Remembering a Soldier

Last Saturday was June 6, the 76th Anniversary of D-Day. The date that the Allied forces came together for a massive campaign to overtake the beaches of France in order to work toward an end to World War II. There wasn’t much news coverage of the commemoration of that event this year. Usually, people gather at the Normandy beaches and in the surrounding towns. Dignitaries from the Allied countries give speeches & soldiers return to remember their friends and comrades who gave the ultimate sacrifice on the beaches. This year, travel was curtailed by a pandemic so the beaches and towns were empty of visitors. News reports of the simple commemoration by a few people were overshadowed by other events. But just because there wasn’t a big celebration this year, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mark the day. The soldiers and civilians who were witnesses to that day are being lost to time & we need to continue to collect their stories so when they are gone, we can still truthfully commemorate the events.

But D-day wasn’t the final battle of WWII. Those who fought to take the beaches on June 6, 1944, provided a pathway for the next waves of soldiers to enter Europe to eventually overtake the Nazi forces. There was another year of brutal battles before the War in Europe was over, then a few more months before the War in the Pacific was over.

One of the soldiers who followed after the D-day contingent was Joseph George Serketich, Jr. He was born in Pennsylvania January 28, 1919 to Joseph (1893-1956) and Anna (Vugrinovic) (1896-1983) Serketich. He was born while his father was working in the coal mines in Pennsylvania. The family returned to Sheboygan, WI when he was very young.

The Sheboygan Press newspaper gives the basic story of Joseph’s military service:

On June 30, 1942. Joseph is listed as one of 103 men from Sheboygan who will enter military service. He was 23 years old.

July 6, 1942. There was a flag dedication ceremony at his church, St. Dominic’s on July 5. This ceremony was to dedicate a new flag pole & to bless the US flag that would be raised. It also was a day to recognize the 23 young men from the congregation who were in the military & inscribe their names on the church’s honor roll. Joseph’s name was included on the roll.

July 7, 1942. A crowd of over 5000 people gathered to see the soldiers off to Fort Sheridan, IL. On the 6th, they checked in at the post office and paraded to the train depot accompanied by a band playing “many patriotic numbers.”

Joseph moved on to Camp Swift, TX for his training, and on August 6, 1942, a letter that he wrote on July 31 to his priest—Rev. Fr. George J. Knackert, was published in the paper. He is still a young soldier—only 3 weeks in the service. He told of his impressions of the way the soldiers worked together showing “such great teamwork and sportsmanship.” He states, “the U.S. Army is the best in the world.” He talks of working with “all kinds of men, of all religions and nationalities. They are all here for the same purpose and all work as a unit.” He mentions how good it is to see the men in chapel together. He says, “The people of America can really be proud of their army.” He is part of the Headquarters Battery, 360th Field Artillery Battalion, 95th Division. He comments that “The 95th is sure going to be a rugged outfit.”

On August 21, 1942, a letter to the Editor that Joseph wrote on August 16, was published. Here he mentions his surprise that his earlier letter had been published in the paper & hoped the readers “could vision the ideals I intended to bring out about camp life.” He also mentions that there were several other young men from Sheboygan training at Camp Swift and “the people of Sheboygan can be very proud of their boys.” He says “each one is prepared to perform the task placed before him that they may enjoy the rights which the Almighty has given every man to work out his life and gain real happiness.” He expresses his trust in God to give victory & states “the people of America and her allies need not be afraid of any worldly force brought against them.”

November 2, 1942. Joseph is promoted to Corporal in the U.S. Army. This notice includes a photo of him in uniform.

January 7, 1943. Joseph’s name is included on the new Croatian Societies Honor Roll at a banquet at the Croatian Hall in Sheboygan.

January 12, 1943. Announces Joseph’s return to Fort Sam Houston, TX after an 8-day furlough at home.

June 15, 1943. Corporal Technician Joseph G. Serketich is promoted to Sergeant. He’s been in the Army for almost a year.

A tragedy occurred in Joseph’s family on June 21, 1943. Two of his brothers, Rudolph, age 16, and Steven, age 13, drowned in the Pigeon river. Joseph was present at the funeral on June 25. At that time he was stationed at a camp in Louisiana.

I couldn’t find any mention of Joseph in the paper until December 1944.

On December 4, there was an announcement that his family received word that he was killed in action at Manzeres, near Metz, France on November 17, 1944. It gives a summary of his military duty stations & states that he left in July 1944 for Europe. He was in England for 2 weeks, then on to France, “where he saw action in the 95th division of the Third army under General Patton.” I expect he followed the path forged by those soldiers on D-day. Information for a “memorial requiem high mass” at St. Dominic’s church was included.

