Missing Murder Case: Where Did Mrs. Holder Go?

Blog post by Grace Donahue

On May 20, 1925, local auto mechanic and wrestler, Daniel Arwine “Reckless” Honeycutt Jr. was  murdered. And the cause? A simple dispute over a car. Honeycutt Jr. had gone to the home of William  Holder, whom he had recently sold a car to. Only Holder had not been keeping up with his payments,  and Honeycutt Jr. had come to take back the vehicle. Mr. William Holder was not at home, but his wife  was. And after some back and forth, and a threat from Mrs. William Holder, Honeycutt Jr. went to take  back the car, but instead was met with the end of his life. Mrs. William Holder shot and killed Daniel  Arwine Honeycutt Jr. with a .22 German Luger automatic revolver, one she claimed she didn’t know it  was loaded. Mrs. William Holder was arrested for first degree murder, making herself the first female  murder case in 20 years. But what happened to Mrs. William Holder? 

Newspaper articles at the time didn’t reveal Mrs. Holder’s identity. However, they gave out her father’s  name, Robert Hazel, disclosed her age, 23, and that she had three children. While no further information  was given out on Mr. Holder himself, these details helped piece together the identity of Mrs. William  Holder, that of Gladys Mae Hazel. Gladys was born in Monroe County and married William Holder in  1916. After the murder of Honeycutt, Gladys was put on trial on September 21, 1925. However, it’s  unsure of what came of Gladys and her case. Presuming that she was employed and living in the same  place as her family in the 40s, Gladys was likely acquitted. The Telephone referred to the female murder  case before hers in the same article, stating that the last woman to go to trial for murder got off on  temporary insanity. While we don’t know if that was the case for Gladys, she did insist the murder of  Honeycutt Jr. was an accident. And maybe it was.  

She lived in Indianapolis in the 40s working as a farmer, and died in Corpus Christi, Texas on January 30,  1984.  

Be sure to check back next week to read about Glady’s murder trial…




Bloomington Telephone, “Honeycutt, Daniel” May 20-22, 1925, page one

A Century of Monroe County Maps

Blog post by Dave Nord

In 1815 Arthur Henrie, a surveyor employed by the U.S. government, drew a set of maps of a part of Indiana Territory lying between the watersheds of the west and east forks of the White River. Those maps, based on systematic, on-the-ground surveys, were the first professional maps of the land that became Monroe County in 1818. Henrie’s hand-drawn maps have survived, been digitized, and are now accessible online. And they are the earliest maps listed, described, illustrated, and linked to in a new publication of the Monroe County History Center: Mapping Monroe County, Indiana: An Annotated Bibliography, 1815–1941, by David Paul Nord. That’s me.

To give you the idea of what this bibliography is like, here is the entry for the 1815 maps drawn by Arthur Henrie. In the PDF version of the bibliography, the source listed at the end of the entry is a clickable link to the Monroe County Surveyor’s online collection:

In the century after 1815, hundreds of maps of Monroe County, Bloomington, the IU campus, and some of the smaller towns and villages of the county were created and published. Many of those maps are preserved in libraries and government archives, and many have been digitized and posted online. The goal of this bibliography is to give readers access to those maps with just a click of a URL link. Mapping Monroe lists, annotates, and illustrates 147 maps (or map sets). It is available as a printed booklet at the MCHC bookstore and will soon be available in print and as a downloadable PDF ebook (with clickable links) from several libraries, including the Monroe County Public Library, IU Wells Library, the Indiana State Library, and the Indiana Historical Society. Here is a link to a digital download posted at IUScholarWorks. You can have a look:


Mapping Monroe is divided into five parts: Part I describes the Public Land Survey System that was used to create the earliest maps of our area and is still used today by governments and online Geographic Information System (GIS) applications. Part II lists a sampling of Indiana maps, which illustrate how Monroe County’s roads, railroads, towns, and villages evolved in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Part III explores county-level maps. Part IV lists Bloomington maps, as well as several maps of smaller towns and villages in the county. Part V shows Indiana University campus maps, including maps of the current campus and of IU’s first campus at Seminary Square.

