The R. A. Watkins Home in Lancaster. — Main Street, Lancaster, Wisconsin — The John Garvin Clark Home, Lancaster
Some time after their marriage the Stephen and Sarah Watkins family moved to Lancaster, the Grant County seat. He and Sarah established the first bookstore in the community. Their only child, a son, George, died at age 10 years
That Stephen Decatur Watkins was an active school teacher, farmer and public servant is memorialized in not only letters but also his account ledgers, the Lima township school attendance records, and Lima Township records during his tenure as Town Clerk. He is described in his later years as in frail health and died in 1868 while in Hubbard, Ohio. His obituary recounts his having lost a hand in a farm machine accident
The Bushnell connection was significant for our future great grandparents, Rolandus Watkins and Ellen Clark. Sarah Bushnell was sister to A. R. Bushnell who had joined John Garvin Clark in establishing the law firm that our great-grandfather Rolandus was to join. Ellen Maria Clark was John Clark’s niece and ward.
Our ancestor Rolandus Aurelian Watkins was the third of Stephen and Florinda Watkins’ four children. Mary Ginevra, the oldest, married Herbert Moses of Grant County, Wisconsin. There were five Moses children, in what order I am uncertain; Herbert, Edna, Sadie Florinda, Rolandus and Raymond. My contact in California is the daughter in law of Sadie’s daughter Ginevra.
The older two siblings Ginevra and Emma early on followed husbands’ work and moved west.
Emma, the second Watkins sibling, was obviously as bright as she was humane. Prior to her marriage to George Reynolds Emma wrote for the Lancaster Herald and reported for a Milwaukee newspaper. She later taught school in Milwaukee and Southern California. Emma was well-informed as to current public and family events, even through her eighties. Her letters to her nephew “Charlie,” our grandfather, are a treasure trove of family information and reveal remarkable emotional acuity. She is —well— lovable.
Emma was also an active worker in the Congregational Church. She and George had one child, Emily Wealthy, who died at age 14 years of tuberculosis. The Reynolds lived most of their lives in Lincoln Park section of Los Angeles and the three of them are buried in Evergreen, the oldest cemetery in the area. A recent photograph is the gift of my colleague in California*
Rolandus initially operated the family bookstore in Lancaster then entered law practice of Clark and Bushnell and practiced law for many years. I am not certain of timing nor much of his education or the details of his joining the law firm which eventually became Bushnell and Watkins.
Rolandus married Ellen Maria Clark in 1881. Dora did not marry and remained in Lancaster, later moving to Oklahoma with Rolandus and Ellen. Much of the history that follows was compiled by Dora and Rolandus and is reported through his eyes.
Rolandus met our great-grandmother Ellen while she was residing in Lancaster as member of John Clark’s family. Ellen’s history is dramatic but a common one for the southern survivors of the Civil War. She was born on the family’s Texas horse ranch near Waco. She was orphaned in childhood as her father Charles Ignatius Clark died while serving in the Confederate Cavalry and her mother, Mary Maria Proffitt Clark, died a few short years after that.
There can be no doubt that Charles Clark was a man whose love of the grass country of Texas and horse breeding was second only to his love of family. His letters are eloquent and as expressive of warmth and affection as any in the collection. There can also be no doubt that politically he was sympathetic to the southern cause. His letters contradict communications on this topic by brother John later in life.
At war’s end two of the four Clark brothers were dead, both while serving the Confederacy, Charles of dysentery, buried near Paris, Texas and Thomas, (a physician) dead of pneumonia during the siege of Vicksburg. The oldest brother William was mining in California and escaped the Civil War. He had been disabled in a mining accident and his letters do not demonstrate a particular interest in politics and war. Col. John Clark’s exemplary service in the Union Army is recounted elsewhere onsite
Ellen’s mother, Mary Maria Proffitt, and father, Charles, had met while at Marion College, in their home state of Missouri. Mary Maria’s letters reveal her to be an intellect, lusty with great humor. Her emotional depth is displayed in her letter to brother in law John after war’s end. It is among the most poignant in the collection as she tells John of Charles’ death and requests financial help for his children. It must have taken great courage for this independent woman .
Once the contact was established with Mary Maria, Col. Clark immediately began urging her to move with the children to Lancaster and to become part of his household. Planning for this move was in process at the time of Mary Maria’s death in Texas. It was surely hurried by the physical stresses of being a widow managing a ranch in north Texas under barbaric conditions of the Reconstruction.
