A majority of the children of John B. Garner (1819-1895) and Eleanor Norris Garner (1817-1865) moved westward from Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, at some time after the Civil War.  From the research of one Thomas Enyeart before 1930, we knew that those children and their father were buried in Missouri and Arkansas.  It seemed natural to assume that the father took his family after the death of his wife, most of them adults at the time, and moved to a place where they thought opportunity to be better.


In 2005 my wife, Dorothy Garner McCall, and I flew to Arkansas, and rented a car.  We drove to Hardy, Sharp Co., in northeastern Arkansas, where we found family gravesites at the Baker Cemetery, as Enyeart had recorded.  From there we drove north to Salem, Dent Co., Missouri, where we confirmed another gravesite at the Cedar Grove Cemetery.  Then it was on to Carroll County in northwestern Missouri where we found the remainder of the graves of family members, including that of the father at the Coloma Cemetery.  Thomas Enyeart had all of the family’s burial sites listed correctly.


How the Circumstances Seemed


The mother, Eleanor Norris Garner, died in 1865 and was buried at the Lutheran Church’s Old Stone Church Cemetery near Marklesburg, in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.  It appeared that John B. moved west with a majority of his family at some time after that, while two daughters, one already married, stayed behind in Pennsylvania.   Mary Ann was married to John Magill, and the other daughter, Eleanor, later married Orlady McCall.   It appeared that the remaining daughters and five sons migrated with their father.   John later married, a second time, to one Mrs. Martha Adams, probably in Missouri, where it seemed likely he was living.


The Trouble with Appearances and Likelihoods


A problem with the above scenario arose when one Hal Norris, a family researcher in Cincinnati, Ohio, called my attention to this fact:  The 1880 Census listed John B. Garner as a miner living in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and young children.  This caused the assumption about John moving with his family to be in doubt, or did he go back and forth at times, finally ending up in Missouri?


The issue remained unresolved until recently.  Dorothy and I made a visit to 96-year old Blanche Shingler Shirk in Penn Township, Huntingdon County.  We wanted to talk about family history in the local area in general and that of John B. Garner in particular.  Ms. Blanche is a granddaughter of the Mary Ann named above and likely recalls just about everything she was ever told about the older generation of her family.  She has a sharp mind and a memory to match. 


While we were discussing family with Blanche, her son Bob stopped in for a few moments.  He recalled to her something about a past family feud, but somehow the conversation shifted to another topic and we didn’t learn which family was referenced.


It occurred to me days later that we were discussing the John B. Garner family at the time the mention of feud came up between mother and son.  I wrote to Blanche’s daughter, Ruby Shirk Keller, asking her to speak to her mother to learn if the feud was indeed related to the John B. Garner family.  Blanche knew of the family circumstance, and her response put perspective into this family’s situation.


What the Circumstances Were


Eleanor (Norris), wife of John B. Garner died February 21, 1865.  At some time after that John apparently began courting Martha Adams, eventually marrying her in 1870.  Martha, either a widow or divorcee, was 23 years younger than John.  For reasons that one might guess, John’s children did not approve of the relationship, or like Martha, or both.  She was younger than two of John’s children and about the same age as a third.


According to Ms. Blanche, so strong was the disapproval that some of the children “disowned” their father at least temporarily, and several moved to Missouri.  John remained in Huntingdon County, living in either Lincoln or Penn Township.  He and Martha had four children, born from 1871 to 1882.  One presumes that John continued as a miner, perhaps until retirement.  As late as 1894 or 1895 he may have gone to Missouri to visit with some of his children.  He died there in March of 1895 and was buried at the cemetery in Coloma beside the grave of one of his younger sons.  Two of his older children were later buried in that cemetery also.


That the children disapproved of the stepmother there is little doubt.  Some may have left Pennsylvania within a few months of each other, but that all left Pennsylvania at the same time is not the case.  Information I obtained in Missouri, Arkansas and Huntingdon County provide some insight into their movements.  Some facts on the children follow.