Each entry in Mapping Monroe County includes a description, an illustration, and a historical tidbit or two. For example, here is the entry for one of the 27 Indiana maps in Part II:

Part III lists 50 county-level maps and is the heart of the bibliography. It includes general maps, property maps, road maps, geological maps, topographic maps, soil maps, postal maps, railroad maps, and limestone industry maps. Here is an example from 1856, the earliest published county map that has survived:  

The 39 maps in Part IV of Mapping Monroe are mostly Bloomington maps, along with several maps of Ellettsville and smaller villages. The Bloomington maps include plat and property maps, street maps, fire insurance maps, topographic maps, railroad maps, industrial property maps, and even a cartoon map drawn by an IU student. Here is an example of an excellent plat map of Bloomington in the 1920s:

Finally, Part V includes 23 IU campus maps, which nicely illustrate the growth of the current campus from 20 acres in 1884 to about 2,000 acres today, and from a handful of buildings to hundreds. Here are two examples. The first is the original plat map of Seminary Square from 1820; the second is a lovely campus map drawn by an IU student in 1930:

And that’s a glance at Mapping Monroe County, Indiana, 1815–1941. If you’re like me and love maps, you can download the PDF version of the bibliography and then do some exploring online. You can link to 34 different online map collections, ranging from the library of the Monroe County History Center to the Library of Congress, and from the Monroe County Surveyor’s Office to the U.S. National Archives. They all have wonderful, often beautiful, historic maps of our county.

Looking Beyond the Photos in High School Yearbooks

Blog by Rod Spaw

“On January 27, the basketball girls won the first trophy which Unionville ever possessed. They accomplished this feat by defeating both the Gosport girls and the referees. …” Or so declared the Unionville High School yearbook of 1934.

As much a part of adolescence as roller rinks and puppy love, the high school yearbook is a snapshot of our younger selves at a moment of transition to adulthood. They preserve our memories in candid photographs of pep rallies and class picnics and elicit smiles as we read the snarky class prophecies, bequeaths to underclassmen or cringe-worthy jokes that we once thought were so terribly clever.

But who remembers the advertisements, the arm-twisting solicitation of good will from local businesses that paid for it all?  Probably not as many people as who know the difference between a Jordannus and a Llamarada. Yet, the advertisements also provide a snapshot of our forgotten once upon a time. 

Where was the Roll-O-Rama? How about the Dutch Door restaurant, which claimed to have “the best hamburgers ever”? What sort of vehicles were sold at Noble King Motor Sales? Which Full-O-Pep store sold appliances and which Full-O-Pep store sold auto parts and accessories? What clothing store was on the opposite side of the courthouse square from Bloomington Paint and Wallpaper in 1950? Did Bloomington ever have a Frisch’s Big Boy? What was a Skibbo? The yearbooks know (see answers below).

The Monroe County History Center genealogy library has logged nearly 13,000 advertising entries from yearbooks of nine Monroe County high schools. Besides the three high schools of today (Bloomington High School North and South and Edgewood), the index of yearbook advertisements also captures commercial messages placed in yearbooks for the original Bloomington high school, as well as former high schools for Stinesville, Unionville, University, Ellettsville and Smithville. Also represented is one yearbook from the Bloomington Hospital Nursing School (1928).

It is an extensive database, but admittedly not a complete one. Not all years of all high school yearbooks are included, reflecting missing years in the history center’s collection. In addition, advertisements for businesses outside of Monroe County were not included. Gosport businesses did advertise in yearbooks for Ellettsville and Stinesville, as Morgan County and Brown County businesses did in Unionville’s annual. Even Stineville could count on a few Bedford businesses to support their yearbook. While perhaps reflective of the geographic area of each school’s universe, only businesses with Monroe County addresses were entered into the database.

The advertisements reflect changes in local commerce over the decades. Feed stores, farm implement sales and other businesses catering to agriculture were commonly advertised at one time, especially in the yearbooks of rural high schools such as Stinesville and Smithville.

National chains largely were absent from the pages, although Penney’s department store in Bloomington regularly made an appearance. More often, restaurants and small businesses were known by their local owners’ names– Ella’s Ladies’ Shop; Sharpie’s Restaurant; Young’s Market; Jerry’s Leather Repair; Pete’s Marathon Service; Dave Church watchmaker, Some of the advertisements seem incongruous now, such as yearbook ads for the Monroe County Tobacco Co. or the many ads placed by funeral homes. One advertiser clearly was thinking ahead: Bloomcraft Press Inc. advertised in the 1957 Unionville yearbook as the place to get “your wedding announcements” at a time

Answers to questions in paragraphs 3 and 4 (in order):
1. Jordannus was the yearbook of University High School; Llamarada (“sudden blaze” or “flare-up” in Spanish) was the yearbook of Ellettsville High School.
2. Roll-O-Rama was on west Allen Street.
3. The Dutch Door restaurant was at 1401 N. College Ave. 