He succeeded in bringing most of the children to Wisconsin. Ellen Maria, our ancestor, is the only one who remained as a permanent member of his family, the other siblings returned to Texas. Ellen grew up with the John and Minerva Pepper Clark children Alice and Will and we believe for a period 3 orphaned Kiowa girls named Fletcher.
I have some contact with the descendants of Ellen’s siblings, Bill and Dwight Clark of the older brother J. T. Clark and Mary Old the wife of a descendant of older sister Bettie Clark Old. More are to be found, and it is always a delight when connection is made with these and all cousins.
I also have been gratified to have communicated several times with Kelly Taschler the granddaughter of Alice Clark McBrien who in turn was the granddaughter of Col. John Clark. It is Kelly who made possible the inclusion of her aunt, Mary McBrien Ziemer’s contribution of the John G. Clark biography to our book. Prairie Tree Letters. IUniverse, 2008.
John Clark had established the law firm that Rolandus Watkins later joined. Among his many community contributions was service as mayor of Lancaster. A. R. Bushnell who joined him was also a prominent member of the community and region. He served the district in Congress in the 1890s (anecdotally) the last man to defeat the famous “Battling Bob” Lafollette.
Rearing a family, practicing law and active in church and community affairs, Rolandus began serious research into his Watkins and Hirst ancestors in 1892 and into Ellen’s ancestors in 1907. He continued the research, correspondence and compilation of this genealogy throughout the remainder of his life. He early on made connection with distant Watkins cousin Walter Kendall Watkins who as a member of the New England Historical and Genealogical Society staff became the genealogist of record for the early years of the Watkins in the US. His hand written genealogy may be found in the Society archives. An aspect of their work together evolved into the Watkins cousins founding the Sons of the American Revolution. Rolandus and son Ralph are charter members of the organization.
Rolla, as he was best known, in correspondence with various distant family members, exchanging photographs and planning visits is proof of attachment and commitment to family beyond the collection of data points. Ellen’s uncle John was, throughout his life, equally relentless in efforts to retain and reconstruct family connection. They were about family and keeping the connections amidst the diaspora of families that animated the land.
Dora worked in Great Grandfather Rolandus’ law office. According to the accounts in the news articles she was a highly valued member and quite active in the Lancaster Congregational Church. She also did much of the work of cataloging and organizing the family letter collection and typed copies of many of them. We have her original notes.
Of Rolandus and Ellen Watkins’ five surviving children our grandfather, Charles Stephen is the oldest. He was born in 1883; siblings Ralph Bushnell Watkins in 1884, Margaret in 1887, Ellen 1891 and John Clark Watkins in 1895. There are a number of photographs and news accounts of the family during the Lancaster years.
In 1889 Col. Clark was appointed Justice to the Supreme Court of Oklahoma Territory and he and wife Minerva Pepper Clark and son, William (Will) and his daughter Alice (to become McBrien) moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma, the then capital. They later moved with the capital to Oklahoma City. Their other daughter also Alice married a man named Tiel and moved to the west coast. Will and family made their home for some time in Oklahoma City
In 1901. Wichita-Caddo and Comanche, Kiowa and Apache lands of the Ft. Sill Military Reservation and the Wichita Mountain Forest Reserve were withdrawn from Indian settlement and a lottery for white settlers held on August 1, 1901. The R. A.Watkins family decided to apply to take part in this lottery for farm land and if successful, move to the claim.
Family lore informs us that the move was prompted by Ellen wishing to be closer to family in Texas and Oklahoma. Some letters also indicate hard financial times due to economic depression of the era may have prompted the idea of a move to add farming to family income. Also Rolla Watkins letters suggest more than a small quota of romanticism of the west that had been whispering in the ears of this family for some 300 years. R. A. maintained law offices in both Lancaster, Wisconsin. and Lawton, Oklahoma and the move to Oklahoma occurred over some years being completed in 1916. Our grand parents and parents were the final of the pioneers as the frontier finally ceased to exist. The account of the final complete move to the claim gives some idea of the radical changes in their lives the family were taking on.
The family has in its possession Rolla Watkins’ sweat sculptured note-book that holds the notes he made regarding desirability of farm lots during the hot summer leading up to the lottery in August. On a visit in 2000 we were able to find the original farm, still under operation.