Monday, May 30, 2011

1945 Plane Crash in Bovina - Update

In my April 29 blog, I reported on the crash of a military training airplane in the area of Bramley Mountain that took place just days before the end of World War II in Europe.  Since that entry, I have found further information on the pilot - and an error that needs to be noted.

Robert Bragg Clark was born August 9, 1923 in Holdrege, Nebraska, the son of Charles M. and his wife Frances.  He grew up in Nebraska and graduated from Holdrege High School in June 1941, where he had been a member of the National Honor Society, the Debate Team and was in the band.  Clark also was class valedictorian. He was not from a farming family - he was noted for doing small maintenance jobs to supplement the family income, including work on telephone and telegraph lines. Clark's high school classmates, during their 50th reunion in 1991, remembered him as a hard worker with a positive outlook on life.  They expected great things from him.

After winning state recognition for his debating talents, Robert Clark came to the attention of Nebraska's U.S. Senator, George Norris, who appointed him to the United States Military Academy at West Point.  At the time of his entrance on July 15, 1942, he was tall and slim (6 feet, 2 inches and 162 pounds).  Assigned to Company A-1, he became a corporal in October 1943 and was promoted to sergeant in September 1944.  While at the Military Academy, Clark participated in intramural soccer, swimming, lacrosse and squash.  In the spring of 1944, he began training as a student pilot, training in Texas for two months then completing his basic training at Stewart Field in Newburgh in March 1945.  To prepare for graduation, Air Cadets had to accelerate their academic schedule and undergo 60 days of intensive flying to receive their wings on graduation day.  At the time of the plane crash, Clark had 141 hours of flight experience and was close to having enough hours to get his wings.  His training had included 14 hours of flying at night, but he seems to have had barely an hour of experience flying on instruments.  This, along with the very poor weather conditions on April 29, may explain why the accident happened.

The cadet corps was shocked by Clark's death, only five weeks before graduation. In his Cadet Service Record is the following order:

West Point, NY, 1 May 1945

General orders, No. 10,

     It is the sad duty of the Superintendent to announce the death of the late AIR CADET ROBERT BRAGG CLARK, C-1867, a member of the First Class United States Military Academy, whose death occurred as the result of an aviation training accident near Bloomville, New York, on 29 April 1945 while engaged in an authorized aerial flight from Stewart Field, U.S.M.A., Newburgh, New York

     The late CADET CLARK, a resident of Holdrege, Nebraska, was born in that community on 9 August 1923.  Prior to his admission at the United States Military Academy on 15 July 1942, as a qualified candidate appointed by Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska, the late CADET CLARK had attended the Holdrege High School, Holdrege, Nebraska, from 1937 until 1941, graduating there from and receiving a high school diploma. 

     While at the United States Military Academy, CADET CLARK was an excellent student, standing well in his class and demonstrating a particular proficiency in the academic subjects of mathematics, physics, mechanics, chemistry, electricity, history and government.  He participated in lacrosse, soccer and swimming and was active in those sports while at the United States Military Academy.

     CADET CLARK was in all respects a most estimable young gentleman and a credit to the Corps of Cadets.  In his unfortunate and untimely death the United States Military Academy and the Army Air Forces have suffered a distinct loss.  His courageous death in line of duty and in time of war is most regrettable and is deeply mourned. 

     In conveying my sincere condolences to the bereaved next of kin and to the family and friends of the late CADET CLARK, I am joined by the Commandant of Cadets, by the Commanding Officer at Stewart Field, and by all officers, cadets and enlisted personnel of this command.

                                                                                 F.B. Wilby, Major General, U.S.A.,Superintendent

In an obituary written many years later by Clark's roommates and published in the USMA Alumni magazine, The Assembly, in 1993, they more simply stated "We lost a friend and roommate!"

The error I need to note is the statement in my previous blog that Clark was from Norton, Kansas.  Almost all the newspapers reporting the crash made this statement, but information from his cadet file that I received from the USMA archives and in the alumni magazine clearly state he was from Holdrege, Nebraska.  Some of the papers said that Clark's father, Charles M. Clark, was from Norton, which was true.  As the information circulated around, it appears some papers made the assumption that Cadet Clark also was from Norton.  Clark's father appears to have been moving around.  He was a grain dealer in Boone, Iowa when his son joined the academy in 1942.

