Monday, May 31, 2010

William Chester: "Not A Pioneer"

We just got home from a weekend of cemetery hopping and discovering ancestral roots.  While it's still fresh and while I know where all the pictures are, I thought I'd take up the story of my great great grandpa, William Chester.  Remember his mother Hannah got on the ship Enoch Train and discovered 14 year-old William missing?  He stayed behind in Yorkshire, England where his Chester grandparents raised him.  William did not become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints like his mother did.  His reasons for coming to America in 1874 at the age of 31 appear to be financial and freedom.  He stopped in Lockport, New York for almost a year before he decided to head west to Soda Springs, Idaho, to see his mother.

William became the postmaster for Soda Springs, a position he held for 14 years.  He often had to walk through terrible weather and always with the threat of an ambush from the American Indians who lived along the route.  William had come to America with his wife, Susannah Popple Chester, and three sons, Joseph Thomas, William Henry, and Charles Edward.  In 1891 an epidemic of diphtheria swept through the area and took Susannah, Charles, and 7 year-old Bertha Alice.  (Among the items in Grandma Carol's cedar chest was an ABC book inscribed to Bertha from her father, William.  It was dated 1890, just months before Bertha died.)  Susannah, Charles and Bertha are in the "Pioneer Cemetery" in Soda Springs.  That cemetery is not a joke.  It is the last one we saw and it ripped my heart out. 
If you're wondering where all the headstones are, we are the same.  Also, the scout who made that sign for his Eagle project likes to spell cemetery wrong the same way I do.  We did find the plot and Susannah's headstone, but we never found headstones for William's mother, Hannah, or Charles or Bertha.  (A monument in the middle of this cemetery claims all of them are there somewhere.)

My great grandpa, Colin Chester, was born in 1881, so he was almost 10 years old when he lost his mother and two of his siblings.  (William and Susannah had a total of 10 children, 6 of whom lived to adulthood.  Susannah may have been pregnant during the diphtheria epidemic because the last of the children is listed as only "infant" who died the same day Susannah did.)   Interesting to note that Colin's children lost their mother while they were relatively young as well.  Three generations who went through their adolescence without a mother.  (William's mother didn't die, but she was half a world away.)  William remained a widower until he died in 1925.
But I'm getting ahead of myself...  After his years as a postmaster, William Chester served as Justice of the Peace in Soda Springs for 17 years.  One newspaper article said that if Judge Chester married a couple, they stayed married.  Apparently he was known as an avid reader and historian - he had a special interest in the history of the West (which was kind of a short history at the time).  He had great eyesight - not even needing glasses at the end of his life.  In between all the public service jobs, William also raised sheep and cattle.  In his eighties, William was still helping his sons, W. James and Colin, run the store in Henry, Idaho.  ("Out to Henry," in case you didn't recognize it as just plain ol' Henry.)

I spent a few hours on Sunday looking through Grandma Carol's cedar chest, finding newspaper articles about her grandpa, William Chester, (and many others) and getting to know him a little.  I loved finding that ABC book William bought for his little daughter, Bertha Alice (the letter "A" stood for "Alice" in this book).  I imagine him a hard working, intelligent, loving father.  He was a widower for 34 years, which makes me think he really loved Susannah.  When we spotted his headstone near a tree in the Soda Springs cemetery, my heart fluttered a little at finding him.  Why would that be a thrill?  Perhaps it was William himself being happy to meet me?  I think so. :)


RCH said...

Awww! What a treasure to have that ABC book, and to know his story. I'm sure he was very glad to be found by you. :-)

sewtakeahike said...

what a wonderful story! I love that you're taking the time to find out about your roots!

melissa said...

Lovely, lovely story. Thank you for the work you are doing to help us all know where we came from. Who's next?!

Jen said...

I went to that cemetery with Gma and Gpa Furniss when Taylor was tiny. Gpa said that 'the only people who know about this cemetery are the people in the other cemetery'. What a wonderful Memorial Day for you. Thank you so much for this- what a treasure. Looking forward to much more!

allyn said...

this is quite a treasure for me, too. was that picture of him in the cedar chest? 'member when we went on a graveyard tour when we lived in wx and that was our summer vacation? that was awesome. dad kept saying, "you'll thank me for this someday". perhaps that day has come.