William Teeter Croft

William and Alice Croft with children.
William and Alice Croft with children.

John Hipple and Elizabeth Teeter Croft can certainly be counted among the pioneer folk who traveled long distances to set up their homesteads in early settled territories. They moved their family across three states from Pennsylvania to Monroe County, Iowa sometime between 1847 and 1860. Their first three children were born in Pennsylvania and the last six children were born in Iowa.

When John and Elizabeth’s eighth child was born on April 26, 1858, they were living in Appanoose County, Iowa. They named him William Teeter. Note the use of his mother’s maiden name. This county borders both Monroe County and the state of Missouri. In 1896 Frank Hickenlooper wrote poetically about the landscape of this prairie land in An Illustrated History of Monroe County Iowa. His words set the scene for us.

The old settlers whose faith in the future of Monroe County was unshaken by the midnight chorus of the wild wolves, the sting of the winter frost creeping through the “chinking” of the cabin walls, the sweep of the prairie fires, the depleted meal-chest, the stroke of the prairie rattlesnake, the pall of the “deep snow,” and the loneliness of the prairie cabin – husbands and wives, youths and maidens, whose brave, true hearts and willing hands defied the wilderness; and in after years made it to blossom as the rose, this volume is most sincerely dedicated….

It will seem strange at this day that the beautiful prairies (the word “prairie” in French means “meadows”) of Monroe County, growing in grass and studded with wild sweet Williams, asters, and golden rod, and a profusion of other flowers, should for several years remain untenanted by those who had come here to acquire homes.

Our southern neighbor, Appanoose County, with her wooded ridges and brushy pastures, may be said to define the physical limits or mark the boundaries, in a physical sense, of the North and South.

Note: William’s death certificate gives Keokuk, Iowa as his place of birth. Since his father is listed in the Iowa, State Census Collection, 1836-1925, living in Appanoose County in 1856, I think the information on the death certificate may not be correct.

At the time of the 1860 United States Federal Census, William was 2 years old. The Croft family was living in Monroe County. Recorded on the census were John H. (41) Elizabeth (34) Mary A. (18) Margaret (15) Barbary (12) John (10) Caroline (7) Eli (5) and William (2). John H. recorded his occupation as “Gunsmith.” Other interesting bits of information were given on this census. Value of Real Estate – $400; Value of Personal Estate – $150; Occupation of daughter, Mary Ann – School Teacher; and Person over the age of 20 years of age who cannot read and write – Elizabeth.

Aside from the difficulties that the Croft’s faced in settling in new territories and providing for their family, it was a tumultuous time in the history of the United States. As we know, the Civil War broke out in 1861 and lasted until 1865. Along with all people in that time and place, they must have been greatly impacted.

Iowa was the 29th state to join the union in 1846 and sided with the North in the Civil War. As a part of the Union, it played an important role by providing food, supplies, and troops for the troops. In the 1850’s, the Illinois Central and the Chicago and North Western Railway developed, and this meant Iowa’s fertile fields were linked with the Eastern supply depots during the Civil War. Manufacturers in the east Iowa, as well as farmers, could get their products to the Union army.

Again I turn to Frank Hickenlooper to provide insight into this tragic time. Even though he wrote about Monroe County, the situation was much the same for all in the southern counties of Iowa.

On the breaking out of the Civil War, Monroe County, from her close proximity to the pro-slavery border, was one of those new counties upon which the evil stroke of war fell with a heavy hand. She was ill prepared at the time to make the great sacrifice, but the record of her soldier boys, and of her fathers, upon whose locks time had left its frost marks, shows that they not only took their lives in their own hands, but bowed to a still greater sacrifice, in leaving behind, in privation, their wives and little ones, to battle with hunger and possibly to suffer at the hands of guerrilla hordes from across the Missouri border.

William was only 3 years old when the Civil War began, but his father and older brothers may have been called on to serve in some capacity. I have not located military records for them at this time. Though it is only a supposition on my part, it is possible that as a gunsmith, John Croft  may have provided his services to the army in some way.

In 1870, John and Elizabeth Croft and their family were recorded on the United States Federal Census. Their name was misspelled, but this was not uncommon. We also discover that two more children had been born since that last census was taken. Listed are John Croff (53) Elizabeth (48) Caroline (14) Eli (12) William (11) Edward (8) and Isabel (6).

JOHN AND ELIZABETH CROFT MOVE TO NEBRASKA

At some point in the next ten years, the Croft family headed to Nebraska. When the 1880 United States Federal Census was taken, they were living in Lone Tree, Clay County, Nebraska. The township’s name certainly describes the landscape of this part of the United States. It was a sparsely populated prairie land in south central Nebraska, and a major industry was corn and wheat farming. The census records John and Elizabeth and their four youngest children – Eli (22), William (21), Edward (19) and Isabel (16). The enumerator recorded John’s occupation “Not at home” and the sons’ “Working on farm.” It was recorded that Elizabeth can neither read nor write.

Evidently, when John and Elizabeth migrated to Nebraska, four of their older children also moved. Evidence gleaned from census records show that Jacob and Margaret Croft Hager; Andrew and Barbara Croft Clark; John and Dora Croft; and Nathaniel and Caroline Croft Graham lived in the Clay County.