4. Noble King Motor Sales sold Rambler, Nash and Hudson automobiles.5. Full-O-Pep at 222 W. Second St. sold appliances; Full-O-Pep at 424 S. College Ave. sold auto parts and accessories.
6. Longtime Bloomington clothing store Kahn’s was on the south side of the courthouse square in 1950, while Bloomington Paint and Hardware was on the north side.
7. Bloomington once had a Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant at 1800 N. College Ave.
8. A Skibbo was the mascot of Smithville High School. It was a penguin-like bird.

Bloomington: The Center of Population

Blog post by Rod Spaw

Bloomington leaders celebrated when the city was designated in the 1910 Census as the mean center of population for the United States. It gave them a powerful tool for promoting commercial investment in Bloomington. As calculated by the Census Bureau, the mean center is the point of balance if every person’s location in the United States was a weight of identical mass on a weightless, rigid and flat representation of the country. 

The geographic center in 1910 happened to fall just feet from the doorstep of the Showers Furniture Co., which at the time claimed to be the largest furniture factory in the world, employing more than 500 people and producing more than $1 million worth of goods annually. According to newspaper accounts, the company made sure that everyone knew where the suddenly “historic” spot was, and one Showers employee risked serious injury in order to shine a spotlight upon the achievement.

A front-page story in the Daily Telephone newspaper of October 11, 1911, revealed that the Showers Co. was preparing “the most pretentious reception and honor that has ever been afforded the center of American population.”

The article stated that the company was spending “no less than” $1,000 (almost $30,000 today, adjusted for inflation) to mark the exact spot, which was just south of the wall of a building fronting Eighth Street. 

Plans called for the construction of a concrete platform 10 feet by 12 feet and two feet high. On the center of the platform was a circular block of Oolitic stone, with the words “Center of Population U.S.A. 1910 Census” cut into its front and top and outlined in gold leaf. A flagpole in the center of the stone extended to a height of 75 feet, topped by a large American flag. Below the flag was a pennant reading “Center of Population U.S.A. 1910.” Another block of Oolitic stone on the front of the platform was carved with the words “Showers Bros. Co,” and the whole thing was designed so that visitors could stand on the actual center of U.S. population.

A photo, or possible representation, of the Showers platform and flagpole from a Bloomington Commercial Club booklet of 1912

To make sure that the platform couldn’t be missed, a 120 candlepower electric light (roughly 100 watts) was mounted on the flagpole. It was this feature that nearly caused a tragedy involving one Showers employee.

In a separate front-page story of the same day, the Daily Telephone reported that office worker Loyd Back fell from a second story window as he attempted to turn a switch on the flagpole to illuminate the platform. The newspaper stated that Back lost his balance while leaning out of the window and fell to the ground, wrenching his back and requiring a trip to the doctor.

Back recovered and went on to a career in advertising that took him to Chicago and Terre Haute, according to records found at ancestor.com.

Sources: Promotional booklet of the Bloomington Commercial Club, 1912; Bloomington Daily Telephone newspaper, October 11, 1911; and Census and death records found at Ancestor.com. Definition of mean population center from the U.S. Census Bureau website.

Horace Kearney’s Attempted Crossing of Dunn Meadow

Blog by Rod Spaw

In Drawer 3, Unit N of Hallway Storage on the third floor of the Monroe County History Center is a scarred and scuffed piece of bamboo measuring 9 ¼ inches long by 1 ¼ inches in diameter. If not for the paper label glued to it, the hollow tube might be mistaken for scrap from someone’s do-it-yourself project.

Even the label doesn’t provide much context to the artifact. It reads: “From the first airplane that came to Bloomington: Fell near house on Dunn Place.” There’s no date given, but another item in the collection reveals the when. 

It’s a postcard showing a truck pulling a fragile looking bi-wing airplane through a dense crowd of people on a Bloomington street. More people can be seen lining the rooftops of nearby commercial buildings. Writing on the postcard identifies the scene as “Our Avery truck towing Curtis (SIC) Biplane on Booster Day, Oct. 11, 1911.” Elsewhere on the card is written “compliments of Bloomington Milling Co.”