Another announcement of his death on December 5, contained a picture of Sgt. Serketich. He had grown a mustache and looked a little more mature than the picture from 2 years earlier. He was 25 years old when he died.

By the way, the 95th Division had the nickname, “The Iron Men of Metz,” after capturing and defending this town from repeated German attacks. So I guess Joseph’s description was true—it was a “rugged outfit.”

May 22, 1945. An article lists Joseph’s older brother, John S. (1916-1997), as one of the 63 men from the Sheboygan area to leave for military service. Also in that list was John and Joseph’s First Cousin once Removed, John A. Chvarack (1916-1967), my Grandfather. While the war in Europe was officially over, soldiers were still needed. According to his obituary, John S. served as a quarter master in Germany. My Grandfather, John A. Chvarack, served on the US Hospital Ship Hope.

The final notices regarding Joseph were in August, 1948:

August 12, 1948. Announced the plans for his reburial service.

August 16, 1948. The announcement and description of the funeral service for T/4 Joseph G. Serketich with Military rites. He was buried on the family lot in Greendale cemetery, Kohler, WI.

This being Flag Day (June 14), the day commemorating the adoption of the flag of the United States in 1777, I thought it pertinent to mention two more items from Joseph’s story.

First, Rev. George J. Knackert’s words from the flag dedication ceremony July 5, 1942:

The Stars and Stripes are to us the symbol of our constitution and democratic form of government…From the moment it was flung to the breeze in our nation’s first stroke for freedom it has waved to the rhythm of right in war and peace. Though it wave in gentlest calm or wildest tempest, its red ripples on like the warm blood that trickles from the patriotic breast; its white streams on as if pleading with us to seek the purest in life and to trample down any vicious scheme or godless plot; its blue but undulates to remind us that after all, home, sweet home is not only here, but above all in the azure of the great beyond; and its stars, even when the night is darkest with war and social distresses, are so many beacons inspiring hope and trust in God…the freedom which our forefathers have dearly won and bequeathed to us, must be fought for again and again by labor and toil in each generation, must be recaptured and won unceasingly, even at the cost of sweat and blood and tears in order to be appreciated, cherished and preserved for future generations…

Second, this is what Joseph said in his letter on July 31, 1942:

There is another thrill, which makes a mind to become thoughtful. That is when the army has retreat at the end of each day–the most beautiful ceremony in the army. There the men all stand in formation, facing the flag of our country. While the colors are being lowered the men stand at attention and present arms. At the same time the band plays the national anthem. The thrill comes when one stares at the flag there high in the sky, he wonders what is it there for. What does it mean? Liberty, freedom, happiness and freedom of religion…I will fight to defend it whenever an enemy tries to take it from us. I will die for it as Christ died for me…All America should be proud of its flag, not of its material beauty, but for what it stands–life, liberty and happiness–to be also proud of its soldiers who fought to make it, and who fight to preserve it.”

Most of this section of Joseph’s letter was read into the Congressional Record (Vol. 146 (2000), Part 8) by the Hon. Gerald D. Kleczka of Wisconsin, in the House of Representatives, on June 14, 2000.

I end with Joseph’s sentiment at the end of his letter to the Editor August 16:

May God bless America.

Keep ’em flying.

© MJM 2020

The War Wound

The first couple of posts I did were about Allen Erp’s Civil War story. Allen was my 3rd Great Grandfather. He was born in Pulaski County Kentucky in 1826. He married Sarah Alexander in 1844 and a few years later moved to Clinton County Indiana. 

He served in Company G of the 86th Regiment of the Indiana Volunteers during the Civil War– enlisting in August 1862 and serving through the end of the war, being discharged June of 1865 in Nashville, Tennessee. His military records are under the name “Allen Urp.”

Last July, I was at a genealogy conference in Indiana. I met a man who’s business is going to the National Archives and retrieving Civil War Records. I paid the fee and waited for what he might find about Allen Urp. I was particularly interested in seeing if there would be any record of Allen’s injury to his right hand that was mentioned in his letter home and on his Invalid Pension Certificate. A few months later I received digital copies of Allen’s Service Record and Pension files. There was no specific Medical record.

The Pension files consisted of several pages of sworn testimony confirming Allen’s dates of service in the Union Army. There were also statements regarding his injury. 

Theodore Hesser, who served as 1st Lieutenant in Company G of the 86th Regiment of the Indiana Volunteers gave a statement that indicated that Private Allen Urp, “on or about the 18th day of December 1862 was wounded in his right hand by the accidental discharge of his gun while on picket duty causing the loss of the 1st & 2nd fingers of his Right hand.” The event occurred near Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. Hesser also stated that “Said Urp was a good & faithful soldier and continued to serve on detached service in the Ambulance train till the Regiment was discharged.” 

So Allen was on “picket duty.” This was a line of soldiers who patrolled in advance of the main encampment, watching for any enemy movement. At this time in 1862, the Regiment was encamped near Nashville, making it’s way toward Murfreesboro, Tenn. His wounds were not caused in battle, but by an “Accidental discharge” of his gun. 

Allen’s own testimony of his injury was given as well. It adds a little more detail to the story. On January 22, 1870 he gave this statement in support of his Pension request: 

“On or about the 18th day of December 1862 while on duty on the skirmish line I was taken with the cramp & while endeavoring to relieve my self my gun was accidentally discharged wounding me in the right hand causing the amputation of my first and second fingers. My wound was dressed & attended to in the camp of the Regiment near Nashville, Tenn & I remained with the Regiment until I was discharged at the close of the war.”

So if I read that correctly, Allen was on picket duty, patrolling the area near the encampment, on the look-out for the enemy, when “nature called.” Who knows, he may have propped his rifle against a tree and it fell, causing it to accidentally discharge, or it may have fired as he was preparing to set it down. In one sense it may be lucky that he only lost some fingers!

This injury was not great enough to keep him from serving his tour of duty however. As mentioned in the statements, he served through the next two and a half years to the end of the war. He worked with the Ambulance service & as he said in his letter home, drove an Ambulance wagon. He may have also worked on the Ambulance train that took wounded soldiers away from the battle lines to field hospitals. These trains could have consisted of flat cars, freight cars or passenger cars used to transport the soldiers. Can’t imagine they were the best of accommodations. The Library of Congress website <> has pictures of Civil War Ambulance wagons and trains. I expect working with the Ambulance service was quite challenging at times. 

There was an Examining Surgeon’s Certificate dated November 2, 1869 attached to his file. The surgeon, W.P. Dunn, declared Allen “1/2 incapacitated for obtaining his subsistence by manual labor” due to his injury. Since Allen was a farmer, his lively-hood was affected by the limited use of his right hand. My assumption is that he was right-handed. According to other paperwork in is file, Allen was approved of his Invalid (Disability) Pension April 13, 1871 for $2 per month from June 5, 1865. 

In 1875, when Allen was 48 years old, he applied for an increase to a full pension. He gave the following statement to the Clerk of the Clinton County, Indiana Court:

He reported his disability from “Gunshot wound of right hand causing loss of first & second fingers of the said hand causing stiffness and lameness of said hand, greatly incapacitating him for manual labor.” Allen requested an examination and an increase in pension. He also seems to indicate that he had not received the appropriate compensation as he also requested back pension. He did have a Medical Examination and was still declared 1/2 disabled and entitled to $4 per month.

In 1878, Allen again pursued an increase in his pension & appeared before the Clerk of the Court of Tippecanoe County, Indiana. He stated that he is disabled due to the “gun shot wound of right hand causing loss of middle and index fingers and a contracture of tendons in the other fingers almost totally disabling him on such level equivalent to the loss of a limb.” He again received a Medical Examination, this time by 2 physicians, who stated:

“G.S.W. right hand=Ball destroyed 1st and 2nd Phalanx of Index and middle fingers—amputated at articulation of 2nd and 3rd Phalanx—stumps tender—becoming inflamed & ulcerated in labor—Hand of little use to Pensioner.” They declared his disability to be “total” such that he was entitled to $12 per month.

According to the file jacket for his pension, Allen received $2 per month commencing June 7, 1865. Then he received an increase to $5 per month commencing July 21, 1875. The final increase was to $8 per month commencing April 3, 1878. Allen died in 1885. He lived with what might seem a minor wound by today’s standards, but one that apparently caused him trouble most of his life. 

© MJM 2020

The Trophy

When I visited my Grandmother, Margaret Millikan McKinley (1917-2007), through the years, I remember seeing a trophy high up on a bookcase. I never looked at that trophy very closely & never asked about it. Then, my Great Aunt, Frances Millikan Haskett (1918-2018), displayed that trophy at her 95th birthday party & gave it to one of her nephews.


I finally looked at it and read the inscription: “Sheridan Dairy Assn. Awarded to Arza H. Millikan, Sweepstakes Bull, Sheridan Indiana, Aug. 16, 1916”

So then things started to make sense.

I found some Sheridan News articles about the Dairymen Association Picnics on the website.

The page-one article from August 18, 1916 indicated that the 1916 picnic was the 2nd annual event and hailed it as a “dairy picnic and bull show.” There were estimated to be two to three thousand in attendance. There were also “several exhibits of machinery silos, etc.” Not to mention the merry-go-round and ice cream stand! A letter I have that Arza’s Aunt Alice Millikan Cox (1864-1926) wrote to her daughter, Carrie (1888-1985), said that there were “200 gallons of ice cream given away and 30 men to dish it out.”