I would like to close this entry with a photograph - this is Cadet Robert Bragg Clark from the 1945 Howitzer, the USMA yearbook.  And here is the brief bio that accompanied the picture: "West Point was like a new strange world to Bob when he first entered. He was never one to complain. He took things as they came, for to be disheartened was not part of his nature. His cheerfulness in everything he did won him many lifetime friends. Bob was a very conscientious worker but had no intentions of setting aflame the academic world. Cheerful, efficient, generous, loyal, Bob was a good wife [ie., roommate] and a better man. Good luck to you Bob, in your Army career."

Clark was buried in the cemetery at West Point on May 2, a bright spring day, with all of his cadet company in attendance.  Though he did not die in combat, his death was in the service of his country.  So it seems appropriate to remember him on Memorial Day.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Indian Rocks - a Blast from the Past

Last Sunday (May 22) five intrepid hikers joined me on a May trek to Indian Rocks.  Left to right:  your's truly, Bonnie Denison, Bill DeSilva, Clare Ferguson Lang, Adele Ferguson, Janet DeSilva.  Bill remembered going to Indian Rocks as a kid and had hoped to find where he carved his initials, but we were not successful.  But overall, a very nice hike.

And just this evening, Chuck McIntosh brought me a postcard to scan of what might be the earliest photograph of Indian Rocks.  The postcard dates from 1906, so the photograph is at least that old if not a bit older.  Here it is (click on the image to get the full view):

This picture shows what the right side of the 1906 image looks like today (click on the image to get the full view).  I need to get back up there to try and recreate the full image, but it'll probably have to be in the fall when the leaves are off the trees (this shot was in the spring).  And it may be impossible to recreate the shot because of all the trees. 

Enjoy this blast from the past.  And I'm always looking for other pictures of Indian Rocks. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"Bovina Center, My Home Town" - Parts I and II

This is the first of a series of entries from the script used on April 21, 1955, when citizens of Bovina presented a pageant of the town's history - "Bovina Center, My Home Town."  Though I'm not 100% sure, it appears the script was written by Vera Storie and her brother Fletcher Davidson.  The items in brackets refer to the tableau of local citizens acting out parts of the story.

I.  My Home Town - To My Children - Rachel Scott

It is the fall of 1951.  I have spent the greater part of my life in Bovina, in this great farming town with its flowering hillsides and fertile valleys, with its extensive pasture lands and herds of dairy cows ranging over them, and with its small brooks winding merrily along between their low banks, fringed with trees and bushes; and I am anxious that my children and all those that follow in their line may know what manner of people their forefathers were, those early settlers who first chose the countryside in the present town of Bovina as their home, and how from a wilderness they transformed these lands to large productive farms, yielding bumper crops of hay, oats, corns, and other kinds of farm produce.  And so, I have read the pages of history and have studied the old newspapers, and I have interviewed the old timers; and now I shall write, as I find the time, the story of Bovina from the year 1790 to the year 1950.

II.  The First Settlers

In the spring of the year 1790, three or four courageous young men, with their rifles and their knapsacks slung over their shoulders, started out from Westchester County on a surveying and prospecting tour.  Following along Indian trails down to the town of Stamford, at last they invaded the rough, wild, wood countryside, which is today know as Bovina.  [*2 - 3 pioneers with knapsacks during reading]

One of these young men, a liberty-loving patriot who had served his country in the Revolutionary War, looked with favor upon these hills and uplands, a region somewhat similar to the mountainous countryside of Northern England from which his father Isaiah Maynard had emigrated.  He was looking for a home; so he, Elisha B. Maynard, remained and, working industriously for a year, cleared a few acres of land on a part of the farm today known as the Maynard Farm, built a log cabin partly underground, and sowed 1 ½ bushels of rye.  Then he journeyed back to Westchester County for his family; and in the spring of 1792, bringing his household goods on a wood-shod sled, drawn by four oxen, all the way from the Hudson River, he returned and permanently settled on land which was to be known as part of the town of Bovina.

Many were the hardships he and his family had to face in those first years in this wilderness where panthers prowled, where the wily Indians roamed, and where war whoops startled the night.  For many years it was difficult to raise stock here on account of the menace of bears, wolves, and other wild animals, which visited the yards of the log cabins scattered here and there in the clearings in the woods.  However, it was from these animals and from the deer and the fish that the early settlers obtained much of their food.  On rare occasions only did they enjoy the luxury of pork for dinner provided the bears had not captured the pig before butchering time.

In the next year 1793 a son, Elisha H., was born in this family, the first white child to be born in this new settlement.  [*3 - Mother and baby and cradle – with Braham’s Cradle Song]

In the years that followed, this brave couple was blessed with eleven more children, all of whom were given Bibl names, such as Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Ruth, Rachel and Esther.

The first marriage in this primitive settlement, that of James Russell and Nancy Richie, also took place in the year 1793.  [*4-Young bride and husband having picture taken – Song “Melody of Love”]

At the beginning of the 19th century several hardy Scotch, in whose vein flowed some of the gallant blood of the Scotch Highlanders of olden days, crowded into this land on the headwaters of the Little Delaware, they seemed to choose the hilly countryside in preference to the fertile valleys below, partly because of their poverty, the hilly land being cheaper, and partly because of the mountains, which were similar to those they had left in their beloved Scotland.  They were an industrious, intelligent, and religious people, who were devoted to the Presbyterian Church, either United or Reformed.  And so it was that the town of Bovina was settled largely by the Scotch, who brought with them, not only the Scotch Thrift, but also the Scotch love of home, country, and God.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Brothers-in-Law, Part II

In the May 5 installment of this blog, I started telling the story of James Coulter and Thomas Miller, brothers-in-law tied up in a squabble over their late father-in-law's estate.  Coulter sued Miller and got into trouble with the Bovina U.P. Church session for not coming to them to resolve the issue.  Coulter was asked to withdraw the suit, but he and his wife Nancy refused to do so.  In March 1867, they were suspended from membership in the church. 

On the third of June, the Session met and discussed the case of Mr. and Mrs. Coulter.  The Moderator reported that his meeting with Mr. Coulter to discuss the suspension was not successful.  Coulter would not withdraw his suit and refused to attend church.   “Mr. Coulter only manifested a spirit of bitterness against Session and charged them with doing him great injustice in a former difficulty with Mr. Edward O’Connor, and using his son John very badly.”  Coulter asked the Session to stop bothering him.  The Session adopted a resolution continuing the suspension of Mr. and Mrs. Coulter.

The case was further complicated by the fact that not only was Miller an elder, but so was Miller's and Coulter's mutual brother-in-law, William Thomson.  Miller had not been active as an elder because of the case. There had been a resolution in May asking Thomas Miller to resume his active duties as an Elder.  On June 15, the Session met where the resolution was discussed.  The invitation was opposed by some who felt it “would be offensive to Wm Thomson and others.”   Others said they had no personal disagreement with Mr. Miller but thought the invitation to resume his duties was premature.  Yet others felt that “Mr. Miller was an Elder in good standing with no charge, or scandal against his character, which this Session could entertain.”  It was further argued that Miller had obtained a leave of absence from Session meetings while Coulter’s case was being heard, but as far as the session was concerned now, the case was ended.  “Mr. Miller had rights and privileges which Session could not justly ignore.” 

In September 1867, Elder Thomson was granted his request of several months duration to resign as Elder.  The Session agreed “on the grounds of a felt personal inability to discharge his duties.”  In January 1868, Thomas Miller was invited once again to resume his duties as Elder. 

While the issue of Elders Miller and Thomson was being resolved, little had been heard from the Coulters.  But at a meeting of the Presbytery held on April 28 and 29, 1868 at the Bovina U.P. Church, James and Nancy took this opportunity to circulate a letter of complaint against the Bovina session.  The session was not pleased and requested James to appear before their next meeting on May 12.  James did appear and said that after circulating the letter they had withdrawn it.  He requested to have his church privileges restored.  The Moderator read the rules explaining that “the practice of Christian brethren going to law one with another is not only contrary to the spirit, but to the letter of the Holy Bible.”   Coulter explained that he agreed but two days later, a letter was received from James and Nancy Coulter:

We the undersigned ask of the Session of the U.P. Church of Bovina to remove the act of suspension dated March 5, 1867 depriving us of church privileges. For the following reasons:
1st We have not committed any crime against the church to our knowledge;
2nd We have reason to believe there was not a full meeting of Session at the time of suspension;
3rd And we cannot see that we have committed a crime in leaving a church where we could not enjoy ourselves and be benefited, and go to another;
4th We were not cited to the Session at the time of suspension and was attending church two weeks before the suspension.  Signed Jas and N.D. Coulter.
With regard to the paper presented to Presbytery I have not got that in possession as I expected and it is not necessary in the action of Session in this matter as the Session will see after due consideration.
You the Session of Bovina please give us certificates and restore to us the blessings of church privileges if you cannot do this act of kindness to us I give you notice that we must lay the matter before the Presbytery which we do not wish to do.  Bovina, May 13, 1868, Jas and N.D. Coulter.
The session met again on Saturday May 16 to discuss the case of James Coulter.  The moderator explained that Mr. Coulter had promised but failed to produce the paper passed around at the Presbytery and yet had now “presented to this Session another paper signed by himself and wife asking Session to restore them to privilege for reasons which appear to us untrue [and] unwanted.  It was pointed out that Coulter admitted that what he was doing was contrary to the rules of the church, that he had disobeyed several citations to appear before the session, and that when Coulter and his wife were suspended, all but two members of the Session were present and that the vote was unanimous.  The Session resolved, however, that Mr. and Mrs. Coulter be granted a new trial and be allowed 20 days to notify the Clerk of the Session as to their response. The session also stated that it “is perfectly willing to have the whole matter brought before Presbytery in a proper and orderly way.”  

Unfortunately, here the story abruptly stops because the next volume of session minutes that would continue the narrative has not been found.  The ultimate resolution of the case cannot be determined.  Did James and Nancy get what they felt they deserved from her father’s estate?  Were they restored to church privileges? 

We do know that Thomas Miller continued as an elder until his death, having been one of the longest serving elders ever in the church.  Thomas’s wife did not long survive the case, dying in 1870. Miller married twice more before his death in 1911.  Nancy Thomson Coulter also predeceased her husband, dying in 1891.  James died seven years later.  William, the brother who was caught up in the squabble, died in 1884. 

And I have had no luck locating any civil court records of this case - so whether or not they really went to court has not been established.  But I keep my eyes open for any new sources that might help us find the final resolution of this family squabble that spilled over into the Bovina UP Church.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Bovina in the Civil War - The Supreme Sacrifice

Bovina officially lost eleven men in the Civil War.  The first death was that of John Sinclair Burns on April 4, 1863, age 21.  He died of that scourge that took so many soldiers – typhoid.  Typhoid was responsible for seven of Bovina’s eleven Civil War fatalities:  William T. Gillie, age 19; Robert Dysart, age 26; John Murray, Jr, age 24; Andrew G. Chisholm, age 23; Adam C. Biggar, age 23; and Solomon Coulter, age 22.  William Storie, age 22, also died of disease in 1864, though it is not known specifically what disease took him.  And an unspecified disease also took Francis Miller, who has the distinction of being Bovina’s youngest Civil War fatality.  He was 17 and may have been as young as 15 when he died. 

Bovina lost two men in action.  William H. Stott, age 22, was killed in action on May 14, 1864 while charging Chula Bridge in Virginia.  Bovina’s last Civil War fatality happened in December 1864 when Roman Palmer, age 24, was killed in action.