MCHC Collection #1980.025.0008

Yet, that still does not begin to tell the whole story. So, it falls to newspapers of the day, particularly the Bloomington Daily Telephone, to relate the tale of Horace Kearney’s attempted crossing of Dunn Meadow on the Indiana University campus in his Curtiss biplane during the pioneering days of aviation.

The occasion, indeed, was “Booster Day,” an annual promotion of local goods and services supported by the Bloomington Commercial Club. Many American communities had commercial clubs, which brought local leaders together to champion civic improvements. Only a few such clubs remain today, notably the Commercial Club of Chicago, which dates to 1872.

Few people in 1911 had seen an airplane in person, and Kearney’s flight was advertised throughout the area in order to draw a large number of potential customers for local businesses. It succeeded, if newspaper descriptions of a “huge crowd” of up to 10,000 people can be believed. Bloomington’s population in the 1910 Census was 8,838; Monroe County’s population was 23,426.

Kearney, originally from Kansas City, had been flying for about two years. In his mid-20s, the young aviator barnstormed the country for the Glenn Curtiss airplane company to demonstrate the capability of powered flight. The commercial club had agreed to pay Kearney $350 to make two flights in Bloomington, the equivalent of about $10,000 today.

Kearney arrived in town on crutches; he had broken his right leg in two places in a crash at St. Louis two months earlier. Still, he was anxious to give the Bloomington crowd a good show, telling a reporter that he hoped to reach a height of 3,000 feet during his first flight. As it turned out, he only made it off the ground between 40 and 75 feet, depending upon which newspaper account one read.

The reports all agreed on one fact: The airplane ran afoul of a barbed wire fence that Kearney had not noticed on his first survey of the field. The aviator later told a reporter that he spied the fence too late, forcing him to bring the airplane up at a sharp angle to clear it. He immediately lost control of the machine, and a wing clipped a tree, causing the airplane to spin and crash to the ground. Kearney was ejected; tree branches broke his fall, and he kerplunked head-first in a creek. The engine of his wrecked airplane landed mere feet from his prone body.

The Daily Telephone writer described the scene: 

“The huge crowd in the field had been hard to control from the start, and the flight had been delayed almost an hour to get the rigs off the field and to clear a path for the machine to start. As it was released and rolled down the field the great crowd hardly moved. The aviator’s jump of the fence, his dip into the tree and his fall were watched breathlessly and hardly a person on the field spoke. Then as the aeroplane and man struck the ground, every one – men, women and children – started to run. They crawled through the wire fence with no regards for clothes and fought to get to the machine. The police were almost compelled to resort to the use of clubs to control the crowd.”

An automobile rushed across the field to reach Kearney, who never lost consciousness. He was taken to a doctor’s office, where he was found to be badly bruised but otherwise unhurt. Despite the damage to his airplane, Kearney regretted not delivering a better demonstration. “I cannot tell how much I hate the disappointment that was given the crowd,” Kearney told the Daily Telephone. “They were all wanting a flight, and I wanted to give them a flight that would show just what a ‘bird’ like that was built for.”

Kearney’s flight may have been a bust, but “Booster Day” was declared a huge success, so much so that business leaders talked about bringing Kearney back the next year. The Commercial Club decided to pay the aviator the full $350 he was promised.  

Merchants reported increased sales in all areas, and the newspapers noted that “saloons also had a harvest.” In fact, the Daily Telephone reported, “As a result of Booster Day festivities, ten drunks slept in the jail overnight.”

Kearney’s story did not have a happy ending. In mid-December 1912, Kearney set off on a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a hydro-aeroplane, an airplane capable of taking off and landing on water. He never arrived, and his body was pulled from the Pacific Ocean several days later by searchers.

Henry J. Feltus, A Newspaper Editor of the “Old School”

Blog post by Rod Spaw

Viewing events through a political or ideological lens did not start with the internet, Fox News or MSNBC. It was not uncommon, in fact, for newspapers throughout much of U.S. history to rely on political patronage for their success. Even when the advertising model of business took over in the 20th century, many editors still touted their politics in news and opinion columns.

One notable practitioner of this “old-school journalism” in Bloomington was Henry James Feltus, who published newspapers here for 51 years, beginning in 1875. Feltus came to Bloomington from Greencastle at the behest of local Democrats who had seen “their paper” taken over by Republican owners, leaving the party without a vehicle to promote its views. An invitation, however, did not guarantee profitability, as Feltus recounted 25 years later in an article commemorating his silver anniversary as a Bloomington newspaper publisher.

