A tale of courage and fidelityMy third great grandmother Elizabeth (Buchanan) Baker died 158 years ago today.
There’s some debate as to exactly where she died. One family story says she died in Arkansas while the family was en route to Texas from Iowa. Before she died, the story goes, she made the family promise that if they buried her there, then once they got settled in Texas, they’d come back for her and bury her on their land near their new home.1 Others say she died after reaching Texas.
When I was researching Iowa history for this week’s post on Iowa’s Constitutions, I couldn’t help but think about Elizabeth and the amazing raw courage she showed as she uprooted and followed Martin and uprooted and followed him and uprooted and followed him time and time again.
She and Martin were born only months apart in 1797.4 By 1810, their families lived almost next door to each other in the part of Burke County, North Carolina,5 that later became Yancey County and finally Mitchell County.6 They were married around 1817, most likely in Burke County, and were enumerated in the U.S. census there in 18207 and 1830.8
But Martin had the wanderlust. He disappeared from the records of Yancey County by 18359 and the records tell us that he, Elizabeth and their children must have packed up and moved southwest to Macon County, where, in 1837, he was one of the chain carriers on the survey for his own 50-acre land grant.10
That was the first time Elizabeth must have gathered up her courage as she left everything she knew to follow Martin off into no-man’s-land. And I can’t help but think that she must have looked back, over her shoulder, thinking of those — her parents, her brothers and sisters, her extended family — she was leaving behind. The distance from her old home to her new was more than 170 miles. Perhaps she thought they would visit back and forth; likely she realized that some, at least, she would never see again.
Part of Macon County became Cherokee County in 1839, and the Bakers were enumerated in the census there in 1840.11 Their oldest son David Davenport Baker lived nearby12 and Martin’s brother-in-law (and cousin) David Davenport and his family were enumerated next to Bakers.13
But before the decade was out, Cherokee County wasn’t enough to hold Martin, either. Exactly when the Bakers left isn’t certain, but Martin, Elizabeth, and their youngest daughter — my 2nd great grandmother Martha Louisa Baker, who was known as Louisa — were enumerated in Pulaski County, Kentucky, in 1850.14 Three of Martin’s and Elizabeth’s sons made the trip with them.15
But much had been lost in the move from Cherokee County. I can just picture Elizabeth as she looked back, over her shoulder, once again leaving behind everything she knew — including, we believe, a daughter, whose existence was reflected in the censuses,16 whose name was recorded in family histories as Susan,17 and who was never seen again in family or public records after the Bakers left Cherokee County.
It isn’t clear to me that Elizabeth even had a chance to get comfortable in Pulaski County before it was time to leave again. Although Martin and sons Josiah and William were taxed in Pulaski County, Kentucky, in 1851, oldest son David D. Baker was not.18 He had gone ahead to Louisa County, Iowa, and, by 1852, Martin and William would follow him west.
So once again Elizabeth had had to pack everything she owned, say goodbye to everyone she knew, and look over her shoulder as, once again, she followed her husband into the unknown. And how painful this departure must have been! This time, two sons — Josiah and Charles — didn’t travel to Iowa with the family. Both stayed behind and were recorded in the tax rolls of Pulaski County in 1852.19 We know, now, that both of those sons did make the trip west a year later — but could Elizabeth have known that as she looked back, watching Pulaski County fade in the distance? Did she truly believe, as the wagons rolled west, that she would ever see those children and grandchildren again?
In 1852, Martin and sons David and William were recorded in the Iowa State Census in Louisa County.20 By early 1853, sons Josiah and Charles had arrived in Louisa County as well — Josiah’s son James was born there in April 1853.21 But before the family’s first full year in Iowa ended, tragedy struck. William took ill and died. The family story is that he was chilled while fording a river with a wagon pulled by oxen and developed pneumonia. He left a widow and five children.22
It was that chilling cold, so family legend goes, that made Martin decide Iowa was not the place to be. And one more time, Elizabeth had to pack her things and say goodbye. This parting too must have been bitterly painful. Yes, Josiah and his family were going with them and daughter Louisa to Texas. But son Charles and his family didn’t go with them then. Oldest son David had decided not to make the trip at all.23 And William’s widow Matilda and her five Baker children weren’t going either.24 The Iowa State Census tells the story: as of 1 July 1854, only David, Charles and Matilda were left to be enumerated in Iowa.25
Elizabeth was 56 years old in 1853; she would turn 57 in March of 1854. She had to have known, this one last time that she looked back, over her shoulder, as the wagon carried her beyond the sight of children and grandchildren waving goodbye, that she was never going to see them again in her life. But even then she didn’t falter in her courage as she set off, one last time, en route to yet another unknown place.