Palmer’s story is particularly poignant, for he had just settled in Bovina the year before and had been married barely five months at the time of his death. The son of Saunders and Cornelia Palmer, Roman spent his childhood in Colchester and then Hamden.  In 1860, he was living with William McLealand in Andes working as a cooper.   He decided to branch out on his own as cooper and by 1863 was in Bovina making butter firkins.  In March 1864 he bought a house in Bovina to start up a cooperage there.  That July, he brought to the house his new bride, Margaret K. Gladstone.  Two months later, he left his wife and home to enlist and was mustered into Company E of the 144th Infantry as a private (his enlistment paper is at the left - click on the image to see larger version).  On October 17, Roman signed an affidavit in Hilton Head, South Carolina, witnessed by James Adee, a Bovina native and a lieutenant in the 144th Infantry, empowering James Elliott to vote in his stead in the November 8 general election.  On December 9, 1864, Palmer was killed in action during a battle in Deveaux Neck, South Carolina and was buried near where he fell in Coosawatchie, SC.  His widow sold his home and possessions, including his cooperage tools, the following year to settle debts.  Margaret Palmer never remarried and was a widow for close to 60 years, dying in 1923. 

There are three other soldiers buried or memorialized in the Bovina cemetery who died in the war.  James T. Oliver of Delhi died March 20, 1864.  Brothers Thomas and James Elliott of New Kingston both died in November 1864.  Thomas Elliott was wounded on October 19 and died in a hospital in Baltimore on November 6.  His brother James was killed at Honey Hill, North Carolina on November 30.  Thomas’s body was returned home for burial in Bovina.  On the same monument is a memorial to James, who was buried on the battlefield. 

Bovina also has one Civil War soldier who was missing in action, David S. Elliott.  The son of Robert Elliott from Bovina (it is not clear how he was related to the Elliott brothers), he enlisted in Bovina in February 1864.  David was missing in action at Ream’s Station, Virginia on June 29, 1864.  Some sources say he died in Andersonville prison but this has never been verified.

Only one of Bovina’s Civil War fatalities is buried in Bovina – Sinclair Burns.  Six more have memorial stones while four of them, including Roman Palmer, have no memorial in Bovina. Bovina has a total of twenty nine Civil War soldiers buried or memorialized in Bovina Cemetery (twenty eight are in the Bovina cemetery while one veteran, Robert Halstead, who died in 1874, is buried in the Burgin Cemetery). 

Note:  See the May 29, 2010 blog entry about Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day.  Decoration day got its start after the Civil War as a way to remember those who lost their lives in the conflict.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Bovina Museum Opening for 2011

The Bovina Historical Society's Museum will be open on selected Saturdays starting May 21.  I will be staffing the museum on the following dates (10 to 1 each day): May 21, June 18, July 2, August 20, September 17 and October 8.

The museum also will be open for Bovina Day on July 16.

As well as the regular exhibits, I will be creating a display on the April 29, 1945 plane crash near Bramley Mountain that took the life of a West Point cadet.  I have copies of several newspaper articles and the accident report.  Also on display will be one of the cylinders from the plane, recovered by my father when he was a teenager.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Brothers-in-Law, Part I

Andrew Thomson, a native of Scotland, died in Bovina on 12 May 1866, aged 87 years.  He had been a widower for more than 7 years, living with his daughter Eliza Miller and her husband, Thomas.   His death led to a family squabble that turned into one couple’s battle with the Bovina United Presbyterian Church. 

Andrew had seven children, including daughters Elizabeth or Eliza and Nancy and son William.  Elizabeth and Nancy got into a disagreement over their father’s estate after his death and their husbands joined in the dispute.  James Coulter, the husband of Nancy Thomson, instigated a suit against Thomas Miller, the husband of Elizabeth.  James claimed “my wife got the silver but did not get the gold that Grandfather told was up at Thomas’s.  My wife asked Thomas’s wife about it and Eliza told her she had got all the gold she should get now [so] what could I do.”

The Bovina U.P. Church got involved in the case because it was contrary to the rules of the church for one member to take another to court.  It first reached the ears of the church Session on October 9, 1866.  It was reported at a meeting of the Session “that a suit at law has been instigated against Mr. Thomas Miller a member of this congregation, and whereas it is reported that Mr. James Coulter who is also a member of this church has been active in having said suit instituted.”  It was pointed out that Mr. Coulter should have come to the Session for resolution of the issue.  The case was further complicated by the fact that Thomas Miller was a church elder and also on Session was his brother-in-law, William Thomson. 