Henry Feltus in a photo dated 1889 from the MCHC Collection (2009.099.0453)

“It took a great deal of nerve to publish a Democratic paper in Bloomington, as all previous efforts in that way had failed,” Feltus wrote, citing four unsuccessful attempts by other publishers before the first issue of his newspaper, the Bloomington Courier, appeared on October 28, 1875. Indeed, the first years of the Courier were rocky financially, the editor recalled, in part because of the fickle faith of Monroe County Democrats, who had not enjoyed great electoral success since the Civil War.

“After the first issue of the Courier appeared, about a dozen Democrats concluded to raise a ‘bonus’ of $300, which they did by going on a note to the First National Bank for that amount. I signed the note also, and when it became due, the bank was told by my ‘bonus’ friends to make it out of me,” the editor recalled.

The bank sued for repayment, which Feltus said began a series of difficulties with the county sheriff, Republican L.E. McKenney, who did not care for the “roasting” the editor handed out regularly to Republicans in general, and Republican county elected officials in particular.

“This was something the latter, especially, were not used to, so about every issue of the Courier brought a visit from the sheriff who insisted on the payment of the (note),” Feltus wrote in 1900. “The income of the office then was barely enough to meet living expenses, as but a few Democrats were loyal enough to pay in advance for the paper for fear it would fail or sell out to the Republicans.”

Feltus wrote that he always managed to make a payment on the debt to thwart the sheriff until the entire amount was repaid. He said the newspaper’ fortunes improved in 1878 when a Democrat was elected County Auditor for the first time since 1863. “This gave the Courier considerable ‘official pap’; hence it had comparatively smooth sailing,” Feltus wrote. “Finally, a good many Republicans began to admire the ‘pluck’ of the Courier and recognized that they had not only a good local paper but a ‘foeman worthy of their steel’ politically.”

As if proof, Feltus’ recollections of his early days in Bloomington did not appear in the Courier, but in the Bloomington Telephone, a Republican newspaper begun in 1876 by Walter Bradfute. Bradfute and Feltus became friends, despite being opposites politically. The two men even partnered during the 1880s in operation of the town’s Opera House, located on the second floor of a building on the south side of the courthouse square.

Feltus’ Democratic credentials remained intact despite his friendship with Bradfute. He was appointed Bloomington postmaster during the second term of Democratic President Grover Cleveland (1893-1897), and Feltus was elected in 1880 to a seat on the Bloomington City Council

Feltus sold the Courier in 1894, but his absence from local newspapers was brief. In 1895, his son Harry started a weekly newspaper, the Bloomington Star. Henry subsequently joined the editorial staff, as did Henry’s only daughter, Gertrude. Later, son Paul also would become a partner in the business.

The Bloomington Star became the Star-Courier in 1942 and continued as a Feltus family enterprise until ending publication in 1965. Henry J. Feltus died in 1926 after a short illness at age 80. He still was writing for the newspaper at the time of his death.

Sources: “Early trials and triumphs in starting Democratic newspaper,” Bloomington Telephone, Nov. 30, 1900; History of Morgan, Monroe and Brown Counties, 1884; “Story of Feltus Newspapers or Yesterday and Today,” Bloomington Star Courier, March 11, 1952; “Last Rites for Veteran Newspaper Man,” Star Courier, Jan. 15, 1926.

Whetsell’s Shoe Store

Blog post by Hilary Fleck

While looking through our postcard collection, I found this photo postcard of Whetsell’s Shoe Store with an amazing reflection in the store window of the County Courthouse.

I looked through the directories in our Research Library and discovered that the store was located on the south side of the square at 107 W. Kirkwood Ave., what is now Mirth. I searched our collection database and found another, earlier image of Whetsell’s Shoe Store.

In this photograph, which is dated “1896” on the reverse, you can see a reflection of the second Monroe County Courthouse in the window above the door and the bell tower in the large windowpane with the shoe display. Through the open door behind Ed Whetsell, the owner of the store and whom appears in both images, you can see the tall wooden shelving laden with boxes of shoes ready for sale. If the date on the reverse of the photograph is correct, that would mean that the two images are at least twelve years apart because the construction of the new and current courthouse was completed in 1908. According to directories in our library, the entry for Whetsell’s Shoe Store no longer appears after 1926. An advertisement for the store claims it was established in 1885 and that it was the earliest dedicated shoe store in Bloomington and served residents for forty years.