The article stated that “Sheridan has become, … one of the big milk producing centers of the country & the greatest in Indiana.” It listed the names of the Sheridan Dairy Association officers: M.M. Evans, President; A.H. Millikan, Vice President; C.O. Ogle, Secretary-Treasurer. The officers and the Dairy Association were commended for holding a dairy show which had “good talks on dairying and it offered a great opportunity for displaying and studying and selling high grade thoroughbred dairy cattle.”

The Sheridan News article listed the winners of the Cattle show. Turns out Arza won more than one award. He won 1st place for “Bull Class 1, 3yr. and over,” Sweepstakes Bull, Best Jersey Bull and Bulls Sold in Sale. Of the four silver cup trophies awarded, Arza won three, all for Jersey Bulls. He also won $77 in prize money with $70 of it being for one bull. I don’t know what happened to the other trophies.

The letter from his Aunt Alice also mentioned his winnings. She said he got a “nice blue bow with a button and a bow with a picture of a bull on it” for a bull that he bought at the show. That may have confirmed something that I saw in a picture of Arza and a bull.


Is Arza wearing a ribbon on his jacket?AMribbon

Is this one of the prize-winning bulls from this Dairy Picnic? At this point I don’t know.

Turns out that Arza also won prizes for his cattle at the first Dairy picnic in August, 1915 and the third Dairy picnic in 1917. All of this was reported in the Sheridan News from August 20, 1915 and September 14, 1917.

In 1915, Arza won 1st prize for the Class 1 Bull category and the Sweepstakes Bull Prize. He also gave one of the instructional talks at the picnic.

In 1917, he won the $20 trophy for the Sweepstakes Bull, the $10 trophy for the best Jersey bull and the $25 prize for the “best heifer sired by a Park Farm’s bull.” He also won the $5 1st prize for the “Bull 1yr. old, under 2” and $2 3rd prize for the “Heifer 1yr. old, under 2.”

Two more pictures of Arza and his bulls:



Perhaps one of these was a “Prize Winner.”

Regardless, it seems that my Great-grandfather, Arza H. Millikan (1883-1964), was gaining a reputation for the quality and pedigree of his bulls & dairy cattle.

© MJM 2019


Veterans of the Great War

The 11th Hour of the 11th Month, 1918. The time when all fighting would cease in France after the Armistice had been signed that morning. The end to the Great War. That was 100 years ago.

So I figured I would dig through my family history information and honor those ancestors who served during that war.

I already mentioned Fred McKinley (1890-1972), Brooklyn, IN; my Dad’s Great-Uncle on his Paternal side. He served in the US Army from April 27, 1918 to November 1, 1918.

Fred’s cousin, Frank B. Crider (1896-1978), Morgan County, IN. Served in the US Army from July 22, 1918 to January 16, 1919.

Then there was Chester Emmett Boone (1892-1954), Connersville, IN; my Dad’s Great-Uncle on his Maternal side. He served with the US Army 309th Supply Company, Quartermaster Corps, Private, #778964. He departed from Newport News, VA June 6 1918. He left Brest, France June 29, 1919. Arrived July 8, 1919 at Hoboken, NJ, listed as a Private 1st Class.

Chester’s cousin, William Hobart Boone (1896-1991), also served in the US Army. The only information I have about his service is that he served in 1918.

On Mom’s side of the family—they were first generation citizens at the time of the War. I wonder how they felt heading off to Europe to fight against what might have been their own relatives.

First, the brother of my Great Grandmother, Amanda Steinhaus Beiersdorf (1894-1973):

William Steinhaus (1896-1963) from Sheboygan, WI. Served as a Private in the US Army M D, Private, #2822606. Departed from Brooklyn, NY to Europe Sept 17, 1918 with Ambulance Company 342-311. Listed on roster of sick or wounded in Hospital in Bordeaux France 11/16/18 w/ Left Inguinal Hernia.

William’s father, Otto Steinhaus (1869-1954) had two cousins who also served:

Paul Richard Steinhaus (1892-1964), Sheboygan, WI, US Army, Private, #2822617. Departed from New York, NY to Europe Sept 9, 1918 with the 86th Div, 171st Infantry Brigade, Company D, 342nd Infantry. He left Brest, France on June 12, 1919. Arrived in Hoboken, NJ June 20, 1919. He is listed as part of the US Army Machine Gun Company, 55th Infantry.

