The Real Nellie

            I know that the Smiths moved to Sherman County, in northwestern Kansas in 1916 from Arthur Smith’s obituary. His family lived in Otoe County, Nebraska, which is the area where Nellie grew up. Ida’s father, Jerome Payson, would have died shortly before the Smiths moved to Kansas, and that may have factored into their decision to move there for Henrietta. Arthur had been working on a sandpit at Linoma Beach, which is not far from Ashland, but he was injured, according to his obituary. It is possible that Nellie and Ben knew each other in Nebraska, but it seems unlikely.

            Both Nellie and her sister Zella worked as live-in housekeepers. The Brewster newspapers mentioned this several times. Zella worked in Kanorado. Nellie worked for the Overturf family, although the details are fictional.

            Ben worked at J.P. Horney’s general store in Brewster. This was on his draft registration card. When they married, the newspaper article mentioned where he worked, and that he lived over the store. Nellie didn’t necessarily work for any of the Horneys but Mabel and Glen were related to J.P. and they did have a child, who unfortunately died.

            I obtained Ruby Smith’s death certificate and the details of her death are true. I found some record of her husband, Ernest. He claimed exemptions from the draft as a widower with three daughters, but the 1920 census showed Lazetta and Beth living with the grandparents in Kansas.

            Everything about the speakeasies is fictional, but news reports of the day explain that they were often fronted by stores, and that they were abundant. Kansas had written prohibition into its constitution so it was dry long before the rest of the country.

            When Ben joined the army, it was listed in the newspaper. He had listed his permanent address as Ashland, Nebraska, but stated he worked in Brewster, Kansas. When he came to visit the Smith family on leave that was in the newspaper, which is one way I knew he and Nellie knew each other by 1917, even though they didn’t marry until 1921.

            The information about Ben’s assignment at Camp Funston was gleaned from a service card that a St. Louis genealogist obtained for me. Dewey is fictional, as are most of the supporting characters other than family members.

            Both Ben and Nellie’s family members were real, and the subplots involving them were often provided by newspaper articles. Zella was the local telephone operator and married Herbert Hess, had a son and died in Brewster. I have her death certificate signed by Dr. Runnes, but the cause of death is hard to decipher. I believe it says “vomiting from pregnancy.” Hess bought graves for all three of them in the Brewster cemetery, but I discovered when I went there, that Zella and her parents are in those graves. I was able to track Herbert and his son, Verner, after they returned to Arkansas. He remarried and had other children.

            Harry and his second cousin, Lucina, were married and immediately moved to eastern Kansas. The men coming to visit Arthur, including his cousin, Bertie, was reported in the newspaper, about the same time as the wedding announcement appeared. Ida’s brother, Clarence Payson, was a newspaper correspondent, which might explain why some of their business was reported.

            Ben’s father, Marshall died in 1920, and Ben shows up in the January 1920 census back in Ashland, Nebraska.

            Ben’s brother, Ed, got into some sort of accident and Ben went back to help care for him. His sister, Blanche, filed for divorce from Vorce, claiming wife abandonment. There was a lengthy newspaper story about his brother, William, when he had to appear before the acting governor, when his wife charged him with wife abandonment. Most of that tale is taken from the news. William later had a cleaning store, was a good bowler, and sold cars and took in borders during the Depression.

            The party at Floyd Fiechter’s house was from a newspaper story, although I don’t know if Floyd had a brother. The flapper slang was taken from a list off the internet of 1920s jargon.

            The wedding took place on the Fourth of July, with her siblings as attendants. I have the wedding certificate, and there was a news article.

            I found the information about getting a prescription for alcohol while researching Prohibition. This was apparently common practice. Doctors also thought it was beneficial for expectant mothers to drink and smoke at that time. Nellie did have some mysterious ailment that caused her to be confined during a few weeks of her pregnancy.

            There was an article talking about Nellie and Ben attending the Legionnaire’s convention in Kansas City, which would have been a big trip for them. They took trips with her cousin, Harvey Robinson.

            J.P. Horney did sell his store, and after that, there were advertisements in the Brewster newspaper that told me that Ben got into some additional businesses, such as tailoring, cleaning and later selling milk. According to the 1925 farm census, he had those animals on a farm for at least a little while. Nellie advertised that she did sewing. I remember how she made me doll clothes as a child, and they were very well sewn.

            I was unable to nail down the exact time that Nellie and Ben moved to Lincoln, which I based on the news articles in Brewster and the city directory in Lincoln, Nebraska, but it should be accurate within a year. Unfortunately for me, the papers were not digitized after 1925, so I lost my source there. They are in the 1925 census in Sherman County. By 1928, they are in Lincoln, with Ben working for the railroad.

            I went to Edgemont, South Dakota, and tried to read the newspaper articles there, but they were not indexed or digitized. There was evidence that they failed to pay their local taxes. The second son, Don, graduated from high school there, and dated a girl named Marilyn Johansen. Decades later, they met again in California and married.

            Ben was arrested for kiting a check in 1949, and served 30 days in the county jail. Saunders County no longer has a record of these charges, but I found it in the newspaper. There are news articles that they purchased and defaulted on a house in Lincoln in the 1930s. I made that into a pattern of financial mismanagement.

            Ida came to Nebraska after her husband’s death, and I remember her too, living in Ashland.

            My siblings and I were all under the impression that my father began spending a lot of time with my mother’s family, starting in high school. The McCrackens had a tie-in with this story too, as well as the one featuring Ina Hall.

            The Amazon parrot was real, and was scary to me as a child. I took some poetic license with the timeline of the parrot, he probably didn’t show up in their household for another eight years at least. But he did swear. In fact, my assumption that Ben used colorful language was based in part on the parrot.

Nellie Irene Smith probably shortly before she moved to Kansas in 1916
%d bloggers like this: