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Slavery in my ancestry

Perhaps dozens of men and women suffered enslavement under my ancestors. I know only four of their names from two ancestors’ wills, in which they were conveyed as property: Dick, Plato, Samm, and John. Many more are and will remain anonymous. I know nothing of any of their lives, other than in a broad way the condition they were forced to live in. But for me it is important to make concrete this expected truth about my ancestors. And that is what drove me to do this research.


I am a white person with a genealogy that goes back, in some lines, to Colonial America. I had long wondered if my ancestors owned slaves. In truth, I figured the only thing keeping many of them from doing so would be if they couldn’t afford to.

So I went looking. This was not so much hoping to clear myself of guilt for slavery. I would have been happy to find that there was no slaveholding in my family’s past. But it’s not possible to side-step that guilt. Whether slave owners or not, my ancestors benefited from the enslavement of others. Still, the fact of actual slave ownership is was something to for me to know, accept, lament, and most of all, learn about.

At the dawn of the Civil War, almost a third of households in what became the Confederate states owned at least one slave. Some of my ancestors lived in Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, along with other states with large slave populations.

And those ancestral lines include families that my research showed owned slaves, bought and sold them, and left them in their wills to their spouses and children. In fact, the only reason I know the names of four of the people enslaved by my ancestors is that those names appear in the ancestors’ wills.

I delved into sources digital and readily available, especially drawing on genealogical sources, and the U.S. Census. It was not hard to find these conclusive results.

Examples from my ancestry

For some of my ancestors, I found specific reference to slave ownership. Where there are wills available, we know certain details, and they can bring the situation to life.

George Bain of Woodford County, Kentucky

The will of George Bain offers the most vivid example. George Wesley Bain, who farmed in Woodford County, Kentucky, was one of my 4th great grandfathers. The 1810 Census of the county showed his household of 5 people owning 6 slaves. The 1820 Census showed Bain owning 4 slaves. His 1824 will sheds just a little light on this.

Text of George Bain’s 1824 will

I, George Bain, of Woodford County, Ky.  being weak of body but of sound and disposing mind and memory, realizing the certainty of death and having divided among my first wife’s children at their marriages the greater part of the property I possessed at the death of their mother, and each of them having received legacies from their grandfather, the property I am at present blessed with I am about the dispose in the following manner.

First, my will and desire is that all my debts be paid and my Negro man Dick be reserved for the payment of a security debt of Solomon Mitchell’s due George Woolfolk lately replevied for two years.

Second, I will give and bequeath unto my beloved wife, Elizabeth Bain, the plantation whereon I now live, with the Negroes and all the stock, farming utensils, together with all the household and kitchen furniture, to enjoy and possess during her widow hood and in case of her marriage, that she is to have only her choice of a horse and saddle and the choice of a feather bed and furniture.

Third, at my wife’s death or marriage, the plantation is to be divided between my two sons, George and Joseph Bain by a line beginning on Buck Run and running with the line passing the gate, the same course to the Kentucky River, George to have the upper part, including the dwelling house, etc., where I now live and Joseph the lower part down to the mouth of the Buck Run and also to have the privilege of a passway through Georges part and the right of getting firewood from off his land to have rail timber to keep up and supply his farm.

Fourth, at my wife’s death or marriage, I give unto my son George my Negro boy John and to my son Joseph my Negro man Plato and all my personal estate of every kind to be sold on a credit of twelve months and the money arising there from to be equally divided between my two sons.

Fifth, I give unto my two daughters, Sally Mitchell and Gincy Peacock, the sum of one hundred dollars each to be paid out of the monies arising from the sale of my personal property.

Sixth I give unto my grandson, Greenberry Peyton ten dollars to be paid by my two sons, George and Joseph Bain.

Seventh, I give unto my son, Joseph my tract of 200 acres of land in Washington County on Glenn’s Creek and waters of Chaplin.

Lastly I do hereby appoint my wife, Elizabeth Bain, and my son George Bain my executrix and executor of this my last will and testament hereby revoking and disannuling all wills or testaments by mere hereto made.

In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 21st day of April 1824.

Signed and acknowledge in presence.  G. Bain1


Slavery in Kentucky and Woodford County

The farms in Woodford County were small, distinct from the large-scale cotton and other plantation operations further south, such as in Mississippi. As agriculture evolved, the Woodford County slaveholders found they needed less labor from enslaved people and often they sold off people they enslaved to Mississippi plantations. They didn’t so often need the children of their slaves, and families were routinely split by the sale of what were seen as excess labor with a cash value. They literally sold people down the river.

The settlers of the county in the late 1700s came mainly from Virginia, but also from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina. Seventy percent brought slaves with them to the new territory, which was being stripped of its Native American population and its dense woodlands, to make it ready for white settlers. The enslaved brought there cleared land and built fences and then took up the work of farming and trades as the new white settlements grew.

A historian of the county, William Railey, writing in 19202,  claimed that, essentially, that the county’s enslaved people were contented, well-fed, loyal, and happy. He alleges that the native peoples encouraged the slaves to join in an uprising against their masters, but that the Negroes of the county were “loyal to the master, and he not only warned him of danger, but stood ready at all times, and under all circumstances, to help protect his interests at any sacrifice.”

He continues, “that spirit of loyalty characterized the slaves until a few itinerant Baptist preachers from Ohio sowed tares in the settlers’ field, made some of them restless, others a little reckless, but the average remained quiescent and faithful until Mr. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. In short, the ante-bellum Negro in Woodford was a happy, well-fed, well treated slave, and at no time since the Civil War has any county in the state had a better behaved colored citizenship than has this one. Much of this is due to the training they received from their several God-fearing masters.”

That line of thought, of course, is self-justifying nonsense. The people involved were held in slavery against their wills.

The county centered on the town Versailles. As of the 1810 Census, the vast majority of whites in the town owned slaves. Three fifths of the white population outside Versailles owned slaves. The town and county had a scattering of free people of color, but most of the people of color were enslaved. Of the total county population of 9,411, 3,179 were enslaved.

Captain William Barton of Southern Maryland (1634 to 1717)

William Barton was my 8th Great Grandfather. At about age 20, he emigrated from England with his family. They settled in Southern Maryland in 1654. His family bought plantation land in Maryland. He lived and farmed in Southern Maryland until his death in 1717.

Barton’s 1717 will directed that his slave Samm go to his grandson, Barton Smoot, noting, “if the Laws would have permitted, I would have given Samm his freedom”. His estate appraisal appears to show only one slave (Samm), but he may, through control of inherited property, had slaves who were, in effect, owned by an estate, rather than working directly in his household and thus considered personal property.3

From William Barton’s 1717 Will:

“I Give & bequeath unto my Grandson Barton Smoott My Negro Man Samm & do hereby Desire him to use him Kindly during his Natural Life knowing it was My Intent if the Laws would have permitted to have given him his freedome.”

This bequest made the top of William Barton’s list. He followed it with other specific bequests of his furniture, land, and other wealth, all was property entirely in his control, including Samm:

“… as for what Worldly Estate God hath been pleased to bless me with I Dispose of the Same as Followeth.

Item. I give & bequeath unto my Grandson Barton Smoott My Negro Man Samm & do hereby Desire him to use him Kindly during his Natural Life knowing it was My Intent if the Laws would have permitted to have given him his freedome.

Item. I give & bequeath unto My Grand Daughter Rachell Stone the Wife of Matthew Stone the feather bed & furniture that I now Lye on.

Item. I Give & Bequeath unto my Grand Daughter Ann Smoot two Cowes with Calves by theirs Sides to be Delivered after my Decease by My Executor.

Item. I Give & Bequeath unto my Grand Daughter Mary Hungerford two Young Cowes or Yearling Heifers to be Delivered as afsd.

Item. I Give & Bequeath unto My Grand Daughter Eliza: Philpott the Wife of Charles Philpott the feather bed & furniture belonging to the Same which is in the Great house Room to be delivered as afsd.

Item. I Give & bequeath unto my Grand Son Barton Warren Two Young Cows or heifers of Two Years old also one full share of my present Crop of Tobacco.

Item. I Give & Bequeath unto My Grand Son William Smoot one full share of my present Crop of Tobacco.

Item. I Give & Bequeath unto my Grand Daughter Eliza: Neale the Wife of John Neale one Cow & Calfe & forty Ells of Linnen.

Item. The full half of all the Remaining part of my Estate of what Nature Kind Soever it be or wheresoever the Same Shall or May be found I doe Give Bequeath unto My Daughter Margarett Miller & her three Youngest Children, the other halfe I doe give bequeath unto Thomas Smoot & Barton Smoot the Two Sons of My Grand Son Barton Smoot.


John Obadiah Cooper of New York (1755 – 1838)

Slaveholding was not just a thing of the American south. John Obadiah Cooper, another of my 4th great grandfathers, in the late 1700s, was a hatter in Fishkill, NY. He operated his manufactory and “owned a few slaves”.4 His was a line that descended to ever-more-prosperous families who built up wealth as manufacturers and merchants drawing on the labor of enslaved people.


There were no doubt other slaveholders among my ancestors for whom there are no surviving records or for whom I could not find records.

Finding this out was certainly inevitable. And I have to reflect that whether or not I had found specific evidence, my ancestors were white people, colonizers, and, in some cases, well-off landholders. That they would be a part of this system is inevitable. And they, whether slaveholders or not, benefited from the system that enslaved people.

Genealogical records and DNA analysis also show that I don’t have any African ancestry, so my ancestors were unlikely to have suffered from themselves being enslaved.

It is up to each of us to decide what this means. For me, it’s a reminder and deepening understanding of what privileges I have and how deeply rooted in history they are. It’s my obligation to know this and think of this, and to work where I can for social justice that can at least faintly begin to address the deep historical wrong that I am a part of. And if only to honor the many others, I will try at least to remember and think of Samm, Plato, John, and Dick.


1 Woodford County, Ky. will Book G., pages 148-149, cited in http://kansashealys.weebly.com/genealogy-wherritt.html

2 William E. Railey, “Woodford County Kentucky,” Register of Kentucky State Historical Society, Vol. 18, No. 52 (JANUARY, 1920),pp. 51, 53-70. Published by: Kentucky Historical Society. Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23368492

3 http://phelpsfulpancestry.com/getperson.php?personID=I62640&tree=TAP

4 http://notorc.blogspot.com/2007/01/peter-cooper-story-1-lost-peekskill.html

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Bart Mahaffie Part I — Introduction

Further posts in this series: 

Bart Mahaffie Part II — Childhood and education

Rule, Colo. 3.12.19

Dear Chas:

I received your letter a couple of weeks ago, but have been busy and didn’t notice how long it had been. Cattle are pretty thin and have to be watched mightily closely to see that they get to feed and don’t stray too far.

The loss has been very light, think I’ve only lost about 10 so far and if the weather will just partly behave from now on there should not be much more loss but most everything is thin now, even the range horses are weak so of course the cattle are bound to be thin.

I was in town last week and got the Heckler papers straightened out and ordered the abstracts. I expect that I’ll buy that land this spring, as he is going to leave and I can’t afford for anyone else to get the place. There are several places around me that are going to be for sale as soon as they are “proved up” and they are sure making me figure. Don’t want to buy anything that I can get a lease on.

Yes, I’ve been getting a novel every once in a while, and am ashamed ashamed that I’ve never even acknowledged the receipt of them but I always write in a hurry so forget about them. The Four Horsemen didn’t come but the W______ did come about that time. I’ve started to read it but have not finished it yet. Have not had much time for reading in the past month.

Do you expect to visit Oklahoma this summer? It is probable that at some yet uncertain date I’ll go down there to get me a housekeeper. There is no definite date yet other than before summer, for it is doubtful yet when I can get away. But if it is convenient and can be figured out far enough in advance I’d like for you to be there.

Must get to bed.


G B M Jr.

George Barton “Bart” Mahaffie, by 1919 having lived almost five years alone on his remote southeast Colorado homestead, was joking in this letter to his brother, that he wanted to “get me a housekeeper.” He meant he wanted to marry his sweetheart, Marye Traylor, and he wanted Charles to be there. Bart had lived alone almost 5 years on 480 acres of rough, dry, grazing land in southeastern Colorado, a bachelor rancher.

George Barton “Bart” Mahaffie, 1911

When I was six or seven, I remember my Great Uncle Oscar Beatty Mahaffie visited my grandparents at their Washington, DC home. It was the mid-1960s. Uncle Beatty and my grandfather, Charles, sat in the upstairs front room in large armchairs, Beatty about ten feet away from my Granddad, two grey, balding old men. They were “visiting,” which for old men like these, prairie-raised, meant sitting almost silent, sipping liquor, and immensely enjoying each other’s company.

But there was a brother missing, George Barton “Bart” Mahaffie. It’s hard to imagine him there. He died of the Spanish Influenza in 1919 at 29, young and in his prime, on his remote Colorado ranch.

The old pictures show the young Bart as an athlete, uniformed and with his teammates, as a scholar at Kingfisher College, and later, branding cattle or on horseback, on his Colorado ranch.

Bart died with most of his potential ahead of him. He endures for me as a tragic story. Yet I have fixed him in my mind as that young man from the old pictures, in his prime. The occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Spanish Influenza of 1918 made me think of Bart. I wanted to remember more than the tragedy, so I will tell the story of his life as far as we can know it.

Bart Mahaffie in the winter of 1919

Bart Mahaffie on his ranch late 1910s

In the late winter of 1919, Bart Mahaffie, aged 29, was hard at work on his ranch in rural southeast Colorado. Winters there were hard. He was at work “proving up” his homestead claims. That meant gaining title to free Federal land by living on it and improving it for stockraising and agriculture.

Bart planned to marry Marye Traylor of Elk City, Oklahoma that May and bring her to his ranch. The lonely bachelor’s life on the ranch would soon be over. He would have a partner to help him build his life in Colorado.

Marye was the daughter of W. E. Traylor. Her father had operated a Hobart, Oklahoma grocery in the mid-1910s. Marye, born in 1892, she was three years younger than Bart, but likely knew him from Hobart High School, or social events in town.

Marye Keith Traylor, Bart’s fiance

Marye was an accomplished young woman. She played basketball at Hobart High School. The Hobart papers noted her piano playing at weddings, performing Mendelssohn’s Wedding March for the bride and groom. Later she had a long career in business, working as a book bookkeeper and office manager. It’s not hard to imagine her being integral to Bart’s success as a rancher.

Despite the hard winter, Bart could look forward and see his dreams coming into view.

The Spanish Flu of 1918

The Spanish Influenza hit hard in the U.S. the fall of 1918, particularly among massed and returning troops from World War I. Emerging in 1917, it was at first a mild flu; three days of fever, cough, and runny nose, and then a rapid recovery. But the flu virus, which mutates quickly, turned deadly in the summer and fall of 1918. It became a global, deadly pandemic, killing 20 to 50 million people, worldwide, and 675,000 in the United States. The biggest share of its victims were young adults. The lucky got the infection early, before it mutated. They were then protected against the new strain.

A public health chart of deaths from the Spanish Flu, 1919

The Spanish Flu’s symptoms were fever, nausea, aches, and diarrhea. Many victims developed severe bronchopneumonia. Patients would have dark spots on their cheeks. The body under attack by the virus overran with immune response, attacking most aggressively in the lungs. Victims turned blue with a lack of oxygen as their lungs filled with a frothy, bloody discharge. They drowned in their own fluids before treatment could save them.