Herbert August Steinhaus (1895-1957), Plymouth, WI, served with the US Army Field Remount Squadron #318, #2831867. He departed from Newport News, VA on Aug 14, 1918, listed as Acting Corporal. He left Brest, France on June 23, 1919. Arrived Boston, MA July 5, 1919, listed as a Private 1st Class.

Who would have thought when these men came home from their service, that their sons would once again take up arms in another war in Europe.

So, remembering just a few named veterans from my family tree who served during the Great War 100 years ago. I also thank the other veterans who served our country in other times of war and conflict

© MJM 2018

An Unfortunate Accident

One of the data-bases in the collection is “Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011.” Naturally, I have used this collection to try to find the death certificates for my many Indiana ancestors. The certificates can help fill in some of the connections—such as parent’s names, spouse’s name, occupation, dates of birth and death. Obviously, the death certificate also includes the cause of death. Most of the time, I’ve found the cause to be pretty standard—cardio vascular problems, respiratory problems, cancer, etc. Occasionally, I find a more intriguing cause of death…

Burton Minton was the son of Thomas Minton (1844-1916) and Eliza Ann Cummings (1845-1927). He was born in the community of Wilbur, IN December 6, 1870. He was a nephew of my GG Grandmother, Mariah (Minton) Portis (1848-1923). He was a farmer & trader. He was a member of the Poplar Grove M.E. Church. Burton married Vesta Fowler December 24, 1890. He and Vesta had 9 children and lived in the Wilbur community together for 57 years.

Burton’s Death Certificate from indicates that he didn’t die of “natural causes.”



Incidentally, his name is spelled “Berton” on the death certificate. I found his obituary in the Morgan County, IN Library. It was not sourced so I’m not sure what newspaper it came from. It stated that “his buggy overturned about 10:30 Monday night on the Baltimore Road.” He was found Tuesday morning. He died “at 3:30 Tuesday afternoon in the Robert Long Hospital in Indianapolis.” He had never regained consciousness. The obit. also stated that searchers had looked “through the night” for Burton. “The parties had passed along the county road beside which Mr. Minton lay after his buggy had slipped off a culvert, but the buggy had turned over in such a deep spot that it was not seen at night…” It also reported that Burton “had evidently crawled about 30 feet along the gully.” He was found about 3 miles north of Wilbur and had reportedly been traveling home from Monrovia, IN.

The first time I read his obituary several years ago, I really had no idea who he was. I skimmed it and didn’t think much more about it. Because he died in a horse and buggy accident, I figured he died in the early 1900’s. Obviously, I didn’t look at the date written on the obit. Burton died May 3, 1949; well into the age of the automobile. Hard to imagine someone was still traveling by horse and buggy. I would guess he didn’t have much light on the roadway at that time of night as well. Anyway, the unfortunate accident claimed his life and added another sad story to the family history.

© MJM 2018

Farm Girls


Frances & Margaret Millikan


My Grandmother, Margaret Pauline Millikan, was born September 17, 1917. Her sister, Miriam Frances Millikan, was born November 20, 1918. Their parents were Arza Millikan (1883-1964) and Mary Boone Millikan (1897-1992). They grew up on the family farm on Mulebarn Road near Sheridan, Indiana. The two girls were almost inseparable growing up.


Farm life was full of responsibilities. Feeding the chickens was one chore the girls could do while they were rather young.


Grandma said they also had the responsibility of driving the cows “to the 30.” The two girls would take the herd of 8-10 cows from Arza’s farm down the road about half a mile to 30 acres of land that his Mother, Martha Ellen Barker (1858-1932), inherited. Grandma described this chore when I interviewed her in 2006:

“Frances and I drove the cows every day…We were 10 years old when we started herding the cattle from the barn lot down to the corner. You had to keep them from going west or south, you had to get them turned, be sure that the gates were locked on everybody’s fence…We drove those cattle from the home over and over again to the corner again, back up to the 30…We’d drive those cattle back and there was no fence. We had a lane we drove them back and part of the time that would be a big corn field clear back to the woods. You had to keep them on that lane and get them back to the 30…There was a big water tank like the old water tanks were that you pumped a full tank of water. And we’d pump a full tank of water and walk home. Then go back and get them in the evening. We’d pump a tank of water at the barn for when they got back. We did that for a long time.”

She also remembered other chores on the farm: “And Frances and I worked in the field. I remember one time when I—Daddy had plowed that big field over at the 30 that was East of the woods and I rode a drag. I mean a drag that was just heavy boards with a couple of 3 rocks on it to help hold it down. And it had dried out…and I could hardly ride the drag. ‘Course you stood up on it, but it just pulled my arms ’til I was nearly sick. That field was so rough and the disc just didn’t cut it down. Daddy had a tractor of course and we had disked it but it didn’t work. I never rode the disc—that was a little dangerous because you’ve got all those cutters. But I had a harrow and that drag and that was one of the hardest jobs I ever did in the field.”

