Alice Madora Caulk’s life story began July 26, 1867 in Litchfield, Montgomery County, Illinois. Her parents, Allen Monroe and Cansada Caulk, had children from previous marriages, but Alice was their first child together. The country was still recovering from the Civil War; so undoubtedly, folks in this small farming community were continuing to put their lives back together.
The first record I found for Alice was on the 1870 United States Federal Census. Along with her parents, Allen and Canzada (misspelled name) are her step-brothers, Jasper and Joseph, younger brother, Albert, and Allen’s mother, Sarah. The family is living in Bear Creek, Montgomery County, Illinois.
During the following ten years, the Caulk family expanded “its ranks.” By 1880 the census shows they have five more children. The name on the census is mistakenly recorded as “Cork.” Listed are: A.M. Cork (48), Cansada (37), Joseph W. (16), Alice (13), Albert (11), Theodosia (9), Arthur (7), Rosette (4), Lillie (2) and Sarah (8m). The family resided in Seminary, Fayette County, Illinois, northwest of Montgomery County.
Sometime before 1885, Allen and Cansada left Illinois and moved west to Nebraska. He was located on the Nebraska State Census, 1885, in Lone Tree, Clay County. Lone Tree was a prairie town located in the south central part of the state. I do not know their reasons for the move with their large family, but it could not have been an easy journey. Following is a bit of information that lends some insight into the reasons people were drawn to Nebraska.
During the 1870s to the 1880s, Nebraska experienced a large growth in population. Several factors contributed to attracting new residents. The first was that the vast prairie land was perfect for cattle grazing. This helped settlers to learn the unfamiliar geography of the area. The second factor was the invention of several farming technologies. Agricultural inventions such as barbed wire, wind mills, and the steel plow, combined with good weather, enabled settlers to make use of Nebraska as prime farming land. By the 1880s, Nebraska’s population had soared to more than 450,000 people. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebraska)
ALICE AND WILLIAM CROFT MARRY
Shortly after arriving in Lone Tree, Alice met a young man by the name of William Teeter Croft, the son of John and Elizabeth Croft. They were a large family who were also farmers in the Lone Tree Township area. William and Alice courted and then married on 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!
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.
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 who 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 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.
HARD TIMES HIT NEBRASKA DURING 1920’2 AND 1930’S
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-Hist.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.
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. Several 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 it took a while from them to reach their destinations. As we know, the nation was in the midst of the Great Depression.
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 and Alice Croft lived 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. As a mother myself I cannot help but wonder how Alice endured the birthing of thirteen children; dealt with the grief of losing a child; and managed during the children’s growing up years! She must have been a woman of incredible strength.
Nevertheless, through the years William and Alice were able to witness their children develop successful livelihoods. It is likely they were well acquainted with many of their grandchildren and great grandchildren, so that must have brought them great satisfaction and pride.
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.
In 1942 Alice lost her husband of 57 years on January 11, 1942. We do not know the circumstances, but they were in San Antonio, Texas when he died. Their oldest son, Oscar, lived there, so perhaps William and Alice were there for a visit. He was buried at the Mission Burial Park, South in San Antonio.
Following William’s death Alice moved to Kansas City, Missouri to be near her son George and his wife, Lena. She died on October 8, 1947 in Kansas City, Missouri and was buried beside her husband in the Mission Burial Park, South in San Antonio, Texas.
Alice C. Croft, death certificate no. 34427, State Board of Health of Missouri. Kansas City, Missouri.
Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.
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.
Clay County, marriage license, Clay County Clerk’s Office, Clay Center, Nebraska.
Creigh, Dorothy, “Dust Bowl Years,” Adam County (Nebraska) Historical Society.
“History – Nebraska,” www.city-data.com/states/Nebraska-Hist.html
Written by Lucy Ann Nance Croft, 2011