By J. L. Starkey
Tell me I was dreaming.
That you didn’t leave me here to cry.
Tell me that you didn’t say goodbye.– Bruce Brown and Travis Tritt
This week’s Love prompt for the 52 Ancestors Challenge had me pondering matters of the heart while wondering if I really needed to research the mother of the third husband of the second wife of my third-great-grandfather.
It’s a topic that genealogists often debate: How far down the ancestral rabbit hole should we go? My answer has always been that I go where the interesting stories are hiding, rabbit holes or not!
Of course I needed to conduct that research, because that is how I found Elvira Hoyt . The rumored one-time proprietress of Deadwood’s infamous Bulldog Ranch, Elvira was technically my step-fourth-great-grandmother, because her son married the widow of my third-great-grandfather, J.C. Muehleisen, and…
…on second thought, let me begin at the beginning (or the ending, depending on how you look at love stories).
The Tragic Valentine’s Day of 1885
The news clippings seemed to jump out from the page . One noted that Valentine’s Day would not be extensively observed in Deadwood that year. The other, two columns to the right, reported that the remains of my third-great-grandfather “…reached the city last evening and were taken to the shop of the deceased…where they were viewed by many friends. Funeral will take place…at 2 pm today.”
As I read those words, I thought about J.C.’s widow. She had waited ten agonizing days for her husband’s remains to arrive, all the while planning his funeral, which would be held (through a cruel twist of fate) on Valentine’s Day. Did she relive his funeral every Valentine’s Day, and shed bitter tears on a day intended for celebrations of love? Surely she married J.C. expecting at least 25 years of happily-ever-after.
Instead, she had fewer than 25 months.
Curiosity about her led me down an ancestral rabbit hole, and there I found an amazing story of love, loss, and survival. It seems fitting to tell that story today, 134 years to the day after J.C. arrived in Deadwood for his final farewell. Readers, I am honored to introduce my step-third-great-grandmother, Carrie Olson.
Love, Marriage, and Sorrow
Born in Wisconsin to Norwegian Immigrants, Carrie came to the Black Hills around 1882, possibly to work as a practical nurse . She married J.C. soon after his February 1883 divorce from Gabriella O’Neill, and later that year gave birth to their son, Carl . A Deadwood newspaper shared a whimsical story to announce the blessed event.
Call me a hopeless romantic, but I believe that J.C. found his true love in Carrie. He and Gabriella had been separated for over a decade, and during that time he matured into a respected member of the Deadwood community. By 1885, he was a business owner, successful prospector, family man, and Chancellor Commander of Knights of Pythias Lodge No. 8. In modern terms, we would say that he was living his best life.
But happiness was fleeting for the young couple. J.C. died tragically less than two years after he married Carrie, and he was laid to rest on that bitterly sad Valentine’s Day in 1885. Carrie then turned to the task of settling her intestate husband’s estate, a process that dragged on for over two years.
Thanks to the Kubler-Ross model, we are all somewhat familiar with the stages of grief . Perhaps Carrie was in the “anger” stage when she lashed out at those she blamed for her husband’s death. In June 1885, she filed a lawsuit against the Wyoming Stage Company for the staggering amount of $10,000 (an amount equivalent to over $250,000 today) . Local papers were not supportive of Carrie’s action, as they felt the suit was frivolous. The courts apparently shared this opinion; Carrie’s case suit was not heard until 1887, and then to no avail .
Tragedy, Struggle, and Survival
Carrie moved to Rapid City shortly after J.C.’s death, but happiness remained elusive. In September 1888, she suffered another devastating loss when her beloved son Carl died of typhoid fever.
This time, Carrie found no scorn from the press . They were sympathetic to the grieving mother, with one writer stating that “only a mother who has lost a loved and only child may appreciate the depth of this affliction.” Carrie issued a public thank-you for the community’s support.
Carrie was thirty years old, alone, and dealing with profound grief as she attempted to settle Carl’s estate, which included land and money inherited from his father . The next few years were surely horrific as she found herself back in probate court, retracing the steps she walked after her husband’s death.
Carrie may have reached her breaking point on 30 April 1890, when the final settlement of Carl’s estate was again continued, with no end date in sight. Just nine weeks later, she made a life-altering – and unwise – decision .