The History Center’s collection contains a pair of women’s oxford shoes that were sold by Whetsell’s and has a store mark on the insole of the shoes.

A pair of shoes that were sold by Whetsell’s in the collection at the MCHC.

A Famous Novelist Comes to Bloomington

Blog by Rod Spaw

Author Theodore Dreiser had not seen Bloomington in 25 years when he arrived on Aug. 26, 1915. It was his 44th birthday, and the writer of “Sister Carrie” and other novels was on a two-week tour of his native Indiana by automobile.

His means of conveyance was a brand new, 60-horsepower Pathfinder touring car owned by the illustrator Franklin Booth, Dreiser’s friend and fellow Hoosier traveling companion. At the wheel was a young man they called “Speed,” who served as driver, mechanic and navigator.

The three men were on the final leg of a 2,000-mile trek, which had begun on the streets of Manhattan. They already had visited the many places Dreiser’s family had lived in Indiana – Warsaw, Terre Haute, Sullivan, Evansville – and they would include a stop in Bloomington where he had spent the 1889-90 academic year as a college freshman.

There was no fanfare for Dreiser as he entered town that day. No one recognized the author as he wandered about for part of the afternoon. The next year, the whole country would learn of his trip with the publication of “A Hoosier Holiday,” which is considered one of the first so-called “road books” in American literature.

Before continuing to Booth’s family home in Carmel, Dreiser and his companions would have lunch, visit places the author had lived while at college and walk the campus.

The author found Bloomington much changed from the town he first had experienced as an 18-year-old fleeing the drudgery of menial labor in Chicago.

“The former small and by no means cleanly post office, with its dingy paper and knife-marked writing shelf on one side, had been replaced by a handsome government building suitable for a town of thirty or forty thousand,” he wrote in “Hoosier Holiday.” “A new city hall, a thing unthought of in my day, was being erected in a street just south of the square. New bank buildings, dry goods stores, drug store, restaurants, all were in evidence. In my time, there had been but two restaurants, both small and one almost impossible. Now there were four or five quite respectable ones, and one of considerable pretentions.”

It was quite a contrast to his initial impression of Bloomington. “Then, it was so poor and very simple,” he wrote. “I saw more tumble-down wagons, rheumatic and broken-down old men, old, brown, most-covered coats and thin, bony, spavined horses in the Bloomington of 1889 than I ever saw anywhere before or since.”

As for the student population of 1889, Dreiser’s description sounds not unlike what might be said of every generation of college student: “Here I met my first true radicals – young men who disagreed vigorously and at ever point with the social scheme and dogmas as they found it. Here I found the smug conventionalists and grinds seeking only to carve out the details of a profession and subsequently make a living. Here I found the flirt, the college widow and the youth with purely socializing tendencies, who found in college life a means of gratifying an intense and almost chronic desire for dancing, dressing, spooning, living in a world of social airs and dreams.”

Dreiser left IU after one year, convinced he had failed to acquire such skills as would allow him to escape the crushing poverty of his youth. Twenty-five years later, he remembered it as one of the most “vitalizing” periods of his life.

During his time in Bloomington, Dreiser recalled in “Hoosier Holiday,” he “dreamed much, idled, rested; and if at the end of the year I was mentally disgruntled and unhappy, physically I was very much improved. There can be no question of that. And my outlook and ambitions were better.”

These postcards, from the Monroe County History Center, are the same view as the postcards Dreiser purchased while visiting Bloomington.

Sources: “Hoosier Holiday” and notes of the author held by the Dreiser Collection at the University of Pennsylvania.

Commemorative Fishing at the History Center

By Wayne Hastings

My perception of my great grandfather Charles Ervin Wall has always been intricately tied to fishing. According to family lore, he was an expert fisherman who was commonly seen frying a dozen or two panfish even before the sun fully came up. If bluegills could talk, I am sure they too would attest to his skill and passion. A combination of stories and photographs of his prized trophies has kept the memory of him alive and vivid within our family. Without having ever met him, I feel like I have known him my whole life. 

The Monroe County History Center also has a collection of commemorative fishing objects that help keep memories of fishermen and women alive. Most commonly we have photographs. Here is a woman showing off a string of panfish that would have undoubtedly been fried. Ironically, we do not have a name, place, or date to remember her by so her story most likely lives on solely through her family. 