The flu spread easily and quickly. Doctors could not keep up. People often died before they could get help, but medical help was limited in any case. The flu had no direct treatment, with no antiviral medicines were yet developed. Doctors were not even clear that the disease was viral.

The flu in Colorado

The first cases in Colorado came in late September 1918, with a spike in infections at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The most deaths worldwide were that fall as well.

Mary Allen Hurd, grew up on a neighboring ranch to Bart’s. Years later she remembered: “the flu epidemic came along killing lots of people. Laughing Joe Smith knew there was a couple of new families who lived in a half dugout. He rode over one morning to see if they were all right. He saw stock in the corrals with cows bawling so he went to the house. This couple had four small children and a brother and his wife who lived there also had four small children. Laughing Joe Smith asked the children where their parents were and they said, ‘They are asleep and we can’t wake them up.’ So Joe went in and they were all dead.”

Later posts in this series: 

Bart Mahaffie Part II — Childhood and education

Bart Mahaffie Part III — To Colorado for land of his own

Bart Mahaffie Part IV — The flu reaches the 500 Ranch

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Bart Mahaffie Part II — Childhood and education

Previous post in this series: Bart Mahaffie Part I — Introduction

George Barton “Bart” Mahaffie was the second son and third child of George B. “Doc” Mahaffie and Mary Frances “Mollie” Williams Mahaffie. He was born October 3, 1889, in Olathe, Kansas. His parents were farmers. They also operated a store in Olathe.

Rose, Doc, Bart, Mollie, and Charles Mahaffie, 1891

The Mahaffie’s were a pioneering family. Bart’s grandfather, James Beatty Mahaffie, and grandmother, Lucinda Henderson Mahaffie homesteaded in Olathe, west of Kansas City, and kept a stagecoach stop there at the eastern end of the Santa Fe Trail from 1858 to 1870.

Bart Mahaffie at age 5

Doc and Mollie moved their family when Bart was three to a new homestead in Oklahoma Territory, joining the 1893 Cherokee Strip Land Run which opened Oklahoma lands taken from Native Americans to homesteaders.

During the Land Run, Doc galloped ahead on horseback with his brother Billy to try to secure the best land. Molly drove the team pulling a covered wagon, her three children, Rose, Charles, and Bart, and a household’s supplies aboard. They settled in Kingfisher, Oklahoma Territory. Another child, Oscar Beatty Mahaffie was born there.

Bart’s childhood home, Komalty, Oklahoma

In 1901, when Bart was 11 or 12, the family moved further west to Komalty in Kiowa County, near Hobart, in west-central Oklahoma Territory.

Hobart then was newly settled, with only a few businesses. There Doc raised wheat and livestock, becoming a prosperous rancher trading cattle and mules as far as Amarillo and Wichita.

Mollie ran a busy household and established herself as a community leader, prominent in Hobart’s civic affairs and social clubs. She was elected to the Hobart School Board, its first woman member, and served as School Board President from 1916 to 1919.

Mollie demanded that her children get the best education they could. In older age she said, “We were determined to educate our children if we never had a dollar.”

Before she married, she had taught school for nine years, starting at the age of 16, studying at a teacher’s college, called a normal school, in the summers. That focus on education was surely behind her daughter, Rose, being a school teacher and the fact that all four of her children attended college, two completing advanced degrees.

A little more about Hobart, the Komalty homestead, and Bart’s family is here.

“One of the most popular young men who ever lived in Hobart”

Teenaged Bart with sidearm about 1905

As Bart grew he learned ranching under his father’s tutelage and he got a good schooling under his mother’s direction. He grew to be a popular young member of the community.

Bart was a tall, handsome young man. He had blue eyes and dark hair. By high school, and surely before, he had distinguished himself as an athlete. He stood out, among other places, on the Hobart High School football team. After one game in 1905, the Hobart paper reported: “the sensational play of the game was made by Bart Mahaffie when Lee, Granite’s splendid left halfback, broke away and raced down the field for a touchdown, with a clear track before him excepting Bart, who made a flying tackle and saved Hobart from being scored against.”

High school graduation

Bart graduated from Hobart High School on Friday, May 18, 1906. The ceremony took place at the Presbyterian Church. There were a total of six graduates, most of whom spoke or performed at the ceremony. Bart’s part was to make a speech on the “Flight of the Bat”.

Bart (holding pennant) with his Kingfisher basketball teammates, between 1906-10

Higher education

Bart at Kingfisher College, between 1906-10

In the fall of 1906, Bart started at Kingfisher College where his older brother Charles had graduated in 1905. Over four years, he studied and played sports at Kingfisher, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in June 1910.

That fall, Bart began studying law at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. He was enrolled for two years, but did not take a degree. While studying in Norman, he joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and played on the Sooners football team.

After college Bart tried his hand at various jobs. In 1911, he was in Hobart, working for a real estate firm. By 1912, he had gone to work in Dallas for U.S. Bond & Mortgage Co. He visited Hobart late that summer on his way to Oklahoma City, where he was being transferred by his company. Bart continued to work in Oklahoma City until at least April 1914. Likely it was that summer when he left for Colorado to homestead.

Seeing a path for himself

Bart came at last to see a path for himself: to be a stock man like his father, but his own boss with his own ranch.

American generations tended, in the 1800s, to move a state or more westward as each rose to adulthood. Westward meant land and it meant opportunity, a chance to make one’s own way. Families were large and the home place would only be more crowded, less able to support another adult and family.

The Mahaffie’s followed that path through their American generations; Bart Mahaffie’s great great grandfather crossing from Northern Ireland to Pennsylvania, his great grandfather from Pennsylvania to Ohio and then Indiana, his grandfather from Indiana to Kansas. Bart’s father, Doc, moved from Kansas to Oklahoma for new land. And now Bart was moving another state west for his own chance.

There was still land to be had, further west. The papers regularly wrote about Colorado, touting the opportunity to claim land and the state’s beauty and healthful climate. Colorado beckoned.


Later posts in this series: 

Bart Mahaffie Part III — To Colorado for land of his own

Bart Mahaffie Part IV — The flu reaches the 500 Ranch

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Bart Mahaffie Part III — To Colorado for land of his own

Previous posts in this series: 

Bart Mahaffie Part I — Introduction

Bart Mahaffie Part II — Childhood and education

We don’t have an account of Bart Mahaffie’s 1915 move to Colorado to homestead. But to bring the story into view, the passage below tells it as if we do. It makes the best conjectures possible from news accounts, old photos, family and public records, and other settlers’ reminiscences. The boxed passages are from a 1915 guide for homesteaders. 1)Free Homestead Lands of Colorado Described: A Handbook for Settlers. George Samuel Clason. Clason map Company, 1915 – Colorado – 318 pages.


In the late winter of 1915, Bart Mahaffie, raised on a western Oklahoma homestead was working in the farm mortgage business in Oklahoma City. But the idea of securing his own place would not stop tumbling in his thoughts. He’d had his fill of the farm mortgage business. He’d lived in Dallas and then Oklahoma City. City life didn’t suit him.

With his job, Bart spent a lot of time with stock men, and the chatter among them would so often turn to the land you could homestead, if you went west. Some men were going, for sure. A lot more said they might or they wished they could.

Word of the land to be had also came in newspaper ads, pamphlets, annotated maps, and books. Bart borrowed “Free Homestead Lands in Colorado Described: A Handbook for Settlers” from a rancher in Hobart. The book was plain about the hard work it would take, but it got him excited about Colorado and the chance to have his own ranch there.