On 6 July 1890, Carrie married Henry Emhoff and moved to the Hill City area . She probably hoped to find peace and happiness with this new beginning, but happiness remained out of reach. Less than 22 months after they married, Carrie and Henry divorced .
At Last…Happier Times
Perhaps the third time was the charm, for just two months after her divorce was finalized, Carrie remarried . Her new husband, James Newman “Jim” Hoyt, was the son of James and Elvira Hoyt . A longtime employee of the Homestake Mining Company, Jim had been raised by a single mother after his father died during the Civil War .
It appeared that Carrie found happiness with Jim as they raised two sons and managed a successful cattle ranch during their 36-year marriage . When she died in April 1929, Carrie’s obituary noted that the Black Hills had lost “a pioneer woman of much worth.”
While the obituary painted a glowing portrait of a woman who lived a full life, I noticed that it contained no mention of Carrie’s painful past. Did she tell her sons about their older brother? Maybe she hoped to spare them the pain of her grief, so she kept her sorrows to herself. I wondered if she visited Carl’s grave, or if the memories were simply too much to bear.
Certainly, most people would say that Carrie was a strong woman. But would she have agreed with that description? During her struggles, she may have said that she didn’t feel strong at all, but was just doing her best to survive. She probably would have agreed that, “Grief is never something you get over. It’s something that walks beside you every day . ”
Thank you, Carrie, for allowing me to discover your story. You are proof that some ancestral rabbit holes are worth the extra time and effort. I am so proud to count you as a member of my extended family.
- Bryant, Jerry L., and Barbara Fifer. Bad Boys of the Black Hills…And Some Wild Women, Too. Helena: Farcountry Press, 2008. (See also: Bryant, Jerry L., and Barbara Fifer. Deadwood Saints and Sinners. Helena: Farcountry Press, 2016.)
- The Black Hills Times, Deadwood, South Dakota, 14 Feb 1885, p. 3, col. 1 & 3. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- Ancestry.com, 1880 United States Federal Census, Freeman, Crawford, Wisconsin; Roll: 1420; Page: 54A; Enumeration District: 044. (See also: Obituary, Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, South Dakota, 19 Apr 1929, p. 8, col. 4-5. Retrieved from newspapers.com.)
- Ancestry.com, North Dakota and South Dakota, Wills and Probate Records, 1878-1928 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Note: While a marriage record for J.C. and Carrie has not yet been found, she is listed as his widow on his probate record. (See also: Daily Deadwood Pioneer Times, Deadwood, South Dakota, 5 Oct 1883, p. 4, col. 3. Retrieved from Newspapers.com.)
- Kubler-Ross, Elizabeth, M.D. On Death and Dying. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1969.
- “The Late John Muehleisen,” The Black Hills Daily Times, 20 Jun 1885, p. 4, col. 3. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- The Black Hills Daily Times, 30 Mar 1887, p. 2, col. 3. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- “Died,” Rapid City Journal, 18 Sept 1888, p. 1, col. 2. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- Lawrence County Probate Case Records, Box 5120, Box 8, File 131-134, Images 395-435. Retrieved from
Ancestry.com, North Dakota and South Dakota, Wills and Probate Records, 1878-1928. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
- The Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times, 1 May 1890, p. 2, col. 3. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- Pennington County Marriages, Book A, http://www.rcgenealogy.com/files/Download/earlypenningtoncomarriages.pdf. (See also: The Black Hills Weekly Journal, 11 Jul 1890, p. 1, col. 4. Retrieved from newspapers.com.)
- Rapid City Journal, 8 May 1892, p. 4, col. 1. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- “Married,” Black Hills Weekly Times, 9 Jul 1892, p. 1, col. 1. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- Ancestry.com, 1880 United States Federal Census, Saint Peter, Nicollet, Minnesota; Roll: 627; Page: 87C; Enumeration District: 181.
- The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Record Group Title: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773 – 2007; Record Group Number: 15; Series Title: U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934; Series Number: T288.
- “Services Friday for Black Hills Pioneer,” Rapid City Journal, 3 Nov 1938, p. 2, col. 4. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- Irwin, Terri, https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/terri_irwin_902567?src=t_grief.