Margaret and Frances helped load beans: “Daddy and Grandpa Millikan would pitch the beans, work on beans on a wagon…They’d pitch those up and we’d have to cram them down and move stuff around. We did the same thing with hay.” Grandma remembers one time when she was a teenager and almost had a heat stroke when helping with the hay. They also helped plant potatoes and load the silo with corn. “Those kind of were dirty jobs; you didn’t have any bathrooms or bath tubs to clean up in. Used water in an old tub.”

But farm work wasn’t all they did growing up. They would play tag in the yard at night with neighbor kids. They would read a lot. Their Father, Arza, worked his Grandfather’s farm when the girls were little (Clark Millikan died in 1926). They would accompany Arza to the farm either by wagon or in “the old open touring car” mornings and evenings when he would go to do chores. She remembers “we got roller skates and learned to skate on the sidewalk that went up to the front door.” And she remembered “turning somersaults in the yard, because they kept the yard mowed and we didn’t at home…Frances & I were turning somersaults in there one day and I don’t know if it was Aunt Allie or Aunt Angie that came out and told us the chickens had been in that yard and they didn’t want us to get the chicken manure in our hair. Such a crazy thing to remember.”

When Margaret started school, Frances went along. The two sisters stayed close all of their lives. They double dated when they were teenagers. They worked together at the Sheridan Grille restaurant before Margaret got married and Frances went to college. Margaret married Loran McKinley in 1936 & Frances married Robert Haskett in 1939. They started raising families & eventually Margaret settled in Sheridan and Frances in Westfield. Both ladies were active with the church & supported missions.

In the 1970’s Mary Millikan sold the farm and moved to a house next door to Frances in Westfield. Margaret and their other sister, Betty Lou, lived with Mary. Eventually, Margaret and Frances moved to a Quaker-run Senior Apartment complex in Westfield. Margaret died in 2007, she was 90 years old. Frances continued on until this year. She died April 1—Easter Sunday. She was 99 years old.

I’m sure there were many more stories that we would have loved to hear from Margaret and Frances. They shared what they wanted to, or what we asked them about. As it is, we do know they were shaped by their early years working hard on that farm near Sheridan, IN.

horseMargFranMargaret & Frances with one of the horses at their home near Sheridan, IN.

© MJM 2018


Growing Tomatoes for Van Camp

I found a piece of paper in my GG Grandfather’s stuff & wondered what it was all about. So I did a little digging. Here is the contract between GG Grandpa Lewis Elwood Millikan (1855-1949) and the Van Camp Packing Company:

LEMillikanVanCamp copy

So is this the same well known Van Camp company that makes Pork & Beans? And how did Elwood get involved in growing tomatoes for them?

Looking into the history of the Van Camp company, I found a notation at the Indiana State Library website. The company was started by Gilbert Van Camp in Indianapolis, IN. Gilbert’s son, Frank, is credited with adding catsup and bacon to the the baked beans recipe to give it a unique taste. So yes, this is the same Van Camp company that makes Pork & Beans!

How did Elwood get involved? He probably attended this meeting announced in the Sheridan News, January 10, 1902:


Seeing that the contract was initiated on January 25, he must have figured it was a good deal. He contracted for 3 acres of tomatoes. The last line of the agreement, however, gives an “out” for the company if they did not get a commitment of enough acres—their minimum was 300 total acres.

Another announcement in the Sheridan News January 31, 1902 indicated that the company was reaching the quota:


One more article in the Sheridan Weekly Sun November 13, 1902 gives a little information on how the overall crop did:


I don’t know much more about Elwood’s crop. I wonder how much money he made from this contract & if it was worthwhile for him. I did find that the Van Camp company advertised again in the Sheridan papers for tomato crops in the years to follow—so it must have been a lucrative deal for them.

So there it is, looks like GG Grandpa Lewis Elwood Millikan probably provided tomatoes to the VanCamp Packing Company at least for one season—what an interesting find!

© MJM 2018

An Inventor in the Family

One of the first things I do when looking for information on an ancestor is a simple Google search. I did that one day on a guy named Silas Portis & found an interesting piece of information. The first time I “Googled” Silas, I saw this drawing for a patent on a gate opening device.


Lately, the Google search gives a link in Google Books to Scientific American magazine from February 4, 1893, pg.73. This includes a nice illustration as well as a description of Silas’ device.


The whole idea is that a person would not have to get down from the wagon or carriage, hold the horse steady and at the same time open the gate, then repeat the same process to close the gate once the wagon had passed through.