Collection ID: 2009.071.0086

Commemorative fishing plaques are usually more thoroughly documented such as this taxidermied largemouth bass. This fishing “trophy” gives us the name of the fisherman, the fish species, and the weight. I am sure if you had inquired, Ellis would have indulged you by further explaining how he caught it, where he caught it, and how an even bigger bass got away. 

Collection ID: 2011.011.0216

Interestingly, this style of commemorative art leaves the length of the fish to our imagination. Luckily, we have fisherman rulers like these to tell us ‘exactly’ how big our catches really are. This gag ruler from the old Schmalz’s Department Store reminds me of how much mythologizing is in fishing stories. One of my grandfathers once told me he had caught over a foot long bluegill from Lake Wapehani. Without any corroboration, it is hard to believe whether that is true or not. 

Collection ID: 1984.026.0083

Luckily for younger generations, everyone has a camera in their pocket at all times. Be sure to document your fishing trophies this summer not only as proof of your catch, but also as a way to preserve your own legacy. Your future grandchildren will thank you, as well as the History Center where your photographs may eventually end up.

The Disappearance of a Chambers Family from Smithville

Blog post by Randi Richardson

“It was heart rending,” according to her obituary, “one of the most pitiable sights witnessed in the south part of the county.” 

Mary Chambers, noted only as “Mrs. James Chambers” in her obituary, about 44 years age and a resident of Smithville, reportedly had been sick and running a fever for several weeks, but no one suspected anything serious until she suddenly grew worse.  On Friday, August 5, 1894, her misery was relieved by death. 

Her obituary described her as having been kind and conscientious.  She belonged to the Christian Church and was well respected in the community.  Among those who knew her, not one word detrimental to her life could be spoken. 

It was Mary’s orphaned children that prompted much of the community’s concern.  Her husband, James, had died several years earlier leaving “a large family.”  Afterward, although Mary did what she could to bring in money by keeping a boarding house, primary responsibility for the family’s support fell to a son, Roscoe, really only a child himself.  

In 1891 some Smithville boys, including Roscoe Chambers, got together for a group photograph.  The photograph was later loaned by Mrs. Lottie Robinson to a Bloomington newspaper for publication in a column titled “Our Bloomington of Yesteryear” No. 94.  Although the boys were named, no effort was made to match the name to a face.

A few months previous to her death, according to the obituary, Mrs. Chambers, married John Scott, a well-known farmer of Clear Creek Township.  It was noted that their wedded life was not exactly one of joy and happiness.  They subsequently separated and Mary filed suit for divorce.  The case was to have been tried in the September term of court at Bedford.

Now I have a curious mind, and I wanted to know.  Who was Mrs. Chambers, legally Mrs. John Scott? How long ago had her husband, James Chambers, died?  What happened to Roscoe?  How large was her “large family,” and what happened to those poor children.  Did the Chambers children end up in an orphanage?

Through research it was learned that James Chambers married Mary Souders in Monroe County on September 15, 1873.  In 1880, they were enumerated together in Polk Twp., Monroe County.  Both were 30 years of age and James worked as a farmer.  However, he suffered from rheumatism and had been unemployed for the entire past year.  There were also two children in the household:  Roscoe, age 6 and Pearl, age 2. 

James, a farmer, was not a rich man, not by any means.  When he died in 1890, the only evidence of his death was a brief obituary on May 20 in the Bloomington (IN) Telephone noting that “[H]e has been sick for some time.  He was a son of David Chambers who died by the side of the railroad a month or so ago.”  There was no official death record, no will, no probate and no tombstone to mark his grave.

An unidentified, Civil War soldier is readied for surgery.

Perhaps David’s obit would be more revealing, but that was not the case.   There was no autopsy; the only records pertaining to David Chambers’ death were a military-issued tombstone (name not included in the Monroe County Cemetery Index) in the Clover Hill Cemetery at Harrodsburg and a brief obituary in the Bloomington Telephone on April 1, 1890, where it was noted that David Chambers of Smithville, commonly known as “one-armed Dave,” died Sunday morning.  “He was found about one mile north of the Harrodsburg depot by the side of the railroad.  He had laid out all night.  He was an old settler and drew a very large pension.”  Military records indicate that David Chambers served as a private in Co. G, 31st Reg’t, Indiana Infantry.  His left arm was severely wounded in a Civil War battle that took place in Dallas, Georgia, on May 27, 1864, and was subsequently amputated.

