How can you tell if I truly fall in love with a cemetery? Big hint is I write a four-part series about it! That’s been the case with Le Mars Cemetery. With its bevy of white bronze markers, there’s been no shortage of examples about which to do a “show and tell”. Despite the fact there are more I could talk about, I’m ending this series today.
The first monument I’m going to share with you shows how one of these monuments enabled a family to share much of its history in one place, plate by plate. There are a total of 44 Beckers buried at Le Mars Cemetery. Five of them (Fred, 2 Katherinas, Jacob and Rosina) share one marker.
The Becker family story begins in 1829 in Switzerland with the birth of patriarch Fredoline “Fred” Becker. His emigration to America in 1849 interested me because unlike many Europeans, Fred made his arrival in New Orleans and not a Northeastern port like New York City or Boston. My own ancestor, John McCoy, took this same passage from Ireland in 1776.
Fred married fellow Swiss immigrant Katharina Hefti in Galena, Ill., but I’ve seen two different years listed for that event. As their children were born, they moved from Illinois to Plymouth County, Iowa around 1867. I believe they had 10 children total but I’m not certain.
The earliest date of death on the Becker marker is for a Rosina Hefti, who died at the age of 67 on May 16, 1870. Since Hefti was Katherina’s maiden name, it’s possible that it was her mother.
Rosina has a grave foot marker (an item we talked about last week) that would have cost around $4 at that time. She is also featured on a panel of the monument, which she shared with one of Katherina and Fred’s son’s Jacob.
At the time of Jacob’s death on Oct. 28, 1885, he had been living with his married sister, Katherina. She married cigar store owner Nicholas Koerting in 1880 and the couple had two children. According to a newspaper article, Jacob died of malarial fever (sometimes called typhoid). This was common during the 1800s, especially during the Civil War era.
Jacob’s death ushered in a terrible time for the Becker family. His mother and married sister, Celia Becker Dabb, were also ill at the time. Sister Katherina, age 25, succumbed to malarial fever on Nov. 19, 1885. Just a few months later, Katherina Becker died of the same ailment on Feb. 6, 1886. She was only 55.
Fred remarried in 1889 to a German immigrant 30 years his junior, Kate Durst or Drest. They had two sons, William and George. By now, Fred has amassed quite a bit of property. The family moved to Leeds, a neighborhood of nearby Sioux City.
“Liked By Every Man, Woman and Child”
On August 17, 1909, Fred died at the age of 80. His life was eulogized in the local newspaper as a Le Mars pioneer. But his will resulted in a scandal that I’m sure Fred never imagined when he had it drawn up.
Born around 1853 or 1854, Rosina “Rose” Becker was the first child of Fred and Katherina Becker. She married Gabriel Freuler in 1873. Together, the couple had at least three children.
Sometime after 1900, Rose was admitted to what is now called the Cherokee Mental Health Institute. When it opened for patients on August 15, 1902, it was called the Cherokee Lunatic Asylum. Rose spent the rest of her life there, dying at the age of 91 in 1945. Her death certificate states she died of bronchial pneumonia due to a fracture in her neck and femur caused by a fall. It also explains that the reason Rose was there was due to “manic depression psychosis.”
Left Out of the Will
In November 1909, after Fred’s will had been read, the family learned that while Kate Becker and all the other children were left bequests, Rose had been left out. His second wife was named executrix. Thanks to Ancestry, I saw the will for myself. Why did Fred purposefully leave Rose out of his will? I honestly don’t know.
Rose’s husband Gabriel Freuler sued the estate (which supposedly amounted to anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000) because Rose was not included. Gabriel charged that Fred had been unduly influenced his son, Fred Jr., in shutting out his sister. The court sided with Fred’s estate and Gabriel received no money.
I traced Fred’s second wife, Kate, to the 1910 U.S. Census, living in Leeds with sons, William and George. She appears for the last time in the Iowa Census of 1915 as living in Sioux City. She would have been 54 at that time. I don’t know what happened to her after that.
The Fall of Ben Amos
This next story I’m going to share is a sad one and not typical of what I encountered in researching the folks buried at Le Mars Cemetery. Ben Amos came from a good family and showed promise in his early years. But in the end, his life took a tragic turn.
Born in 1856 in Jackson County, Iowa, Ben was the son of Franklin and Martha Amos. He spent his boyhood years in the eastern part of the state. Franklin served in the 31st Iowa Infantry and was severely injured at the Battle of Atlanta in 1864. The couple also had a daughter, Talitha.
At some point, the Amos family moved to Le Mars. Ben married a young woman from Illinois named Victoria Nold. I’ve seen two different years listed for the marriage. In 1885, they were living with Franklin and Martha. Ben worked in real estate and seemed to be doing well. Franklin died in 1890 at the age of 60.
But sometime during the 1890s, Ben’s love of drink slowly took over and destroyed his marriage. Victoria left, heading for Colorado. By 1896, Ben had moved into rented rooms and according to the local newspaper, was known as the town drunk. He died on Feb. 7, 1896 after several weeks of drinking. The final blow came when he overdosed from a supply of drugs provided to him by a local man named Bill Schields, also known as “Morphine Bill.”
Ben shares a white bronze monument with his father, who also has a white veteran’s marker. Note that the top features an urn with an eternal flame coming out of it.
Victoria did not attend her estranged husband’s funeral but his mother and sister, now married, were present. Eventually, she remarried to a man named John Murphy in 1899 and began a new life in Montana.
Talitha Amos Miller, whose husband died from stomach cancer in 1910, died in 1912 from dropsy. Ben’s mother, Martha, had gone to live with Talitha and her family after Frank died in 1890. She died at the age of 89 in 1917, having lived her last years with her granddaughter in Minnesota.
One thing I noticed in the obituaries of both Talitha and Martha was the complete absence of Ben’s existence. In fact, Martha’s death notice specifically states that she had “but one child” and that was Talitha. It’s my guess that Ben’s death was considered so scandalous that his name was not to be mentioned ever again, which is incredibly tragic.
The Detloff Family Story
My last story is an example of how something that today would merely be an irritant could end one’s life. It also shares one family’s brief history that came full circle.
Born in Germany in 1860, Frederick Detloff arrived in America with his parents, John and Dora, when he was a child. In 1881, he married fellow German immigrant Rosa Wilde. Their son Arthur Detloff was born and died on Nov. 9, 1882. Freddie Detloff was born on June 12, 1887 and died the next day. They also had two other sons, Ernest and John, who lived to adulthood.
Frederick cut his hand one day, probably doing something quite simple while working on his farm. In a world where antibiotics did not yet exist, it proved fatal. Blood poisoning was the result and he died a few days later on Feb. 18, 1888. As was the rather unsettling custom of the time, his death notice included how much life insurance he had.
Rosa was left a young widow at the age of 24 with two sons to raise. From what I can tell, they remained in Le Mars for some time. She remarried some 14 years later to David Cross, who was a widower who had lost his wife in 1897. After living in Rock Island, Ill. for a while, they moved to Yakima, Wash. where she died of leukemia in 1911 at the age of 47.
According to her obituary, David and her two sons traveled with her body back to Le Mars for her burial beside her first husband and infant sons. She had one sister still living in Le Mars. What began with the death of her first child in 1882 ended with her own in 1911. David, who died in 1930, is buried in Yakima, Wash.
I’ve truly enjoyed putting together these blog posts this month, reliving a visit that was truly a highlight of my “hopping” career. Le Mars Cemetery remains only about 35 percent photographed on Find a Grave. It’s a goal of mine to go back and perhaps complete photographing it some day. It’s certainly a place I’ll never forget.