The Children and Their Movements


John and Eleanor Norris Garner had ten children - five boys and five girls.  Their names in order of birth: David N., Mary Ann, Matthew G., Elizabeth, Eleanor, Thomas G., Margaret Jane, Catharine, John Scott, and Joseph A.  The children were born over a seventeen-year period stretching from 1842 to 1859.


The eldest three children were married before 1870 when their father married Martha Adams.  David and Mary Ann were older than stepmother Martha; Matthew was just nine months younger.  After the Civil War, both boys moved to Missouri.  Before moving, David married in Pennsylvania in 1866 or 1867, while Matthew married in Missouri in 1869.  Hence, both of the older boys were out of state before their father remarried.  He may have been courting before they left, however, prompting them to be the first to leave.


After David returned from the Civil War, he married Louisa A. Smith, and soon moved to Missouri, becoming one of the earliest settlers in Dent County.  With his carpenter skills, he helped build the county courthouse in Salem.  He built his own house near the railroad station there and became a builder of a great variety of wood furniture products in his shop.  Of his eight children, there were two sons, Edward and Harry, who worked with him in the shop.  All three men died of asthma within eight years of each other.  An elderly granddaughter, Wilma Copley, whom we located there, told us the asthma was caused by “brown lung”, the result of years of breathing wood dust in the shop.  We located David’s tombstone in the very large Cedar Grove Cemetery; he died in 1920.  His widow, who moved to another town, presumably with one of her children, was not buried beside David.


Matthew entered the Civil War at age 18.  After the war was over, he, like his older brother, moved to Missouri, settling in Carroll County some 200 miles from David.  He obtained a forty-acre farm that he tended along with using his carpentry and masonry skills to make a living.  In 1869, he married Octava Plaster, a native of Illinois who had moved to Missouri with her parents.  He and Octava shortly afterward moved back to Pennsylvania where they lived for eight or nine years and where three of the four children were born.  At some point, Matthew lived in Charleston, Mississippi County, Missouri, but when he lived there is uncertain.  Upon moving back to Carroll County, Matthew enlarged his farm where he remained until 1909 when he and Octava moved to Carrollton, the county seat.  Octava died in 1912, and Matthew resided with son John until his death in 1924.


Third son, Thomas G. Garner ran away from home at age 13 and later was enrolled as a drummer in Co. H of the 194th PA Volunteers during the Civil War.  He apparently was discharged after a short stint with the army.  According to a granddaughter, Ellen Ruth Walker Watts, Thomas made his way to Arkansas while working for a railroad company.   He may also have worked in the forests of Arkansas for a time, but married Sopha Jane Hill in 1888 in Sharp County and turned his efforts to farming.   The couple had eight children; the eighth, Thomas Ralph, their only son, was left to carry on the Garner name.  Ellen Ruth was aware of her grandfather making just one trip away from the farm to visit family; he traveled to Charleston to visit his brother Matthew who lived there for a time.  He did not return to Pennsylvania.  He and Sopha were buried at the Baker Cemetery a few miles from the town of Hardy.


The two youngest sons, John Scott and Joseph A., were just 14 and 11 years of age in 1870 when their father remarried.  Whether they went westward with older siblings immediately is not known.  However, the older of the two most likely did leave around that time, possibly earlier, because his gravestone in Coloma shows that he died in Missouri in 1872 at the age of 16.


Youngest son, Joseph, may have been with older brother Thomas in Arkansas for a while, because he once owned 30 or more acres in Sharp County. He later willed that land to a niece.  As sometimes happens when a family splits up, the youngest are the most traumatized and the least able to settle for very long into one place, into one occupation or into a marital relationship.  There are reports that Joseph once lived in Minnesota; his residence was listed as California in brother Matthew’s obituary; and when last heard from by the family, he was living around Portland, Oregon.   Joseph did not marry.