“Colorado has over 300 sun shiny days each year. Those who lived in damp foggy countries can appreciate the desirability of this. Unquestionably it is one of our greatest assets and combined with clear bracing atmosphere gives a vim and enthusiasm to our citizens that accounts for their physical and mental activities. It is rare indeed to find anyone with whom the climate of Colorado does not agree. Many who come to this State suffering from diseases in their incipiency become well and strong.”

He wasn’t married. He had nothing to keep him back. Twenty-some years back, his father had made his way west for land. So could Bart. After all, he knew a lot about stock raising.

It was time to give notice and make plans. Bart’s folks, Doc and Mollie, understood. He had their blessing. And Doc offered to help with a loan, a wagon, and a team of horses.

When the weather warmed, Bart made his plan. His best prospects were in southeastern Colorado. By wagon, the journey was 400 miles. That meant at least 20 days on the road. His Hobart friend Dick Cline said he’d go along for the adventure of it. So in the late spring, they hitched a team to a light spring wagon and said goodbye to their families. Mollie snapped a picture of the young men as they started off.*

“Bart and Dick Cline starting to Colorado, 1915”

They were 25 days on the trail, out through the Oklahoma Panhandle and then up into Colorado. They arrived, exhausted from the journey, in Lamar, where the Federal Land Office was. The town lay on the Santa Fe Trail. At the Eastern end, in Kansas, Bart’s grandfather and grandmother had operated a stage coach stop back in the 1860s.

Dick and Bart secured their gear and horses at a stable and took a room in town. The next day they found their way to a saloon and listened to the stories sweeping around about the claims to be had. Bart took it all in, there were truths to be found among the lies and tall tales and opinions.

One old fellow nodded his head towards the country outside, “you can’t find better soil for crops and gardens if you get rain.”

“There’s good land still to be had, but a man needs to hurry before it’s gone or too far from town,” they heard.

“Well, you’re already going thirty or forty miles, for good land,” another man said in response.

The next morning they called at the General Land Office and collected a map that showed available sections.

“Look fellas,” the clerk said, “understand, by the time you get to a spot, or get back here to claim on it, someone else may have filed.”

They needed to work fast. Bart and Dick jumped on their horses and started south. They worked their way south and west following Rule Creek toward Walker Canyon and Hackberry Springs, a promsing in Las Animas County. At over 30 miles, it was most of two days on the wagon road that ran along the creek. They camped the second night on Rule Creek.

A rancher living near the creek rode over to say hello. He sent his daughter to bring them a pail of hot beef stew from their kitchen.

“Happy to have fine young fellas like you in these parts,” the rancher said.

The man pointed some promising sections out on Bart’s map, and then rode with them up a nearby ridge to point the way.

Bart found land he liked in that north east corner of Las Animas County, some bottom land in a narrow valley, and the bluffs on either side.

They met another man who would be Bart’s neighbor. Bert Thomas operated the post office out of his ranch just to the southeast.

“Welcome to Rule, Colorado,” Bert said.

Dick asked him, “Well just where is the town?”

“The stock raising industry is one that few people outside of the stockmen understand or realize the possibilities of. Ten acres of average Colorado land will support one cow the year round. On a 320-acre homestead, the settler can graze twenty-five head of stock, and have sufficient land for a kitchen garden and plenty to cultivate in fodder crops for the winter feeding.”

“It ain’t a town,” Bert said, “It’s this here post office and the folks that live around it.”

They rode fast back to Lamar in one 35-mile day. Bart secured the land by filing his first claim, a half-section, 320 acres. He was benefiting from the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909, which raised the size of an allowable claim for just this sort of dry acreage.

Likely a range stray at Bart’s well

With the claim secured, it was time to get to work improving the land. Before being opened for homesteading, the area had been open range land, with the JJ brand cattle of the Pairie Cattle Company grazing all through it.

“Listen young man,” Bart’s neighbor told him, “The J.J. cattle like to get into the fields and eat our crops. You’re fencing them out, more’n you’re fencing your own in. When feed and water gets scarce in the rangeland, they’ll come for yours.”

Pen for cattle and horses

In any case, by law Bart had to improve his land for livestock and put up at least a one-room house. And he had to cultivate a portion of it. If he did so and lived and worked the land for three years, it would be his.

Dick Cline had a few weeks to help out. The two men gathered a wagonful of supplies in Lamar, and planned straightaway to fix a pen for cattle and a place to keep some laying hens. They buildt a corral out of the crooked trunks of cedar and pinyon trees they dragged down off on the bluffs.

“It is a simple life but far from an easy life. One who has not lived on a homestead cannot realize the things to be done or the disadvantage under which most of them must be accomplished. To start out, the settler has fences to build, a home to build, a barn, chicken houses and pig pens, and usually a well to dig.”

They got to work putting up a house.  At least the main material was free and close by. Bart built his house out of the red-brown sandstone plentiful in the area. They laid the rough stones for the walls, and brought windows and hardware back from town on each trip. They roofed the house with sheets of tin and weighted them down against the prairie winds with more stones.

Rock house on Bart’s ranch

A couple of neighbors came by to help lift timbers up onto the rock house for its roof. Bart hadn’t been afraid to ask for help. He’d already learned some of the ways of the folks in the County.

Folks along Rule Creek had told him, “Listen, we want to be good neighbors and help out, but when we do we expect you to pay back and we will get along fine if you do.”

And some men from the nearby ranch were happy to come and help.

“Those who realize best the problems a settler must confront advise that he should have at least three milch cows, one or more sows, and some chickens to start in with. With this livestock as well as a good team and wagon, he is assured of a good living for his family and the ability to plow his land and take care of his crops. The cows supply the necessary cream and milk for the family and also provide more or less butter and cream to be sold or traded at the store. Many a successful settler, however, has made his start without most of these things. Oftentimes, his principal asset is a willing wife and a family of hungry children. Rabbits, grouse, and fish have helped out the larder at many critical times.”

Bart was glad to have Dick as long as he could. After Dick went home, he’d try to get a neighbor or two to help out from time to time. He wrote the home folks that he sure hoped his father and Beatty could come out that summer and see his place and maybe lend a hand.

After four weeks, he took Dick to town for a train home. Then Bart settled in to work the ranch on his own.

The days were long and hard. There was never enough daylight, even in June and July, to get enough done. But Bart made progress and felt the pride of seeing his place come into shape.

He soon brought a few head of cattle to get his herd started. He dubbed the homestead “The 500 Ranch” registering “500” as his brand.

Bart and helpers branding cattle, 1918

Men from the neighboring homesteads came to help out with branding and other work a man on his own would struggle to do. In return, Bart helped them where he could. The neighbors came to count on him as a willing and able hand.

Learning to manage ranch life meant learning to live off the land. Bart had heard folks on Lamar say you could tell how long a homesteader would last on his claim by the pile of tins cans around his house. If it was a big heap, he wouldn’t last. But if a fellow lived on beans and what he could raise and hunt, he would make it.

Bart on a horse bearing the 500 brand

In the first months, Bart grew to have a sense of the wildness of the area. The countryside had its share of wild animals, some useful to hunt, and some troublesome. Skunks, jackrabbits, possum, all sorts of creatures turned up, generally when you didn’t expect or want it. There were coyotes and wolves too, more of a threat to a stockman’s investment.

Bart with his horse and dog Wiggles

It wasn’t all hard work. George Heckler’s place, a mile or so off, was a sort of headquarters for the area bachelors. Bart made a visit when he could. The men would gather there, and fix up some Mexican beans, deer or antelope meat or mulligan stew, dried apples, rice and raisins and sour dough biscuits. It was a welcome break from the lonely ranch. But going home from George Hecker’s always made the 500 Ranch seem even lonelier.


*It’s quite possible that Bart and Dick did not take a wagon all the way to Colorado. They may have driven in a motor vehicle, or taken trains. HERE is a look at the arguments on either side of the question.

