 1914 at age 72. He was survived by his wife Margaret and a son, Robert. Following funeral arrangements Dovener was interred under a modest headstone at Arlington Nation Cemetery


                                                          Blackburn Dovener during his congressional service.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Amidas Augustus Whitener (1874-1956)

Portrait courtesy of Ancestry.com.

   A standout figure in the history of Hickory, North Carolina, Amidas Augustus "Mike" Whitener was a one term mayor of that city as well as a two time candidate for the United States Senate. A lifelong resident of Hickory, Whitener was born in that town on August 10, 1874, one of a total of fifteen children born to Laban Socrates and Amanda Catherine Abernethy Whitener. He would attend the Hickory High School and later studied at the Lenoir-Rhyne College, also located in Hickory.
  A.A. Whitener married in June 1898 to Emma Gullick Kestler (1875-1936) with whom he would have ten children: Laban Stewart (died in infancy in 1899), Miriam Adele (1900-1981), Louis (1902-1956), Thomas Manly (1905-1968), Allene (1907-1991), Emma (1908-), E. Cline (1908-), Howard (born 1911), Julian Gaston (1914-2003) and Jane (1921-1995).
  Active in a number of business concerns in his native state, Whitener was a past president and director of the Carolina Glove Co. and a former vice-president of the Phoenix Mills Co. In addition to those businesses Whitener is also recorded as having been an attorney, as well as having an interest in "several Western N.C. cotton mills" and manufacturing plants. 
   Amidas A. Whitener entered local politics in 1899 when he was elected as mayor of the city of Hickory, officially entering into office in 1900. In 1914 he became the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate from North Carolina, and during that election year faced off against incumbent Democrat Lee Slater Overman (1854-1930). On election day 1914 it was Overman who coasted to victory, besting Whitener by a vote of 121,342 to 87, 101. 
  Despite this loss, Whitener continued to be an active Republican, and in 1920 was selected as the temporary chairman of the North Carolina Republican State Convention then being held in Greensboro. A decade following his 1914 defeat Whitener was again a candidate for the U.S. Senate, this time facing off against another oddly named man, Furnifold McLendel Simmons (profiled here back in July 2011.) In a unique contest that pitted a man named Amidas against a man named Furnifold, the "stranger name" won out, as Simmons trounced Whitener by over 110,000 votes. While his loss margin was substantial, 1924 proved to be a busy year for Whitener, as he also served as part of the North Carolina delegation to the Republican National Convention that nominated Calvin Coolidge for the Presidency.
  Following his second defeat for the senate little could be located on the remainder of Amidas Whitener's life. Widowed in 1936, Whitener died of "advanced complications of cancer" on June 4, 1956 at age 81. He was later interred alongside his wife at the Oakwood Cemetery in Hickory. Politics (as well as odd names) continued in the Whitener family in Shuford LeRoy Whitener (presumably a cousin of Amidas) who served four terms as Mayor of Hickory between 1916-1927.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Grosvenor Austin Curtice (1842-1907), Grosvenor Downes McCubrey (1858-1950)

Grosvenor Curtice, from the Granite State Monthly, Volume 47.

    A member of both houses of the New Hampshire state legislature, lifelong Granite State native Grosvenor Austin Curtice was a well-known resident of Merrimack County, being a merchant and farmer in that area for many years. Born in the village of Lempster on March 31, 1842, Grosvenor A. Curtice was the son of Samuel and Leonora Sweatt Curtice. The Curtice family removed from Lempster to Windsor, New Hampshire when Grosvenor was three, and he continued to reside there until relocating to the Merrimack County town of Contoocook in 1861. 
   In the year after his resettlement Curtice enlisted for service in Co. D, Seventh New Hampshire Volunteers, and would serve with that regiment until war's conclusion, having attained the rank of captain. He is also recorded as having "captured a rebel captain and several of his men" at Fort Fisher in North Carolina. 
   Following his return to Contoocook Curtice married in 1866 to Sara Augusta Johnson, who died three years following their marriage. He would marry his second wife Augusta Wilson (1849-1909) in 1876, their union lasting until Curtice's death in 1907. 
   In the years following his first marriage Grosvenor Curtce established a reputation as one of Contoocook's prominent merchants. A member of general merchandise firm of Curtice, Rand and Co., Curtice also held several political offices in his adopted hometown. From 1867-68 he served as town clerk and from 1869-1871 served as town treasurer, later being returned to the latter office from 1874-1878. Curtice would also serve Contoocook as its postmaster, and in 1875 was elected to his first term in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
  In 1877 Curtice won a second term in the state house and three years later began a two year term in the state senate, defeating Democratic candidate Charles Amsden by a vote of 1,981 to 1,823. Taking his seat at the start of the 1881-83 term, Curtice held seats on the committees on Engrossed Bills, the Judiciary and Military Affairs. At the conclusion of his senate service Curtice  was selected to serve as a member of the Executive Council, being on the staff of then Governor Samuel Whitney Hale.
  An active Mason and member of the Odd Fellows Lodge, Grosvenor Curtice returned to public life in 1906 when President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him as U.S. Pension Agent for the District of New Hampshire and Vermont. Curtice would hold that post until his death in Contoocook on September 29, 1907 at age 65.  His wife Augusta survived him by two years, dying on August 28, 1909. Both were interred at the Contoocook Village Cemetery.