Looking at the US Patent office rules, a person who wanted to file for a patent would have to submit a detailed drawing and description of the device as well as the appropriate fees. I searched the US Patent & Trademark office website <> for more information on Silas’ patent. Since the first drawing I found had a patent number, I was able to find the actual patent for Silas’ “Gate-Worker.” The Patent No. 436,543 was dated November 17, 1891. The specifications are very technical with a description of each element of the device and how it all worked in sequence to open & close the gate. Other information found in the Patent paperwork was that Silas was from Monrovia, Indiana and he assigned two thirds of the patent to Telemichus N. Bennett and Albert Taylor who also lived in Monrovia.

So who was Silas Portis? He shows up in the 1850 US Census in the Northern subdivision of Davidson County, North Carolina with his Mother, Rachel and siblings, Emeline, Elizabeth and George W (my GG Grandfather). Silas attended school within the year and is listed as a laborer.


Silas was born June 14, 1833 according to his headstone. Other records list 1834 or 1835 as his birth-year. In 1860, he shows up in the US Census, still in North Carolina, but this time in the Southern Division of Guilford County. He is listed as an Engineer with a group of other men, including 2 Miners, a Blacksmith, Carpenter, another Engineer and several laborers. The assumption is that he worked in a mine. There were gold mines in Guilford County, NC. His wife, Rebecca and their two daughters, Louise & Charlotte, are in a separate listing from Silas, but on the same page. I haven’t found any information as to what Silas did during the Civil War.

In 1880, Silas was living in Guilford Township of Hendricks County, Indiana. He has married a 2nd time after his first wife, Rebecca died. The 1880 Census lists Silas with his wife, son and step-son. At this time he was working in a Saw Mill.


On June 18, 1883, the Hendricks County Republican newspaper reports “Silas Portis has hired to the Monrovia millers as an engineer. Silas has been with us for some time and we regret that he is going to leave us, though while we lose a good citizen Monrovia gains one.”

A sad event occurred in Silas’ family in September of 1888. His 10 year old son, Cecil died. The report is that Cecil was leading a cow to pasture with the rope tied around his waist. The cow became frightened and ran, dragging Cecil and killing him.

In 1900, Silas lives in Monroe Twp. of Morgan County, Indiana. He is listed in the US Census with his wife, Mary and 18 year old daughter, Ovis (or Avis). His job description is again Engineer. By this time, he has already secured his patent for his Gate-Worker device.

Silas died March 14, 1904. He was 70 years old. He is buried in West Union Cemetery, Monrovia, Indiana.

So, even though Silas Portis was not a direct ancestor of mine, he is still part of the family & it’s kind of cool to know that he has his name on a US Patent. I wonder if he made any money off of his invention? Knowing Silas’ story, maybe it’s not so unusual that some of my relatives have the need to “tinker” with things.

© MJM 2018

The New Mexico Homestead, Part 6

Proving Up.

Three friends from Indiana, Arza Millikan, Harry Kincaid and Elmer Davis filed homestead claims in New Mexico in February 1907. They moved out to their claims in August 1907. According to the Homestead Act of 1862, if they “improved” their claims—put up a house, fencing if needed; lived on the land & farmed it for 5 years, they would receive it free from the US Government (aside from filing fees.) However, they could also get the land quicker if they improved the land (put up a house & put in crops) and resided on it for 6-8 months. They would then pay a certain amount of money per acre to get the title to the land. The original Homestead Act set the price at $1.25 per acre. I’m not sure if this was still the price in 1907.

When a homesteader was ready to take legal possession of the land, they would get 2 neighbors or friends to vouch for the fact that they made improvements to the land and that they resided there for the required time period. These witnesses would sign the “proof” document. Notice of the intention to “prove up” was published in the local newspaper for 5 weeks to allow anyone who didn’t agree to contest the claim. When we visited New Mexico in 2007, we found actual newspapers from that time in a museum and saw the “proving up” notices for the three friends.

Harry’s notice was in the May 1, 1908 edition of the Nara Visa Register. Elmer’s notice was in the May 8 edition of the Nara Visa New Mexican.

On May 22, 1908, the Nara Visa Register included Arza’s “proving up” notice.


UnionCoNMCourthouseThe friends were witnesses for each other. The notices were recorded from the land office in Clayton, New Mexico, which was the county seat for Union County. So I guess the young men would have traveled the 39 miles up to Clayton to the courthouse to file their paperwork. This picture shows the Union County Courthouse as it would have looked at that time. It was hit by a tornado later in the year and had to be rebuilt.