Later post in this series: 

Bart Mahaffie Part IV — The flu reaches the 500 Ranch

References   [ + ]

1. Free Homestead Lands of Colorado Described: A Handbook for Settlers. George Samuel Clason. Clason map Company, 1915 – Colorado – 318 pages.
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Bart Mahaffie Part IV — The flu reaches the 500 Ranch

Previous posts in this series: 

Bart Mahaffie Part I — Introduction

Bart Mahaffie Part II — Childhood and education

Bart Mahaffie Part III — To Colorado for land of his own


The winter of 1918-1919 in southeastern Colorado was especially hard, as Bart wrote in his March 12, 1919 letter to his brother Charles. (The letter is at the front of Post I [LINK] in this series.)

Cattle feeding on cactus, 1918

Bart did as other ranchers in the area did when heavy snowfall covered the forage. They burned thorns off cactus with a gas torch or held the pads on a pitchfork over a fire, and fed them to the cattle. Mary Allen Hurd 1)Mary Allen Hurd grew up near Bart Mahaffie’s ranch in Colorado and knew of Bart. An upublished collection of her reminiscences has circulated in Las Animas County, and I’ve drawn on it and cited her in these posts recalled how the cattle happily ate the cactus pads hot. It was often all they got, and some still succcumbed to hunger during the hard winters.

But Bart wasn’t discouraged. He had 480 acres in two homestead claims. He’d done the work to prove them up, building his house and improving the land.

Bart wrote to Charles about getting more acreage, with plans to acquire his neighbor George Heckler’s 320 acres. Heckler, an older man, was proved up and planned to sell. Later records also show Bart was working to get 320 further acres from Cleveland Hersom, another neighbor.

Bart’s ranch house by the late 1910s

That summer meant he’d get married to Marye Traylor and bring her to live on the ranch. The house was ready, expanded with a proper addition. With a bigger ranch he could earn more to support a family.

And at last the March days flirted with warmer temperatures and the snow was melting. The day he wrote Charles, the temperature reached 70 degrees. There was reason to be encouraged.

The flu reaches Bart

But the Spanish influenza virus was waiting for Bart. The historic epidemic looked to be over after its awful surge in the fall of 1918. But it had one more rampage and Bart was among its targets.

He did not contract the flu until March of 1919. He was unfortunate to be among is last deadly wave of victims that came that winter.

Living on a remote ranch kept him from getting the infection sooner. Of course he did business in town. Trains brought people and goods from other places. They readily brought the virus. And the homesteaders in his corner of Las Animas County were a community that visited and helped each other out with ranch work. Even a bachelor making his living alone on a ranch had occasion to be with others and to risk the infection.

Word of Bart’s illness

We don’t know how Bart alerted someone that he was sick. The flu tended to come on quickly. He may have felt ill during a day when he saw others, or a neighbor may have come to check on him. Someone soon came to help and alerted Bart’s family in Oklahoma. Bart would have seen others get the flu and probably knew about the symptoms and his prognosis.

Mary Allen Hurd recalled that the ranchers were far from doctors. They had to make do with whatever they knew how to do for each other.

George Heckler, Bart’s neighbor, was the knowledgeable veteran among the settlers. It’s possible it was George who first saw to Bart when he took sick.

Mary Allen Hurd recalled how George knew old remedies and how to make Mountain Sage Tea for congestion and other symptoms. She said “it either killed or cured.” But those remedies could do little when the flu hit. Not even doctors had much to offer when Bart took sick.

Late on Wednesday March 26, 1919, Bart’s parents, Doc and Mollie, got a telegram, probably arranged by a concerned neighbor, alerting them to Bart’s illness. They left by train on Thursday morning to go to him. The folks in Hobart knew Bart well, and his illness meant a short mention, “Bart Mahaffie Ill” in the Hobart paper, the Republican.

Based on the timing, we can assume that Doc and Mollie got to Bart’s bedside by the 27th or 28th. At least their presence could be of comfort to him.

Bart only had treatment for his symptoms and some comfort from not being alone in his rock house. But the ravages of the flu’s attack on his lungs meant a short, but excruciating decline, no doubt abject fear, and death. Gravely ill, he held on for two days longer, but succumbed on Saturday March 29th.

By the next Tuesday, April 1, the Hobart Republican story headline was “Body in Route Home.”

Bart’s funeral lagged until his oldest brother, Charles Mahaffie, could arrive from Washington, DC. The Hobart Republican wrote: “Scores of people attended the service to pay their last token of tribute to one of the most popular young men who ever lived in Hobart.”

Bart was buried in the Hobart Rose Cemetery.

Aftermath: those he left behind

Doc, early 1920s

Doc and Mollie, the August after Bart’s death, closed up their house in Komalty outside Hobart and sold their stock for what was an indefinite move to Rule, Colorado and Bart’s ranch. As Bart’s heirs, the ranch was now theirs to manage.

Bart had died before his Colorado claims were officially “proved up” which would normally happen after requirements were met and three years had passed.

The two patents on his original claims show an issue date of October 7, 1919, which means his heirs, namely Doc Mahaffie, his father, presented proof of qualification, and took ownership.

Mollie, early 1920s

Doc and Mollie went to Colorado complete that process and the transaction acquiring George Heckler’s place and Cleveland Hersom’s land.

The ranch was remote and the house small, a far cry from the substantial lifestyle and busy town they were used to. They were in their mid-60s, late to take up a life in a rough, remote place like Rule.

Doc may have had his eye on making Bart’s ranch big enough to be attractive to a buyer, or just saw opportunity in the additional land to be had cheap from frustrated homesteaders.

What became of Marye Traylor

Doc, Mollie, Marye Traylor, and Beatty Mahaffie, March 1920

After the death of her fiance, Marye worked as a bookkeeper in an ice plant in Elk City, Oklahoma. For a time after Bart’s death, Marye and her family kept in close touch with the Mahaffies.

She moved to Oklahoma City in the late 1920s. By 1930 she was heading her own household there, living with her father, sister, and brother in law. She worked as a bookkeeper at the Wetherbee Electric Company.

Marye Traylor, early 1920s

By the late 1930s, she had married a co-worker, Ernest Tanner, a foreman and salesman in the company. They moved to El Reno, just outside Oklahoma City. Ernest started his own business, Tanner Electric Co. in El Reno.

Marye was active in the El Reno community, a member of the Center Grove Home Demonstration Club, but also the El Reno Business and Professional Women’s Club, serving on its executive committee. Ernest died in November 1954.

Surviving her husband, Mary lived to 101 years. She died in 1993, and is buried in El Reno.

The ranch to the present

After Bart died, his family made a number of land transactions to finish out purchases Bart had set in motion with two neighboring ranchers, and perhaps to consolidate a more valuable and salable ranch. Doc and Charles were both savvy about money and investment. Both had loaned Bart money or guaranteed the notes he promised the men he transacted with for land.

Between land that Bart had acquired or planned to before he died, and transactions completed after he died by Doc and Charles, the holdings grew to 1120 acres in Las Animas and Baca Counties, Colorado.

Bart Mahaffie’s ranch ultimately included these three parcels

The land stayed in the Mahaffie family, owned by Bart’s brother Charles until his death in 1969. It then passed to his wife and later his son. Mark and Kimberly Wilson, whose family had long leased the land from the Mahaffies, bought it in 2009, and continue to raise cattle there.


So many homesteaders in that dry, tough corner of Colorado tried and gave up. Bart had the makings of success and a fiance that had business savvy and drive of her own. We see what Bart was able to do on his own, and can imagine what Bart and Marye could have done together. In learning all we can know to know about Bart and his intended wife Marye, I’ve come to believe they not only would have made it, but would have thrived.