After the death of James and his father, David, the next tragedy to befall the Chambers family was the death of Roscoe, James’ son who was left to provide support for his mother and siblings.  When his father died in 1890, Roscoe would have been about 16 years of age based upon his age, 6, in the 1880 census.  In 1893 at the time of his death, he was living in Smithville and would have been about 19 although, according to his one-line obituary, he was 21.    The cause of his death was noted as “lung fever,” commonly known today as pneumonia. 

Then, as noted above, Mary died—Roscoe’s mother, the family matriarch.  Who was left, if anyone, to carry on the family name?  The family genes?

The one other known member of this family yet unaccounted for was Pearl Chambers, Roscoe’s younger sister, who would have been about 16 at the time of her mother’s death. 

In 1896, Pearl’s name was found among Monroe County marriage records.  When she was about 19 years old she married Charles Litz, son of Benjamin and Elizabeth (Sullivan) Litz.  Four year later in 1900, they were living in Marshall Twp., Lawrence County, Illinois, with two small children:  Leo, age 3 and Roxy M., 9 months.  Earl Chambers, Pearl’s 14-year-old brother was also a member of the household.

At some point the Litz family returned to Smithville, Indiana.  They were living there in 1917 when Pearl was visited by her brother, Ben, from Wyoming.  Afterward the Litz’ located in Indianapolis.  Ben Chambers died there on December 5, 1936, at the age of 56 and single.  He was buried in the Washington Park East Cemetery in Indianapolis.  Pearl provided the information for the death record.

Pearl was also the informant at the death of her husband, Charles Litz, who died in Bedford, Lawrence County, Indiana, in 1957 at the age of 80.  He was also buried in the Washington Park East Cemetery. Near Ben. 

Pearl’s brother, Earl, married Ruth Carter in Lawrence County, Indiana.  They moved from state to state fairly frequently.  He died in Sarasota, Florida in September 1963.

With her siblings and husband gone, Pearl moved to Seattle, Washington, to live with her daughter, Roxie (Litz) Pfafman.  She died there in February 1966, survived by Roxie and two sons, Leon and Russell, both living in California.  Her remains were returned to Indiana and her funeral was held in Bloomington by the Greene and Harrell Funeral Home.  Burial was at the side of her husband and near her brother Ben in the Washington Park East Cemetery.

So we now have most answers to the above questions.  Although Mary was identified as Mrs. James Chambers in her obituary, legally she was Mrs. Scott at the time of her death because her divorce from John Scott was not yet finalized.  She has no death record or tombstone to confuse the matter by providing conflicting evidence.  Mary’s “large family” is believed to have consisted of four children:  Roscoe, Pearl, Earl and Ben.  Not really so large after all.  Mary’s husband, James Chambers, died in 1890 as did her father-in-law, David Chambers.  Neither man has a death record; only David has a tombstone, and it is of military issue with little information.  Roscoe, Mary’s son, died in 1893, without a death record or tombstone, at the approximate age of 19, not long after the death of his father.  There is no record related to the care of the surviving children after the death of their mother except than for Ben who lived with Pearl for a while after Pearl married.  Pearl, Earl and Ben all lived to be mature adults. The last survivor of the family was Pearl, the only one easily found in historical records.

Hopefully this information will be of some assistance to other researchers of the Chambers family.


  • David Chambers obit, Bloomington (IN) Telephone, April 1, 1890.
  • Mary (Souders) Chambers Scott obit, Bloomington (IN) World, August 9, 1894, p. 5.
  • Charles E. Litz obit, Indianapolis (IN) Star, September 27, 1957, p. 29.
  • Mary (Souders) Chambers Scott obit, Bloomington (IN) World, August 9, 1894, p. 8.
  • Roscoe Chambers obit, Bloomington (IN) Republican Progress, April 26, 1893.
  • Mary Ann Scott vs. John Scott—Divorce, Bloomington (IN) World, April 26, 1894, p. 3.
  • John Scott, filed for change of venue, Bloomington (IN) World, May 10, 1894, p. 1.
  • Monroe County (IN) Marriage Record, Mary A. Chambers and John Scott married in Monroe County on December 10, 1893.
  • James Chambers (erroneously indexed as Chambers James at Ancestry.com), 1880 Federal Census, Polk Twp., Monroe County, Indiana.
  • David Chambers, digital image of the tombstone available on FindaGrave.com.
  • David Chambers medical record, U. S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Indiana; The Medical and Surgical History of the Civil War, available on Ancestry.com.