Mary Emma Bowton’s life began in Fulton County, Illinois on May 23, 1856. She was the fifth child of William and Rebecca Kirkpatrick Bowton. As we might expect, they were a farming family. When the 1860 United States Federal Census was enumerated the Bowton family was living in Orion, Fulton County, Illinois. Their name was spelled incorrectly as “Boton. Nevertheless, I think this was our Bowton family. William and Rebecca were recorded with their children William (12) John Taylor (8) Hugh Taylor (5) Mary Taylor (3) and Nancy Taylor (1 month) Also listed was a “Farm Hand” by the name of Washington Beadso. (I have not determined where the name “Taylor” originates.) William gave his place of birth as England.
The American Civil War broke out in 1861 and Illinois was one of the twenty-five states that was a part of the Union. Like other families in this place and time, the Bowton’s must have experienced the agonies of this tragic war. William would have been in his early 40’s so it is possible he was enlisted. I found several Civil War military records on Ancestry.com for a William Bowton or Booten. Further research would be required to determine if any of these records were for our William Bowton. The Bowton’s sons would have been too young to serve. Whether or not William was in the military, the Bowton family would have been impacted by the Civil War. Communities and families around the country suffered the brunt of this terrible conflict when all were called on to contribute in some way to the war effort in manpower, goods, services, and lives.
Even though no major battles were fought in Illinois, it was a primary source of troops for the Union army and of military supplies, food, and clothing. Also any history buff knows about the two Illinois men who became prominent in the politics and the army during this time – Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.
William, Rebecca and children were still living in Orion, Fulton County, Illinois when the 1870 United States Federal Census was taken. They were recorded with their children – Henry (22) John (18) Mary (13) Nancy (10) Charles (7) and Andrew (5 mo). Note that two more children were born since 1860. However, as I read the census record I also noted that their sons William and Hugh were no longer with them and that a son Henry was listed. It raised two questions in my mind. Where was Henry in 1860 and where were William and Hugh in 1870?
Sometime in the early 1870’s Mary met a young man by the name of Thomas Jefferson Mohler. He was from a farming family in Warren County northwest of Fulton County. More than likely, after they met, there was a period of courtship. There must have been a mutual attraction because they were married on January 27, 1876.
Thomas and Mary remained in Fulton County, Illinois and set up their household on a farm. On January 11, 1877 they had their first child, Floa Rebecca, and on October 11, 1879 a son, Lorain Ellsworth, arrived. This family of four was recorded on the 1880 United States Federal Census.
MOHLER FAMILY MOVES TO NEBRASKA
Since there is no longer an 1890 United States Federal Census, we leap to the 1900 United States Federal Census to find our next record for Thomas and Mary Mohler with their family. In those intervening twenty years they had moved west and were found in York County, Nebraska. Their two oldest children were no longer living with them but their family had definitely grown. Six children are recorded – Charles, Lena, Ethel, Darrel (Dara), David and Ewort (Ewart). Thomas and Mary also had a son named William, born in Illinois in 1885, but evidently he was not residing with them. The last three children were born in Nebraska, so it meant that they moved to York County sometime between 1891 and 1896. The Mohler family was large by any standard of measurement.
Thomas or “Jerry” and Mary settled into life in York County, Nebraska. By the 1910 United States Federal Census their household had grown smaller with only five children residing with them. Their two oldest daughters, Lena and Ethel, were school teachers, and the three sons were working with their father on the farm. By the time the 1920 United States Federal Census was enumerated, the family consisted of Thomas, Mary, Dara, Ewart, and a family friend by the name of Anthony Rivera. In the 1930 census Thomas and Mary had a completely “empty nest.” Undoubtedly there were children and grandchildren near by.
DEPRESSION AND DUST BOWL HIT NEBRASKA
The 1920’s and 1930’s were hard years in America and folks living in the Great Plains experienced more than their share of those difficulties. On the website for Wessel’s Living History Farm, York County, Nebraska there is an article entitled “Who Lived in York County in the 1930’s?” This excerpt gives a bit of insight into how the Mohler family may have endured very tough times.
The Great Plains region has always been known for unpredictable weather and natural disasters – tornadoes, hail storms, blizzards, floods, drought, summer heat and winter cold. Farming on the Great Plains has always been a battle against the weather. But the weather during the 1930s was far beyond the natural cycle of seasons. The weather during the Dust Bowl days set records that still stand in Nebraska history and still stand out in farmers’ memories.
Farms in the 1930s were diversified, growing a variety of crops in the fields, vegetables in the garden and fruit in the orchard. Small farms usually raised chickens, eggs, hogs, and cattle, as well as keeping horses and mules for work, and sometimes sheep for wool and meat. Some farmers kept bees and harvested the honey. Women baked their own bread.
During the Depression, this self-sufficiency carried over into their social life. One-dish suppers and church potlucks were important ways to have fun and share food. On radio and in women’s magazines, home economists taught women how to stretch their food budget with casseroles and meals like creamed chipped beef on toast or waffles. Chili, macaroni and cheese, soups, and creamed chicken on biscuits were popular meals.
The Apetz brothers hunted rabbits to put a more meat on the dinner table. Delbert Apetz says, “We had a brooder house [for chickens]. My uncle and dad, they’d go out rabbit hunting (now this is in the winter time). Be rabbits hanging there, dressed all the way through that and any time you wanted something to eat you’d cut the string on the rabbit and bring it in the house, fry it or cook it and make soup or whatever you want. We ate a lotta, lotta rabbits. But that’s what we had to eat.” Still, it was a constant work to put food on the table, and sometimes the food was covered with dust when the wind blew dust through the cracks in the house.
When I read an account such as this, it is astounding how people survived under such dreadful circumstances. Mary Mohler can certainly be counted among those women of great strength who worked along side her husband to provide for their family as Mother Nature wreaked havoc during those terrible days of drought and dust storms.
On December 27, 1937 Mary’s husband Thomas Jefferson Mohler died at the age of 86. They had been married sixty-one years. During those years, they had moved from Illinois to the plains of Nebraska and raised a family of nine children. Their life together was probably not ever easy, but I imagine their children and grandchildren brought them a great deal of comfort and joy. It is certainly indicated that the Mohler’s strong religious faith was a basis for their strength during the good and the not-so-good times.
We do not know how Mary spent the final years of her life, but since she had children living in Nebraska and it seems likely they cared for her during that time. She died on May 12, 1945 in Orchard, Antelope County, Nebraska and was buried beside her husband in the Greenwood Cemetery in York County, Nebraska.
Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census, [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.
Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census, [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.
Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of the 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: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2004.
Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census, [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2006.
Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census, [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census, [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2002.
Fulton County, marriage record, Marriage Record Book, vol. E, p. 35, no.17.
Mary E. Mohler, death certificate no. R4217, State of Nebraska, Department of Health, Lincoln, Nebraska.
“Who Lived in York County in 1930?” Wessel’s Living History Farm, York County, Nebraska, http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe30s/life_28.html
Written by Lucy Ann Nance Croft, 2011.