References   [ + ]

1. Mary Allen Hurd grew up near Bart Mahaffie’s ranch in Colorado and knew of Bart. An upublished collection of her reminiscences has circulated in Las Animas County, and I’ve drawn on it and cited her in these posts
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Redmond Farrar goes to college, 100 years ago

Roberta Becker and Redmond Farrar 1915

Roberta Becker and Redmond Farrar 1915

As I went off to college at the University of Pennsylvania in the Fall of 1977, my mom, Judith Mahaffie, said, “Oh, my father attended Penn, at least for a time.” So before long, when I had settled in at the college, I went to the Registrar’s office, dug through a card file of alumnae, and found his name. He had attended from 1916 to 1918. The clerk at the Registrar’s office was pleased that I was pleased to find something.

He was John Redmond Farrar, whom everyone called Redmond. And though we don’t know much about his time there, we know a few facts about him and a great deal more about the college in those years.


On Thursday, September 28, 1916, Redmond left his Brooklyn home to enroll at the University of Pennsylvania. In the 1920s and into the 30s, Redmond, spent time composing “hot  dance” songs, but as a young fresh graduate from Brooklyn’s Polytechnic Preparatory Institute (Poly Prep),  he was headed to college to prepare for a career in business.

Redmond was 18 years old. He was the son of a prominent Brooklyn judge, John Redmond Farrar, Sr. He was enrolling in Penn’s Wharton School of Finance and Commerce.

Redmond’s father was among those listed in a 1914 edition of “Empire State Notables”: “Lawyer, member of Assembly of N.Y. 1980-09, Elected Justice Municipal Court of City of N.Y. for Full Term of Ten Years Beginning January 1, 1910, Brooklyn, N.Y.” John R. Farrar, Sr. did not attend college, and it’s likely Redmond was the first in his family to do so.

Redmond likely rode by cab (which may have been horse-drawn) or streetcar from Brooklyn to New York City’s Penn Station and took a Pennsylvania Railroad parlor car to West Philadelphia. Campus was a short walk or cab ride from there. He would have passed the massive Croft & Allen Chocolate Works, which produced chocolates and “breakfast cocoa.” It’s delicious aroma probably mixed with sundry light industrial smells as he passed through the West Philadelphia neighborhood now taken up largely by Drexel University and a much expanded Penn campus.

Redmond moved into Morgan House in the Penn Quadrangle dorms. A few days later, he started classes. The required curriculum was:


  • Political Economy
  • Economic Resources
  • Accounting
  • Government
  • English
  • Chemistry or Business Law
  • Physical Education


  • Nineteenth Century Novelists (of course, the 20th century was too young to be required)
  • Composition
  • Physical education

All freshmen took Phys. Ed. twice a week. And Penn’s Professor of Physical Education, R. Tait McKenzie, had a grand theory of exercise, all about the learning and the physical abilities that young men needed in their educations. Exercise was a preventive. Gentlemanly competition was the route to good mental and physical health. So two days each week the freshmen got their physical training to learn to be refined men of good health.

Redmond’s room was no. 15, Morgan, in one of several dozen connected dorm houses in the Quadrangle. Likely he had a single room—the majority of rooms were singles, and the student directory doesn’t seem to show anyone else with the same room number.

Penn's Quadrangle dorms, Morgan House just right of the archway at the center

Penn’s Quadrangle dorms, Morgan House just right of the archway at the center (Image: WestCoastivies, via Flickr CC license)

Tuition that year was $150 plus a $10 general fee. Room and board depended on your room, but ranged $220 to $350 for the year. Text books ran between $10 and $25. A moderate budget for a private college today, 100 years later is $48,000.

In the Summer of 1916, England was already at war with Germany, and Italy joined the fight late that Summer. The University emerged in a war fever by the following spring, but that Fall activity was only quietly building, with some students engaged in military drills on Franklin Field.

Penn was a modern university by then, growing from a small, elite college a few decades prior, to a full university of multiple buildings, a hospital, Franklin Field stadium, a gymnasium, and the University Museum. There were nearly 8,000 students enrolled. And the student body was diverse, it included Jews, Chinese and other foreigners, and even women.

One source noted, “women could enroll in the University in a course in biology, which was primarily premedical in character, courses in fine arts and music in the School of Fine Arts, and teacher preparation courses in the School of Education. A woman had to enroll in the College Courses for Teachers, the predecessor of the College of General Studies, in order to gain a liberal arts degree. Many women earned the bachelor of science degree in the School of Education as an alternate way of getting a degree at the University even if they did not expect to teach.”

Roberta Becker and Redmond Farrar 1917

Roberta Becker and Redmond Farrar 1917

We don’t know if Redmond did much at Penn outside classes. A near perfect fit for him, with his experience in musical theater, was Penn’s Mask & Wig Club, which had men-only casts perform musicals. By high school he had become talented at not only appearing in musical theater, but composing some of the songs. Continuing as an alumnus of Brooklyn’s Poly Prep, Redmond starred in and helped write musicals, often playing female characters. His daughter, Judith Mahaffie, expects he had a band while at college. “He always had a band,” she said.

Redmond only studied at Penn for two years. It’s not clear why he might have left, but World War I, may have been a factor. So might the pull of Brooklyn where he was already courting Roberta Becker, whom he married in November 1919. And he was busy with the PolyPrep musicals starting in the Spring of his freshman year, and may have found that more compeling than his studies.

Based on his registration for the draft, in 1918, Redmond enrolled in the Students Army Training Corps, established at Columbia University to support the war effort. Students were required to study “Issues of the War,” mathematics, physics, and topography and map making. The Corps program was disbanded with Armistice that Fall.

Redmond had registred for the Draft on September 12, 1918. He was then working as a clerk at Farmer’s Loan and Trust Co., 22 William Street, near Wall Street. He is listed as entering NY State National Guard service on October 1, 1918.

There is more to Redmond’s story. A future post will look at his “hot dance” composing career.

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Charles D. Mahaffie goes to Washington, 100 years ago

Charles D. Mahaffie

Charles D. Mahaffie, 1916: “A good mixer”

On Monday, September 18, 1916, Charles D. Mahaffie was sworn in as the Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Solicitor’s office provided legal services to the entire Department.

The Oregonian newspaper wrote, “Twenty-Six attorneys under his direction are today telling him what his duties are.” [Oregonian, September 19, 1916] He was now a Federal bureaucrat, serving a department now overseeing the brand-new National Park Service, and managing land issues including those involving Native Americans. The Solicitor would be a busy man.

Charles was 31, a graduate of Kingfisher College, Oklahoma and a Rhodes Scholar graduate of St. Johns College, Oxford. Still a bachelor, he moved his lodgings from the University Club, Portland, Oregon, to the University Club, Washington, DC, taking a residence with other single men in a club that had dining, commons spaces, and plenty of camaraderie. The Club was at 15th and I St., NW, on MacPherson Square.

Another paper said Mahaffie was a “bachelor and a tennis enthusiast” and a “public land specialist … much interested in the conservation of the natural resources of the country.” [The Oelwein Daily Register (Iowa), November 17, 1916]

2016-09-11-17-40-38Interior was a good fit for the talents and interest of this young man who as a toddler was in the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, was raised adjacent to Indian Territory, and was now steeped in matters of land use. [Note: those that remember him may struggle with the idea of Charles as a “toddler”.]

Charles had settled in Portland in 1911 to start a law practice. Over five years there, he had become enmeshed in city politics and other civic and professional activities. It’s likely, had he not been called to Washington by Woodrow Wilson, that he would have made his life in Portland, and perhaps entered elective politics there.

The sort of man he was
Three or four of Charles’ seven grandchildren are old enough to remember him as a gruff old man. In his marriage to Isabel Cooper, an energetic, creative, busy, people collector, he seemed just a quiet backdrop. But his younger adulthood as a bachelor, rising in Portland City politics, shows a different side.