James appeared before the Session on October 19.  He was asked “Are you willing to comply with the rules of the church and withdraw the suit you have been instrumental in bringing against Thomas Miller?”  He replied “I admit I did not take the scriptural mode of settlement, but I cannot withdraw the matter now.  I will withdraw the suit if Mr. Miller will pay us what we ask.”

Over the course of the next two years the Session made repeated attempts to get Mr. Coulter to withdraw his suit.  After his appearance before the Session in October, he declined several requests to make further appearances until February 1867. 

Intertwined with this was the fact that Coulter’s brother-in-law, William Thomson had not been attending Session meetings and tending to other duties as an Elder, likely because of the lawsuit.  On January 27, 1867, Thomson appeared before the Session and said he was incompetent to carry out his duties and wished to resign.  His brother-in-law, Thomas Miller, requested that the session not accept the resignation.  He “said he believed Mr. T’s reasons were personal to him (Miller).”  He said he would resign in Thomson’s place and that “perhaps never would again act as an elder in this congregation.”  Thomson said he had no feeling against Miller, and had “offered his resignation irrespective of all feeling or prejudices.”  Thomson said that since he did not uphold either party in the suit that he might bring his two brothers-in-law together to settle thing.   After a long discussion, Thomson agreed to withdraw his resignation. 

This did not resolve the suit between Miller and Coulter however.  Coulter appeared before the Session on February 4 and again on the 8th to argue his case.  Coulter thought he had been misused and that he always wanted to settle with Miller, but Miller had refused.  Coulter said "I spoke to some members of Session to speak to Miller, and try to get him to settle, and it seems they did not do it.”  He had asked Mr. Lee, the pastor, to speak to Miller.  He says that Lee said Session had no authority to make Miller settle with him.  Coulter “did not think he was doing wrong in trying to get his pay for keeping Grandfather” and that he was willing to let Miller have $3000 and he would take the balance.  The Session asked Mr. Coulter to use his influence to withdraw the suit but he made no reply.

When the session reconvened on February 8, Coulter was again asked to withdraw the suit.  Coulter responded at length:

I have had a great deal of trouble out this matter.  I feel as though there was a feeling against me.  I know I am a very poor unworthy man.  You can put me out of the Church if you want, I cannot feel like coming to church knowing there is a feeling against. When a member of Session says it was preposterous for me to ask 500 dollars for keeping Grandfather, I can’t feel right.  This matter has caused me the loss of many a nights sleep. I have prayed over it.  I wish to do right.  You can put me out of the church, but many an hour I have spent in prayer by myself.  In the woods alone I have an altar where I can pray.  I go to a big rock and over the rock are long red vines hanging, just like Jesus’ blood shed for me.  I think so, at least it appears so to me, and there I pray. 

The Session Moderator tried to convince Coulter “that there was no desire to put him out of the church, but rather as a contrary one, to have his difficulties settled.”  Coulter did not wish to be asked to appear before Session anymore. 

At the March 5, 1867 meeting, the Moderator reported on a meeting he had with Mr. and Mrs. Coulter.  It became obvious that Coulter’s wife, Nancy, was no passive player in this suit.  She explained to the Moderator that “I have the entire control of that suit and [that James] cannot settle it if he would, that if the Session wants to do anything they can proceed against her.”  The couple was “offended that [the] Session had noticed this matter.” 

After reporting this unsuccessful meeting, a motion was passed by the session: 

Whereas Mr. and Mrs. James Coulter have been instrumental in instituting a suit at law as they themselves admitted and whereas Mr. C has admitted before this Session that he acted contrary to the word of God in refusing to arbitrate said case and whereas Mrs. Coulter admits that she has the control of said difficulty so far as to prevent her husband from arbitrating said case and whereas Mr. James Coulter has informed the Moderator of this Session that he has applied to have an arbitrator grated by the court and this application is still pending, Therefore Resolved That Mr. and Mrs. James Coulter be suspended until the first Tuesday of June, when said court meets.

Subsequent actions taken by James and Nancy Coulter did not help increase their chances of having the suspension removed.  More of this story will appear in this blog on May 17.