WILLIAM CROFT AND ALICE CAULK WED AND START A FAMILY

A young woman named Alice Madora Caulk also lived in Clay County. Her parents were Allen Monroe and Cansada Caulk. Like the Crofts, they were a farming family. Sometime in the early 1880’s, she and William met. After a courtship, they married November 12, 1885.

There is not an 1890 Federal census available, but from family records, we know that William and Alice started their family in 1887. Their first child, Oscar Cameron, was born on June 19 in Fairfield, Nebraska. During the next thirteen years, Alice would give birth to six more children – Paul Harold, Vede Weaver, George Allen, Edna Ruth, Elmer Glenn, and Fred Dewey. Along with Oscar, all except Elmer, were recorded on the 1900 United States Federal Census. Shortly after the census was taken, their eighth child was born and named Frank Monroe. Elmer was the only child of these eight who died within his first year. We know that Croft family would continue to grow, so they were certainly on their way to becoming a dynasty!

William and Alice Croft with family
William and Alice Croft with family

By 1910, William and Alice Croft were parents of twelve living children. During the years since the last census, Floyd, Grace, Blanche, Hope, and Russell were added to the fold. All were recorded on the 1910 United States Federal Census. The five oldest sons ranging in ages 11 to 22 were assisting their father William on the family farm.

William and sons on Nebraska farm, 1914
William and sons on Nebraska farm, 1914

Having such a large family seems unbelievable to us today, but it was quite common in earlier times. There is family lore that William wanted to form a type of family commune with each son or son-in-law helping in a certain capacity on the farm. I have read the commune idea was often utilized in remote farming areas, so perhaps his idea was not unique. Not everyone had farming skills but could assist in other ways such as carpentry or machinery repair. Cynthia Croft Wood is William’s great granddaughter and shared this family story passed along by her father Lloyd Ollie Croft.

Their dad (William Croft) never voted for a winning politician – always for the socialist candidate. Hence this was his desire to implement the communistic concept of “each contributing according to his ability and each taking according to his need”. It was Oscar that decided that they “needed” an airplane to dust the crops. I recall Dad saying that the rest of the family wasn’t consulted and this decision caused a rift within this “utopian” commune.

Lone Tree land platte for W.T. Croft farm property.
Lone Tree land platte for W.T. Croft farm property.

During the years between 1914 and 1918 all the world’s great powers were engaged in the First World War, sometimes called “The Great War.” In 1917 and 1918, all men between the ages of 18 and 45 were required to register for the draft. Several of William and Alice’s sons fell in that category, and their World War I Draft Registration Cards are provided on Ancestry.com. I have not checked other records for them, but I do not think any of them served in the military. Nevertheless, with America engaged in a world war, it must have affected their lives and the farming industry.

When the 1920 United States Federal Census was taken, William, Alice, and seven of their children were still living in Lone Tree Township. Fred D., Frank M., Floyd M., Grace X., Blanche M., Hafe (Hope) and Russel W. were listed with their parents. Several names and initials are incorrect, but as mentioned, this often occurred. The sons were working on the farm with their father.

Croft Nebraska farm.
Croft Nebraska farm.

History tells us that many folks began to experience hard times in Nebraska during the 1920’s. A reason is stated in this excerpt from an article entitled “Nebraska – History” found at  www.city-data.com/states/Nebraska-History.html

 Tilling of marginal land to take advantage of farm prices that had been inflated during World War I caused economic distress during the 1920’s. Nebraska’s farm economy was already in peril when the dust storms of the 1930’s began.

THE GREAT DEPRESSION AND DUST BOWL HITS NEBRASKA

It was quite likely that the farming Croft family was impacted by these circumstances. Family sources indicate that beginning in the latter part of the 1920’s and into the 1930’s, the large Croft family began to disperse with each family group moving in different directions. Some traveled northwest, others east, some to the southwest, and a few to Kansas. It is surmised that the reason for the dispersion was the combination of the terrible drought and the historical United States depression. We know that Nebraska was one of the states that felt the brunt of the Dust Bowl that occurred in the early 1930’s, so it is entirely possible the Crofts felt the early effects of it in their area. If that was the case, we can understand their need to seek “greener pastures.”

The 1930 United States Federal Census tells us that William and Alice were still living in Lone Tree Township, Nebraska. The household included only William, Alice, Russell and his wife, Mary. Some of the Croft children and their families were still living in the area but began leaving in 1930’s. Some traveled to Washington and others to Kansas, Oregon, Texas, and New York. Family stories indicate that it took them a while to reach their destinations. As we know, the nation was in the midst of the Great Depression.

Croft Family Reunion, Fairfield, NE, 1935
Croft Family Reunion, Fairfield, NE, 1935

When reading his obituary, I found it interesting that William taught school in Lone Tree for many years. It does not mention what grade he taught, but it is likely the school was small and a class may have included several grades.