Earlier that Summer, Charles’ Oxford alumnae magazine gave his perspective on Portland:

The report from Charlie Mahaffie, Oklahoma and St. John’s, glows with an optimism truly Pacific. “We’re strong here,” he says of Portland, Oregon, “for preparedness. Preparedness to welcome the ‘prosperity wave’ which we hear is now just east of the Cascade Mountains. We have sentries out to locate it. Otherwise the coast is very ‘Pacific’; and Wilson looks like a good bet in this part of it. Prohibition seems very effectual, and sociability speaks in a subdued tone. But we are getting used to it gradually, and if it does all that we were promised, everybody will be pleased.” [The American Oxonian, July 1916]

He complained about Prohibition. (Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933 for the U.S. overall. But Oregon had voted to ban all alcohol in 1915). He told The American Oxonian that it would create financial issues for the University Club. [The American Oxonian, January 1916]

Some other of Charles’ Portland activities

  • Served as assistant secretary of the Oregon Conservation Commission
  • Was advisory editor of the National Municipal Review, editing the department of Judicial Decisions Affecting Municipalities
  • Served as Director, Douglas County Fire Patrol Association
  • Served as Treasurer, Oregon Bar Association
  • Served as secretary, University Club, Portland
  • Played competitive tennis

Politics and opinion

Charles wrote an article in a Portland paper in favor of presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson, focusing on his brave reforms when President of Princeton. Charles had joined the faculty of Princeton University following his Oxford education, as an instructor in jurisprudence.

The issue in higher education as Charles reported it was, “so all-pervading has the craze for social honors become that the public itself wants to know of the recent graduate, not if he led his class or was a high honor man, but what fraternity or club he ‘made’.”

“Universities founded and supported for the purpose of preparing men for life in America were, consciously or unconsciously, coming to put the chief emphasis on matters destructive of the best ideals of American life. Most men not directly concerned saw the process with regret. Many of the keener academic authorities appreciated the danger by saw no effectual means of combating it. Woodrow Wilson was one of the first to diagnose the situation.”

Democracy and the Suffrage by Charles D. MahaffieAmong the steps Wilson had taken: eliminating fraternities and raising academic standards, despite strong pressures against those changes. [The Oregon Daily Journal [Portland], September 5, 1912]

Charles also authored and presented a paper, published also as a pamphlet, called “Democracy and the Suffrage,” [links to full article] supporting the vote for women. He wrote, “In no important line of human effort, except politics, is the sex of the thinker considered of importance in estimating the value of brain product.” [Charles D. Mahaffie, “Democracy and the Suffrage,” 1912.] Women’s voting rights were on the ballot that year in Oregon, and the referendum passed with 52% support. The United States didn’t give voting rights to women until 1920.

“New solicitor is called a good mixer”
The Day wrote about Charles under the headline “New Solicitor is Called Good Mixer”.

“Charles D. Mahaffie, of Portland, Ore., has arrived in Washington, DC. To take up his new duties as solicitor of the Interior Department. Both Senators Lane and Chamberlain of Oregon warmly urged the appointment of Mahaffie. He is popular throughout his native state, is known as a prominent attorney and is declared to be a good mixer.” [The Day, October 6, 1916]

Illustrating the story was the photo above, showing Charles, the good mixer suited, wearing a homburg, and striding along what might be Pennsylvania Avenue or F Street, in Washington.

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Komalty: down on the old homestead

My son Robert and I passed through Kiowa County, Oklahoma on our way by car from Washington, DC to Colorado Springs in late May. We stopped to explore the country for a few hours, short to get a feel for the old home grounds of my Great Grandparents and their family.

Along a section road, Komalty, Oklahoma

The Komalty crossroads

The Komalty crossroads

The ranches today are mostly in wheat, the late winter crop during our visit was mature and some farmers were harvesting. The land also supports cattle, some oil and gas is pumped from the shale deposits under the ranchland, and now, in places, there are clusters of enormous wind turbines.

George B. “Doc” Mahaffie and Mary Frances Williams “Molly” Mahaffie, each at age 34, homesteaded in Oklahoma, at Kingfisher, just northwest of Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma Land Rush which started April 22, 1889, opened 2 million acres for homesteading, and 50,000 people lined up for the High Noon start. It was one of several openings and rushes in the late 1800s.

As best we know, the Mahaffies were not “Sooners.” They waited for the proper time to move in and find a homestead. George and Mary had begun their family 300 miles away in Olathe, Kansas where George’s father, James Beatty Mahaffie, had built his farm and stage coach stop.

Rose, Mary, Charles, Beatty, George, and Bart Mahaffie about 1903

Rose, Mary, Charles, Beatty, George, and Bart Mahaffie about 1903

In 1901, land further west that had been a Kiowa-Comanche-Apache reservation, in what become Kiowa County, opened to homesteaders. And the loss for Native Americans became the gain of thousands of homesteaders, including the Mahaffies. They moved one hundred miles further west and took claims at what became Komalty, Oklahoma. The county seat, Hobart, formed as a tent city with that 1901 land opening and before long the new homesteaders built the town.

Both land rushes were part of a wave of late 1800s/turn-of-the-century land confiscations by the U.S. Government which took treaty-promised plans from native peoples. Oklahoma, which had been Indian territory, became far less in the control of Native peoples, though there are still reservations spread through the state.

My grandfather, Charles D. Mahaffie, Sr., was about 4 years old when the Oklahoma land was opened to settlers. The family included his sister Rose who was 6. Their brothers George Barton “Bart”, and Oscar Beatty were not yet born, though Bart arrived that winter. Charles D. Senior was, if I recall right, with his father in a wagon for the Land Rush, and recalled hearing shots fired by homesteaders tussling over claims.

With each generation, the Mahaffies had homesteaded their way westward. Doc was born in Indiana, grew up in Olathe, Kansas where his father had settled. His father preceeding him was born in Pennsylvania and lived also in Indiana, before settling in Kansas. Picking up the pattern, Doc sought his fortune with his young family, further west, claiming his land in Kingfisher and then Kiowa County. The family prospered in Kiowas County, growing their holdings and becoming leading members of the community.

Robert Mahaffie deploying his drone

Robert Mahaffie deploying his drone

Robert and I explored the fields and section roads around Komalty, where the Mahaffie homestead was. Robert flew his drone out over the wheat fields towards Rainy Mountain and took in the scenery.

Komalty isn’t really a town now, if it ever was. The ranchers have assembled the old homesteads into larger parcels, and likely more often than not, they manage them from a home in town. Justin Krieger, who tenanted the land Charles D. Mahaffie, Jr. inherited and now owns it, lives in Hobart where he also has an insurance business on Main St.

Here is a little of the aerial video Robert shot:

The Mahaffie Headstone, Hobart Rose Cemetery

The Hobart resting place for George, Mary, and Bart Mahaffie

There are still scattered oil pumps in the Kiowa County fields, but there are also long arcs of wind turbines, adding power to the yield the area gets from wheat and cattle. Doc Mahaffie surely would have gone for turbines, anything to add to the productivity of his farm.

In Hobart, “town” for the Mahaffies, we saw a worn-out downtown, and not much in the way of commerce or energy. It is a big town, the county seat. There are fewer people in the county now than there once were, it takes far fewer to farm and ranch. Hobart shows the signs of a smaller population. There were 27,500 in Kiowa County in 1910. Today about 9,300 people live there.

A gravesite at Hobart Rose Cemetary has a Mahaffie headstone, and three small stones, for “Father” George, “Mother” Mary Mahaffie, and the youngest, which simply reads “Bart.” Bart is there because he died young, succumbing in 1919 to the influenza that killed millions. In his obituary, he is remembered as one of the favorite young men ever to live in Kiowa County.