One final notice in the Nara Visa Register from June 12, 1908:


Then on June 19, 1908, the Sheridan News reported the return of the young men to Indiana


So the three friends have returned home to the Indiana farms where they were born and raised. The New Mexico report indicates that they were going home for the Summer and would return to New Mexico in the Fall. As far as I know, they did not go back to live on the land. Perhaps they realized farm life would be easier on land in Indiana than New Mexico. Whatever the reason, they stayed in Indiana.

Arza made an entry in a farm ledger book January 1, 1909. In it he summarized his New Mexico adventure. I’ve already included part of that entry in some parts of this story. The rest follows: “We boys proved up and came back to Indiana June 13, 1908. A few days ago I rec’d Patent from the Gov’m’t. My claim cost me $600. beside almost a years time & hired help at grandpa’s.”

I have a copy of Arza’s land patent from the Bureau of Land Management’s website. The original is in the possession of a family member.


The land is still in the family. We visited it in 2007—it’s a pretty barren piece of property. But one must consider that the Dust Bowl affected this area of the country. Hard to imagine the land with any crops as the pictures saved from 1907/08 show the same thing we found—dirt and tufts of grass. Comparing it to the Indiana farmland where the young men came from, I think I can figure why they stayed in Indiana.

Arza continued helping on his Grandfather, Clark’s farm until he got married in 1916 and took over the farm of his Father, Elwood. Elmer stayed on the farm just down the road from Arza’s the rest of his life. Harry got married to one of the girls from the Sunday School class, Florence Hinshaw. He worked at an automobile factory.

Here is one final picture of the three friends, Harry, Arza and Elmer, probably taken in the 1950’s:


Harry Kincaid, Arza Millikan, Elmer Davis

They shared an adventure in New Mexico—maybe trying to find their fortunes with land—but ended up back home in Indiana where their fortune could be found much easier.

© MJM 2018


The New Mexico Homestead, Part 5

A Visit From Home.

The Sheridan News from December 20, 1907 reported that “Mrs. Elwood Millikan left last Thursday for Nara Visa, New Mexico where she will spend the winter.” A notice from December 27 stated that she went to New Mexico “for the benefit of her health and to visit her son Arza.” Arza’s Mother, Martha Ellen “Mattie,” took the train out to stay with him for the Winter. Hard to imagine what benefit it would have been to her health, staying in a small cabin out in a field with no running water and leaky walls—remember snow came in between the boards. I have a couple of pictures from her time out there:


Here she is standing outside of Arza’s cabin. Looks like she was a small woman.


This picture was taken inside the cabin. I wish it was better quality. But some details can be figured out. First, it looks like there may be a curtain next to Mattie’s right elbow. Perhaps this was used to give a little privacy in the sleeping area. Behind Mattie is the bed with a quilt covering it. There are clothes hanging on hooks on the far wall next to what may be a small closet. Just below the clothes, leaning up against the wall in the corner is a rifle.

The Sheridan News again announced Mattie’s travels. On April 10, 1908, it reported that Mattie had returned home to Indiana the Saturday before. A letter sent to Arza from his sister, Edna, in May 1908 told a little about how Mattie fared while out in New Mexico: “We weighed mamma a few days after she came home and she weighed 95 1/2. We weighed her today and she weighed 102. She lost about 9 1/2 while in New Mexico and has gained near six since she came home.” I wonder if all that good food Arza reportedly had—canned milk, dried meat, beans and cornbread—had anything to do with her weight loss. But Edna tells of something else that may have contributed to it: “I suppose the steam baths and not eating very much was the reason she lost.” She then talks about borrowing a “cabinet” for a steam bath like Mattie had while out in New Mexico.

I found a couple of advertisements for these cabinets:

BathCabinetAlbuquerqueNMCitizenTueJune211898p2This ad is from the Albuquerque Citizen, June 21, 1898.


VaporBathThe Indianapolis News advertised this cabinet on February 17, 1900. A large advertisement for the Vapor Bath Cabinet included the information that it was “A Godsend to all Humanity…Guarantees Perfect Health, Strength & Beauty to Every User, and Cures Without Drugs All Nervous Diseases, Rheumatism, La Grippe, Neuralgia, Blood & Kidney Troubles, Weakness, & the Most Obstinate Diseases, by Nature’s Method of Steaming the Poisons Out of the System. It is an air-tight inclosure, in which one comfortably rests on a chair, and with only the head outside, enjoys at home, for 3 cents each, all the marvelous cleansing, curative & invigorating effects of the famous Turkish Bath.”

The price for the wonderful treatment device was $5.

I don’t know what kind of medical condition Mattie had that would have sent her out to New Mexico in the Winter. I’m sure it’s no wonder that she lost weight though if she regularly used a steam cabinet like one of these.

A couple of months after Mattie left New Mexico, Arza and his friends proved up their claims…

© MJM 2018