A death notice for Curtice from the Los Angeles Herald, October 7, 1907.

Portrait from the Minnesota Legislative Manual, 1929-30.

    Another "Grosvenor" that made his name known in politics was two term Minnesota state senator Grosvenor Downes McCubrey. A native of Maine, McCubrey was born near the town of Calais on May 4, 1858. He attended school in the state of his birth and in 1882 relocated to Minnesota. Three years following his resettlement McCubrey relocated to Barnesville in Clay County, where he would reside for nearly twenty years.
  For many years following his removal to Barnesville McCubrey engaged in the insurance business and also operated a mercantile store. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries he served in a number of local political offices. From 1889-1897 he was served as U.S. Postmaster at Barnesville and following his relocation to Moorhead, Minnesota in 1901 served that city as its treasurer and justice of the peace. In 1901 he was elected as clerk of the district court at Moorhead and served twenty-four years in that office. 
   In November 1926 McCubrey was elected to represent Minnesota's 49th district in the state senate and during his first term (1927-31) served on the following committees: Civil Administration, Crime and Crime Prevention, Municipal Affairs, Public Institutions and Buildings, the Soldiers Home, Temperance and Towns and Counties. Reelected to the senate in 1930, McCubrey served another four year term and held seats on three new senate committees, those being Civil Administration, Finance and Reapportionment. He would also chair the committee on State and County Fairs.
   Little is known of McCubrey's life following his leaving the senate in the 1935. Beginning in 1940 he took office as Moorhead city justice and was still the incumbent in that office at the time of his death at age 92 on December 24, 1950.  He was later buried at the Barnesville City Cemetery in Barnesville, Minnesota. One should also note that McCubrey's first name is spelled either "Grosvenor" or "Grovenor", the former being listed in his obituary and the latter being engraved on his headstone.

McCubrey's obituary from 1950.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Gleason Burnham Speenburgh (1907-1971)

Portrait from the Binghamton Press, February 26, 1958.

    A practicing attorney in the Delware County, New York area for over three decades, Gleason Burnham Speenburgh was elected to multiple terms as District Attorney of that county. His lengthy tenure in that office ended under cloudy circumstances in 1958 when he resigned due to income tax evasion. Born in Margaretville, New York on November 15, 1907, Gleason B. Speenburgh was the son of Delmar and Jessie Dewel Speenburgh. He graduated in the class of 1926 from the Milne School in Albany and married in that city in 1934 to Ms. Dorothy Regan (1909-1986), to whom he was wed for over thirty years. The couple would remain childless through the entirety of their marriage.

Speenburgh's portrait from the 1926 Milne Crimson and White yearbook.

   Admitted to the New York bar in 1931, Speenburgh would later establish a law firm with George A. Speenburgh (presumably a relative), operating under the name Speenburgh and Speenburgh. Their firm would continue until its dissolution in 1946. In 1937 Gleason Speenburgh emerged as one of three candidates for District Attorney of Delaware County and in that year won the election. He would be returned to that office in 1940 and 1942 and in the last named year was "reelected in absentia", due to his service in the ongoing war effort. Stationed as a captain in Washington, D.C., Speenburgh would reach the rank of first lieutenant and during his service  Layman G. Snyder served as acting district attorney
  Speenburgh was reelected as district attorney in 1946, 1949, 1952 and 1955. In the late 1950s rumors began to leak out about alleged income tax evasion on the part of Speenburgh, and in 1958 it was revealed that he had indeed falsified his income tax return in 1951 in order to avoid "payment of  nearly $4,000 in taxes." On February 25, 1958 Speenburgh appeared at the U.S. District Court at Utica, where he pleaded guilty. He was subsequently fined $5,000
  Despite this hefty fine, Speenburgh's problems with the tax man weren't over yet, as his "returns for several other years" were under scrutiny. By 1961 the U.S. government had leveled a claim that "Mr. Speenburgh owed $32, 733.98 in income taxes and penalties during a seven year period ending in 1954", and in April of that year settled the case "for some $37,000."

From the February 26, 1958 issue of the Binghamton Press.

