Unexpected Treasures

Among the most interesting sources for White Rock and Lovewell history are the writings of Martin and Alma Dahl.  Martin came on the scene just in time to witness some of the last raids by Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, including the one that claimed the life of his nephew, Thomas Voarness.  It was his wife Alma who recorded the final, sorrowful Indian migration through Jewell County in the 1870’s.  Their memoirs formed a hefty chunk of the regional history published by the Belleville Telescope in 1958.  As I was looking for families who might match the portrait dangled in front of me by Tom Robinson a few days back, I thought of Martin and Alma and started looking into their descendants. 

Alhough their numerous children turned out to provide a poor match for the offspring in the mystery portrait of Robinson neighbors, I was reminded of discoveries that had surprised me once before, but which I had forgotten.  The first was that, like so many of the Scandinavians drawn to Jewell and Republic counties, Martin Dahl was Norwegian, as was Gordon Winbigler, the settler who died at the point of a Cheyenne lance in 1868 because he stopped to pick up his hat, and Andrew Sirley, the contractor who built Rose Hill School.  The second fact was that Martin and Alma's daughter Ethyle Dahl married Ben Stofer, Jr., son of Ben and Mary Stofer.

Searching my own website just now I found that I’ve mentioned Ben, Sr., on seven occasions, usually having to do with what he may be holding in his left hand in a familiar photograph of a family get-together, an item that should make us question the date usually given to the event being recorded.  He also figures prominently in the story of a Lovewell resident who suffered a break with reality after doing laundry in the sun on a particularly hot day in 1913.  Ben, who must have been something of an early-adopter among Lovewell residents, drove her to Mankato in his new car to seek treatment.  Ben’s wife Mary was, of course, Mary Lovewell, Thomas Lovewell’s next-to-last child, born in 1880 when Thomas was in his mid-fifties.  Looking up further particulars on the Stofer family I was also surprised to notice for the first time that instead of “Julina,” as it’s given in most family histories, Mary’s middle name is remembered by some descendants to have been “Juliana,” which was the name of Thomas’s eldest daughter, the one who was lost to him for over three decades after his journey to Pikes Peak in 1859.  Father and daughter would be reunited only briefly, and not until 1893, thirteen years after the birth of Mary Lovewell.

Mary Lovewell Stofer

The final surprise was the best one.  With Ben and Mary Stofer fresh in my mind, the very next morning I heard from Ashley Gresham, who told me that her grandfather Norman L. Stofer died in October at the age of 90, and she wondered if I had any family pictures that weren’t already being shared on the website.  I didn’t, but it turns out that she did, and she had trotted over to her grandpa’s last summer to have him identify some of the people in them.  

Ashley emailed some rare family treasures - pictures of Ben and Mary Stofer and Ben’s parents, Jacob and Nancy Stofer - including one of young Jacob taken in the 1870’s before he left Illinois for Kansas.  There’s a lovely studio portrait that might be Mary Lovewell Stofer, in which a resemblance to the man in the banner at the top of this page is unmistakable.  There’s a sepia-tinted picture of schoolchildren standing in front of their school building with their teacher.  Someone thoughtfully jotted down names for several of the kids near their pictures.  Unfortunately, the ink ran, giving some of those artificial flesh tones a bluish cast, but you can’t have everything.  The same picture occurs, fully captioned, in “The Lovewell Family,” though the reproduction in the book is faint, rendering the children nearly invisible.  We’ll share that one next time.  

When I wrote last year about Ben Stofer transporting a woman to Mankato in his new car in 1913, I never expected to see a picture of the car, but here’s Ben, proud to be at the wheel of his $750* sedan, apparently taking his wife and daughter shopping on the streets of Lovewell.  Actually, it seems to be a posed photograph, since there’s not a trace of blur on the spokes of the wheels on Ben’s car, but, as anyone who’s been there knows, it’s always wise to brake to a crawl when driving in Lovewell.

When I launched this site at the end of 2013 I was hoping to tease some historic photos pertaining to Lovewell or White Rock out of dusty attics and forgotten albums, to be brought into the light.  I didn’t know it would take three years, but we’re beginning to get some traction.  Thanks, Ashley!

*Although that’s how much a Ford cost that year, Ben may have been especially keen to show off his new vehicle because it was one of the new Chevrolets being offered by his brother-in-law in Belleville. 

© Dale Switzer 2016  dale@lovewellhistory.com