We’ll never know for sure if Elizabeth lived to see the family’s new home in Parker County, Texas. The story, remember, is that she died in Arkansas. But I’d like to believe that she got there and approved of Martin’s choice of land. I’d like to believe that she met and perhaps even approved of her soon-to-be son-in-law George Washington Cottrell. I’d like to believe that she was surrounded by as much comfort as the frontier could offer when she breathed her last 158 years ago today.
And I’d sure like to believe that, if the chips were down, I’d somehow find I had even a fraction of her courage.
- Elma W. Baker, The Rugged Trail, Vol. II (Dallas, TX: p.p., 1973), 72. ↩
- Baker Cemetery (Baker Community, Parker County, Texas; on Baker Road 0.4 miles north of the intersection with Baker Cutoff Road, Latitude 32.5843012, Longitude -97.7272504), Elizebeth Baker marker; photograph by J.G. Russell, 3 May 2003. ↩
- Ibid., M. Baker marker; photograph by J.G. Russell, 3 May 2003. ↩
- As to Elizabeth, see, in addition to her tombstone, Affidavit, Ben Buchanan and Burns Turner, 29 January 1931, in “Buchanan Family Tree,” Families of Yancey County 10: (September 1993) 67. As to Martin, see Josiah and Julia (McGimsey) Baker Family Bible Records 1749-1912, The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (New York : American Bible Society, 1867), “Births”; privately held by Louise (Baker) Ferguson, Bakersville, NC; photographed for JG Russell, Feb 2003. Mrs. Ferguson, a great granddaughter of Josiah and Julia, inherited the Bible; the earliest entries are believed to be in the handwriting of Josiah or Julia Baker. ↩
- 1810 U.S. census, Burke County, North Carolina, Morganton, p. 322 (penned), line 7, William Buchannan household, and line 9, David Baker household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 July 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M252, roll 39. ↩
- David Leroy Corbitt, The Formation of the North Carolina Counties 1663-1943 (Raleigh : Division of
Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1987), 42-48. ↩
- 1820 U.S. census, Burke County, North Carolina, population schedule, p. 55 (stamped), line 21, Martin Baker household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 Jul 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M33, roll 83. ↩
- 1830 U.S. census, Burke County, North Carolina, p. 198 (stamped), line 3, Martain Baker household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 Jul 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M19, roll 118. ↩
- He last appeared on a jury list in Yancey County in December 1834. Minute Book, 1834-1844, Yancey County, North Carolina, Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Minutes of December Term 1834; call no. C.R.107.301.1; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh. ↩
- North Carolina Secretary of State, Land Warrants, Plats of Survey, and Related Records, File No. 638, Grant No. 450, Entry No. 91, Martin Baker, 7 Jan 1839; microfilm S.108.790; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh. ↩
- 1840 U.S. census, Cherokee County, North Carolina, population schedule, p. 239 (stamped), line 8, Martin Baker household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 Jul 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M704, roll 357. ↩
- Ibid., line 14, David D. Baker household. ↩
- Ibid., line 7, David Davenport household. ↩
- 1850 U.S. census, Pulaski County, Kentucky, population schedule, Division 2, p. 111 (stamped), dwelling/family 528, Martin Baker household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 Jul 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 217. ↩
- See ibid., p. 96 (stamped), dwelling/family 318, David D. Baker household. Also ibid., p. 82 (stamped), dwelling/family 107, Josiah A. Baker household, and dwelling/family 109, William Baker household. ↩
- See 1830 U.S. census, Burke Co., N.C., p. 198 (stamped), line 3, Martain Baker household, daughter under age 5. Also 1840 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., N.C., pop. sched., p. 239 (stamped), line 8, Martin Baker household, daughter age 10-14. ↩
- Baker, The Rugged Trail, Vol. II, 71. ↩
- Pulaski County, Kentucky, Tax Roll, 1851, p. 4, Kentucky State Historical Society, Frankfort; FHL microfilm 8211. ↩
- Ibid., 1852, pp. 3-5. ↩
- 1852 Iowa State Census, Louisa County, Columbus City, p. 1, line 24, Martin Baker, and line 23, David Baker, and p. 2, line 63, William Baker, State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines; FHL microfilm 1022204. ↩
- “James R. Baker,” obituary, Lovington (New Mexico) Leader, 12 Feb 1937. ↩
- 1854 Iowa State Census, Louisa County, Columbus City, p. 4, line 14, Matilda Baker, State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines; FHL microfilm 1022207. ↩
- The David D. Baker family eventually settled in Kansas. See 1860 U.S. census, Leavenworth County, Kansas, population schedule, p. 236 (penned), dwelling 2264, family 1964, David D. Baker household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 Jul 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 350. ↩
- Matilda remarried, to William Paschal, in Louisa County, Iowa, in October 1854. All of her children married in Iowa between 1864 and 1879. See “Iowa, Marriages, 1851-1900,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 Jul 2012). ↩
- Ibid., p. 4, line 13, Charles Baker,; p. 4, line 14, Matilda Baker; p. 12, line 23, David D. Baker. ↩