   Little could be found on the remainder of Speenburgh's life following his income tax problems. He continued to reside in the Delaware County area until his death on November 25, 1971, ten days following his 64th birthday. The Catskill Mountain News reported that Speenburgh suffered a fatal heart attack behind the wheel of his jeep while on a hunting trip with his wife. Unable to move him from the vehicle, Mrs. Speenburgh walked over a mile though snow to get aid for her stricken husband, who was later pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital in Margaretville, New York. Following his death Speenburgh was interred at the Clovesville Cemetery in Fleischmanns, New York.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

McDowell Reid Venable (1836-1907)

Portrait courtesy of ancestry.com

   Virginia native McDowell Reid Venable relocated to California after serving in the Confederate Army and in the years following his removal established a reputation as one of San Luis Obispo County's prominent citizens. A one term member of the state assembly from California's 73rd district, Venable had earlier served terms as San Luis Obispo County judge.
  Born in September 1836 in Charlotte County, Virginia, McDowell Reid Venable was the son of Richard and Magdalena Venable. He would attend the common schools of that county, and later studied at the Hampden-Sidney College. Venable would also begin law studies at the University of Virginia, but no notice has been found as to his possible date of graduation. At the dawn of the Civil War Venable enlisted in the Confederate Army at Yorktown, Virginia. He was later mustered into the Virginia Branch Light Artillery and in September 17, 1862 was wounded in the hip at the Battle of Antietam. Following recovery he served as a First Lieutenant in the Confederate Engineer's Corps, being stationed in Shreveport, Louisiana.
  Following the completion of his military service Venable resided in Texas for a short time before removing back to Virginia. He would begin the practice of law here and after two years decided to pull up stakes once again, this time relocating to California. Arriving in 1868, Venable first settled in San Jose, but after a year moved to San Luis Obispo, where he would reside for the remainder of his life. 
  Within a few short years of his settling in California McDowell R. Venable had become a prominent member of the San Luis Obispo community. In addition to operating a law practice in that city he was elected as County Judge in 1872, continuing in that role until that office was abolished in 1880. 1872 proved to be a highly important year in Venable's life, as he married to Alice Watkins (1845-1885). The couple were married for thirteen years and had five daughters born to them: Catherine, Alice, Edna, Magdaline and Reida. In the same year as his marriage Venable was named as part of the California delegation to the Democratic National Convention being held at Baltimore, Maryland. 
   In 1886 Venable returned to public life when he received the nomination for  the California State Assembly and won election that November. Taking his seat at the start of 1887-89 session, he chaired the committee on the whole during his tenure and also held seats on the committees on Constitutional Amendments, Corporations, Judiciary, Ways and Means.
   Outside of his legislative service McDowell Reid Venable cultivated a reputation as one of San Luis Obispo's leading civic leaders, serving at various times as president of the school board and president of the San Luis Obispo Board of Trade. In 1888 he helped in the establishment of the Commercial Bank of San Luis Obispo and subsequently was named to the posts of both director and president. He would serve in the latter capacity until his death in San Luis Obispo on April 12, 1907 after "several weeks illness." Widowed in 1885, both Venable and his wife Alice were interred at the San Luis Cemetery in San Luis Obispo.

                                                                 From the Los Angeles Herald, April 13, 1907.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Colwell Arba Pierce (1886-1954)

Portrait from the 1916 Rollamo Yearbook.

   A distinguished figure in the American mining industry during the first half of the twentieth century, Colwell Arba Pierce was a transplant to the American southwest from Rhode Island. Holding a degree in mining engineering, Pierce put his knowledge to use in both Colorado and Arizona, where he was a mine superintendent and engineer. Earning a fortune in these endeavors, Pierce became active in politics in Arizona, and was later elected to a term in the Arizona State Senate in the early 1920s.
   The son of Arba Francis and Eunice Colwell Pierce, Colwell Arba Pierce was born on August 21, 1886 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He would later relocate to Missouri and in 1909 married in Kansas City to Mary Louise Rood, with whom he would have two children, Sarah Louse (1911-1994) and John Colwell. Pierce would later enroll at the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy at Rolla, Missouri and graduated in the class of 1916. 
   Prior to his graduation Pierce resided in Victor, Colorado, where he worked at mining and surveying. He served as superintendent of the Rexall Mining Company for a time and by 1915 had removed to Patagonia, Arizona, where he was a consulting engineer. Pierce was affiliated with a number of mining concerns in Arizona and in 1918 he and a partner, Tom Gardner, lucked into the good fortune of having a large strike of silver discovered on their property in Patagonia. Remarked as being a "ledge five feet in length of high grade silver ore", the mine in which it was discovered soon received many bids, but Pierce and his partner "refused to sell." 
  By the early 1920s Colwell Pierce was the operator of "two producing leases" in Arizona and was a consulting mining engineer with the Sonora Development Co. of Sonara, Mexico and the Consolidated Southern Arizona Mining Company. Active in other areas of business in Santa Cruz County, Arizona, Pierce served as the vice-president of the Evans Mercantile Company and was the President of the Patagonia Chamber of Commerce.
  In 1922 Pierce was elected to represent Santa Cruz County in the Arizona State Senate. His term extended from 1923-25 and during his service served on the committees on Appropriations, Labor, Livestock, Roads, Militia and Public Defense. He also chaired the committee on Mines and Mining. In addition to his senate service Pierce was a member of the Santa Cruz County Highway Commission and the Southern Arizona Good Roads Association

                                                             Colwell A. Pierce during his senate service, 1923.

   Following his time in Arizona state government Pierce removed to Carlsbad, New Mexico, where he took on the position of general superintendent of the U.S. Potash Company.  He was later a resident of El Paso, Texas, where he died on October 5, 1954 at age 68. Pierce was later interred at the Sunset Gardens Cemetery in Carlsbad, New Mexico.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Gauthe Emil Qvale (1860-1951)

From the Minnesota Bar Journal Vol. 5, 1897.

   Gauthe Emil Qvale was a native of Norway who, following his immigration to Minnesota in the late 1870s, became a prominent lawyer and jurist in the American midwest. As district court judge for Minnesota's Twelfth judicial district, Qvale served nearly five decades on the bench, and at the time of his retirement in 1946 was acknowledged as the longest tenured jurist in the state of Minnesota.
  Born near Haugesund, Norway on September 24, 1860, Gauthe Emil Qvale attended school in the country of his birth and in 1878 removed to the United States with his family. Settling in the town of Willmar, Minnesota, Qvale began the study of law in 1880 under local attorney John Arctander. Admitted to the Minnesota bar in 1882, Qvale began the practice of his profession in Willmar, operating a partnership with John Arctander until 1884. In that year Qvale was elected as Judge of Probate for Kandiyohi County, an office which he would hold for six years.
  At the end of his term as Judge of Probate Qvale continued his rise in local politics, winning election as Kandiyohi County Attorney. He served in that post until 1894 and afterwards returned to private practice. In 1897 Qvale was appointed as judge for Minnesota's  Twelfth judicial district and in the year following won a term of his own, running unopposed during that election year.  He continued to serve on the bench for a record 49 years, and at the time of his retirement in 1946 was remarked as being the longest tenured jurist in Minnesota history.
  Despite serving nearly half a century as a district judge, little information could be located on Qvale's life. He lived his remaining years in retirement in Willmar and died at age 90 on January 31, 1951. A burial location for Qvale is unknown at this time, but is presumed to be somewhere in the Kandiyohi County vacinity. 

Judge Qvale in his later years.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Merida Ambros Hobbs (1888-1967)

Portrait courtesy of the Texas Legislative Reference Library.

   We continue our theme of oddly named Texas legislators with Lavaca County resident Merida Ambros "M.A." Hobbs, and I can't help but point out that a first name like Merida is just a tad too close in spelling to the word Mierdathe Spanish word for......excrement. While his first name is certainly unusual, Hobbs appears to have preferred going by his initials, as most period sources mentioning him list him under the name "M.A. Hobbs".
  One of nine children born to Merida Hubbard and Ellen Adelia Hobbs, Merida Ambros Hobbs was born in Texas on November 21, 1888. He inherited his unusual first name from his father and married in May 1909 to Pearl Harbour (1890-1969). The couple were married for over fifty years and had two children, Leila Mae (1910-1998) and Winford Ambros (1926-1997). 
    A rancher for a good majority of his life, Hobbs is recorded as being the owner of 900 acres of land in Ezell, Salem County, Texas. He was a member of the Lavaca County school board for a period of ten years and in November 1940 was elected to the first of two terms in the Texas State House of Representatives. During the 1941-43 session Hobbs held seats on the committees on Agriculture, Federal Relations, Livestock and Stock Raising and the State Eleemosynary and Reformatory Institutions. Reelected in November 1942, Hobbs served as vice-chairman of the house committee on Livestock and Stock Raising during the 1943-45 session, and also was named to the committee on Congressional and Legislative Districts. 
   Information has proven to be quite scant when it comes to Hobbs' life after leaving the Texas legislature. Notice has been found of his death at age 78 on May 9, 1967 at a hospital in Hallettsville, Texas. His obituary in the Shiner Gazette records him as being a "retired rancher" and notes that he had been in "ill health for many years." Hobbs was survived by his wife Pearl, who, following her death in 1969, was interred alongside her husband at the Salem Cemetery in Ezell, Texas.
   
                                                                           Portrait courtesy of Find-A-Grave.