George and Mary’s children kept up the established pattern of moving onward to find their own way, but now higher education shaped their prospects. Charles had gotten all the way to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and initially moved westward to Portland, Oregon, before taking a job in Washington, DC with the Federal Government. Rose married and also moved west. Oscar completed college and also took a government job. And Bart had started his ranch in southeastern Colorado when he died of the flu.

By the 1940s, no Mahaffie’s were left in Kiowa County, though Doc’s descendents still held land there until recently. Ranchers still thrive there, but much fewer in number.

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“Mr. Mahaffie comes on from Washington Tues. midnight”

Dorothy Binney Putnam and Charles D. Mahaffie in May 1927

Dorothy Binney Putnam and Charles D. Mahaffie in May 1927

Dorothy Putnam wrote Isabel Cooper on December 20, 1924, inviting her to her Rye, New York home, and announcing that Mr. Mahaffie would be arriving that next Tuesday (December 23rd) at midnight. Mr. Mahaffie was clearly a topic of prior conversation. Isabel’s friend Dorothy, whom she called a “festive lady who loved people, giving parties, and matchmaking,” was determined that Isabel should meet Mr. Mahaffie.

Dorothy was to see Mr. Mahaffie in New York City on Wednesday, Christmas Eve, for lunch and a matinee. She urged Isabel to join them for the lunch and show, or at least join Charles and Dorothy to make the 5:35 pm train to Rye. Everyone was headed, ultimately, for a Christmas Eve party at the Putnams.

Isabel was a fascinating, adventuring young woman in the early 1920s, at the beginning of her thirties. And she was single. Hints in things she wrote later suggest tries at romance, but perhaps her exotic life as a scientific expedition artist, and perhaps also her temperament, left her unattached.

But Dorothy was inspired to match her great friend Isabel with her husband’s friend Charles Mahaffie. It’s hard to imagine why. Perhaps Dorothy fixed on the idea that opposites attract.

DBP to IC re CDM

Dorothy Putnam’s invitation to Isabel Cooper. A Red India ink outline was Isabel’s habitual way to highlight the signficant in old papers

Dorothy Binney Putnam was a daughter of Edwin Binney, who founded and co-owned Binney & Smith, Inc., the maker of Crayola crayons. She was married to George Palmer Putnam, a grandson of the founder of Putnam & Sons, the publishers. A few years later, George would drift to a new interest, Amelia Earhart, who fascinated him as a project–a woman aviator he could use to drive book sales–and as a lover. And Dorothy had her own affairs.

For at least a few years, Isabel and Dorothy were best friends. In 1925, Isabel wrote Charles from the Canal Zone, where she and Dorothy were together, “It is so nice to see her. I can’t get along without her for long, and her intelligence and lovableness and her knack of telling things so your diaphragm aches for hours with laughing.i

She said also, “Dorothy stands as a most excellent example of the sort of equable and valuable person I would like to be.”

Charles was forty, an established bachelor who lived with other unattached men in the University Club in downtown Washington, DC. He was a hard-working, Oklahoma-farm-raised Rhodes Scholar. A gruff government lawyer, working in the Federal Government’s Interstate Commerce Commission on the then-vital matters of railroad regulation.

The Putnams knew Charles from the 1910s in Portland, when George and Charles had both been connected to city politics and business affairs in the 1910s. But the Putnams had moved east for George to work in the family publishing business. They came to know Isabel from New York Society. Isabel and Charles were, separately, recurring visitors at the Putnam’s estate at Rye, New York.

George and Dorothy supposed that this mis-matched pair would take to each other. They arranged a Christmas holiday at Rye and invited Isabel and Charles.

So two people, world’s apart in temperament, background, and experience, got on a train for Rye on Tuesday, December 23, 1924.

Fifty or more years later, Isabel told me how she and Charles met before they were supposed to, on the train to Rye, so perhaps Dorothy didn’t take the same train after all. The two hit it off and realized they were the pair intended to meet at the Putnams. They got a laugh out George and Dorothy when they showed up at Rye, already acquainted. George, Isabel told me, remarked that since they’d already met, there was really no reason to go through with the festivities. But they spent at least a few days together as guests of the Putnams. And Dorothy’s matchmaking proved spot on.

“You do explode some grenades, you know”

ICM and CDM in Oct 1928

Isabel and Charles Mahaffie, 1928

Charles wrote Isabel when their acquaintance was only a few weeks old, “It was nice of you to come by yesterday. I’m glad to have had another chance to see you, even it it was for only a few minutes. You see, I’ve seldom seen anyone half so direct, downright, and stimulating a you, and I’ve liked having you wake me up a bit. You do explode some grenades, you know. Which comes, I suppose, from using an active brain as it was meant to be used. Altogether you are a most delightful person, and while Dorothy did not tie it up with nice Santa seals her introduction on December 24 was the nicest Christmas present I’ve had.ii

Charles and Isabel were married in August 1928. Isabel moved with Charles into an apartment in Washington and began a life very different from what she lived. She became a housewife and mother, though never typical at either. She continued her painting, soon forgoing paid work for doing art that pleased her. Her years of exploring the tropics were over.


i Letter, IC to CDM, from the Canal Zone, March 27, 1925.

ii Letter, CDM to IC, January 8, 1925.

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“Dad, can I get a monkey?”

“Dad, can I get a monkey?”
“Why not?”
“Monkeys are awesome!”
“It could be my service animal”

Versions of this echo in homes everywhere. And Dad or Mom keeps saying no.

But in our house, there was a hitch. On our living room wall are watercolor portraits of two monkeys done by Isabel Cooper, my grandmother, both from her visits as a scientific artist to British Guiana. One is a marmoset, named Sadie Volvisch, painted in 1921. The other is a spider Monkey, named Mishkin, painted in 1922. Russia, or maybe immigrant New York City, was the go to place for pet monkey names for the New York Zoological Society’s Department of Tropical Research staff.

Mishkin, by Isabel Cooper

Sadie Volvisch, by Isabel Cooper

My son didn’t just ask for a monkey once, it became a refrain. At some point he started, when he said it, to glance over at the pictures. And in a moment of failed parenting, I mentioned, “your great grandmother had monkeys, those are some of them.”

Sinbad, by Isabel Cooper

Sinbad, by Isabel Cooper

Monkeys entertained Isabel and her colleagues in the jungle camps of the New York Zoological Society’s Department of Tropical Research, and on the ships they sailed on. One, Sinbad (sometimes spelled Sindbad), was especially a star.  He was a black spider monkey, acquired in Panama by the 1923 Harrison Williams Expedition to the Galapagos. William Beebe bought Sinbad in the streets of Panama, where he had found the monkey being mistreated by locals. Sinbad proved to be affectionate, smart, inquisitive, and fun-loving. He was the first monkey that she ever knew that laughed, wrote the expedition historian Ruth Rose.i

William Beebe also bought Chiriqui, a cebus or capuchin monkey–the type used by organ grinders, when the 1925 Arcturus expedition visited Panama on its exploration of the Galapagos.

And it turns out that Isabel kept a monkey, a red spider monkey, possibly Mishkin, pictured above, in her New York City apartment. This was likely when she lived at 136 West 65th Street, now the site of Lincoln Center.

Isabel Cooper with Sinbad

Isabel Cooper with Sinbad

But her spider monkey proved a bad fit as a house pet. Before long, Isabel’s apartment house neighbors complained about the “fog horn” they were hearing. It was the monkey, and it was late at night. She had to evict him to go live at the Bronx Zoo. I like imagining Isabel stepping out on Columbus Avenue and hailing a cab, the monkey at her shoulder.

I’ve tried to be clear on this last point my son, but I don’t think he’s convinced a monkey can’t be a good pet. His great grandmother had monkeys, and besides, monkeys are awesome!


i Ruth Rose, quoting a book by William Beebe, Bulletin of the New York Zoological Society, Vol. 27, No. 1, January 1924.

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