Even though we have no records or written stories to guide our thinking, William and Alice must have endured some terrible experiences when Nebraska and other plains states were being besieged by the horrendous Dust Bowl. The description written by Dorothy Creigh gives us a glimpse of what people experienced.

Some of the beginning of the Dust Bowl went back to the time of World War I, when marginal land was plowed to produce $2 wheat, for in years to come when the rains stopped, that land lay bare, despoiled, and eroded. But most of the origins of the Dust Bowl years came from the geological and climatically characteristics of the vast inland area bounded by the Gulf of Mexico on the south, the Rocky Mountains on the west, and what geographic barriers existed on the east and north. The land of high winds and sun, intense temperature extremes, and cyclical patterns of rainfall had known dust storms before; archeological excavations show that almost 500 years earlier, a heavy mantle of dust had driven off the semi-nomadic people who then populated the area. In the early 1930’s, drought, heat, and high winds combined in such a way as to produce a similar dramatic natural catastrophe. Although the semi-arid region had known drought and heat before, when seeds could not germinate or develop, and had known wind for most of its existence, it was the coming together of several forces that created the incessant dust storms of the 1930’s.

William Teeter Croft lived with his wife Alice on their Nebraska farm through many very tough years. Their pioneer stock was tested mightily when the country went through war and depression and the land was crippled by drought and dust storms. If he had hopes for a large family farm commune, those hopes were not fully realized. Nevertheless, through the years they were able to witness their children develop successful livelihoods. It is likely they were will acquainted with many of their grandchildren and great grandchildren which must have brought them great satisfaction and pride.

WILLIAM AND ALICE RETIRE TO TEXAS

When the 1940 United States Federal Census was taken, William and Alice were retired and living on South Railroad Street in Port Isabel, Cameron County, Texas. Perhaps the cold Nebraska weather or ill health was the reason for their move to a warmer climate. Their oldest son, Oscar, and grandson, Lloyd, lived in San Antonio, so they had family for occasional visits.

Four generations of Croft men - William, Oscar, Lloyd and L.K.
Four generations of Croft men – William, Oscar, Lloyd and L.K.

On January 11, 1942, William and Alice were visiting family in San Antonio, Texas when he died at the age of 84. He was buried in San Antonio at the Mission Burial Park South. William was survived by his wife of 57 years, Alice M. Caulk Croft, their twelve children and numerous grandchildren. Here is his obituary, transcribed from photocopy of a newspaper clipping by Mildred Croft (wife of Keith Croft, grandson of William Teeter Croft).

Funeral services for William Teeter Croft, 84, of Fairfield were held in San Antonio, Texas, Wednesday, Jan. 14. Mr. Croft passed away Jan. 11, 1942, after a short illness in San Antonio at the home of his son, 1616 North Flores, where he had been for the last two months.

Mr. Croft was born April 26, 1857, in South Central Iowa, coming to Clay County in 1872, where he homesteaded five miles northwest of Fairfield. Here, he spent the rest of his life, except for the last few years which he spent traveling and seeing the country.

He married Alice M. Caulk on October, 1885. To this union, thirteen children were born, twelve surviving him.

He taught school at Dist. 15, Lone Tree a number of years and [was] well thought of [as} a man during his life time.

Those surviving him are: his wife, Mrs. Alice M. Croft of San Antonio, Texas; daughters, Mrs. Ruth Durfee, of Washington, Kansas; Mrs. Grace Montgomery, of Prosser, Wash.; Mrs. Blanche Mumford of North Port, Nebr.; Mrs. Hope Thompson of North Platte, Nebr.; sons, O.C. Croft of San Antonio, Texas; C.H. Croft and Frank Croft, both of Los Angeles, Calif.; V.W. Croft and Fred Croft, both of Glen Aubrey, N.Y.; G.A. Croft of Kansas City, Mo.; Floyd Croft of Fairfield, Nebr.; and Russell Croft of Dallas, Texas; thirty-four grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren, and a host of friends and other relatives.

william-t-croft-gravestone-img_0318

Sources

Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

Ancestry.com. 1870 Unites States Federal Census [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

Ancestry.com and The Church of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2005.

Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database online] Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2004.

Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations. Inc., 2000.

Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2002.

Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.

Ancestry.com. Iowa, State Census Collection, 1836-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.

Clay County, marriage license, Clay County Clerk’s Office, Clay Center, Nebraska.

Creigh, Dorothy, “Dust Bowl Years,” Adam County (Nebraska) Historical Society.

“History-Nebraska,” http://www.city-data.com/states/Nebraska-History.html

Hickenlooper, Frank, “An Illustrated History of Monroe County, Iowa 1896,”www.usgennet.org/usa/topic/historical/Monroe/Monroe_1htm

Wikipedia The Free Encylopedia, “Iowa in the American Civil War,”www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iowa_in_the_Ameri

William Teeter Croft, death certificate no. 397, Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin, Texas.

Wood, Cynthia Croft, Personal Recollections of Croft Family, clebleuwood@gmail.com

Written by Lucy Ann Nance Croft, 2011

William T. Croft Pedigree Chart (click link) scan0007

William T. Croft Family Group Sheet (click link) william-t-croft-fgs-document