Among the five daughters of John and Eleanor, two married and remained in Pennsylvania, two eventually moved away, and one died as a young unmarried woman.  Eldest daughter Mary Ann married John Magill at age 20 in 1862.  She had four children, the youngest of whom was the mother of Blanche Shingler Shirk, our source of family feud information.  She and John remained in Pennsylvania and were buried at the Old Stone Church near Marklesburg.


Whether second daughter Elizabeth went west about the time other family members did is not known.  She married a Missouri Civil War Veteran, Finies Ewing Owens, but not until 1891 when she was forty-six years of age.  We found no record of children.  Records in the Huntingdon County Court House indicate that Elizabeth married F.E. Owens in Grafton, now Hesston.  So, did she live in Missouri, find F.E., and come back to Hesston to marry?  But if so, why come back?  Or perhaps more likely, did she remain in Pennsylvania, but at some time go to Missouri for a visit, meet Owens and decide to marry?  If the latter is the case, she brought him “home” to get married, but then moved to his home state in Carroll County.  They were married only ten years when Elizabeth died and was buried in the Owens plot in 1901.  F.E. lived until 1918 and was buried beside Elizabeth.  Next to her grave was that of a child, Dora F. Owens, who died in 1887.  Dora was the likely child of Owens’ first wife whose gravestone is found at the other end of the Owens plot.


Third daughter Eleanor, “Ellen”, apparently did not migrate and may have stayed at home with father and stepmother.  At age twenty-seven in 1874 she married Orlady Grafton McCall in Penn Township and had two sons, one of whom was John Hall McCall.  John Hall, a bright man and schoolteacher, was something of a restless soul who frequently left wife and children behind and traveled.  On more than one occasion he visited and stayed with his cousin, Thomas Ralph, near Hardy, Arkansas. (John Hall McCall was a first cousin of my grandfather, Burton I. McCall.)  Like sister Mary Ann and husband John Magill, Ellen and Orlady were also buried at the Old Stone Church Cemetery, the site of the original German Lutheran congregation.


Nothing is known about fourth daughter Margaret Jane.  Like Ellen, she may have stayed at home when her father remarried in 1870.  She died in 1872 at age twenty-one and was buried at the Old Stone Church near her birth mother.


Youngest daughter Catharine apparently was living in Pennsylvania until the 1880s when she married Jacob W. Park, a Pennsylvanian, at age thirty-two.  They learned that land was still available for homesteading in Arkansas, perhaps through her brother Thomas.  As a result they moved to Arkansas where they successfully reared two sons and two daughters.  Catharine and Jacob, like brother Thomas and his wife, were buried at the Baker Cemetery in the woodlands of Sharp County.


Thus, it was with John B. Garner’s first family.  All the boys left Pennsylvania.  Of the girls, one died young, two remained in Pennsylvania with their husbands, and two apparently stayed until they married, then moved to Missouri and Arkansas.  John B. Garner’s is another example of how families scatter, in part due to perceived opportunities elsewhere and in part due to family disagreements.  When family disagreements occur and some move away, they often do not return to the homestead or the area where they grew up. 


In the case of the John B. Garner family, son Matthew returned once for a visit in 1917 or 1918.  His father was deceased by nearly 25 years and his stepmother by four or five years.  His two sisters who married and remained in the local area were deceased as well.  He likely visited with several of the sister’s children.  He certainly visited Mary Ann’s daughter, Mary Ellen, who was married to Robert Shingler.  Their daughter, Blanche, with whom we visited, was just a toddler at the time of Matthew’s visit and has no memory of it, but distinctly recalls her parents speaking of it.  Blanche’s statement that other than Matthew, “none ever returned” leaves one with a feeling of sadness for those family members.  The hurts of the late 1860s and 1870s stayed a lifetime with the children who scattered because of the disagreement with their father.  As the second marriage loomed, the family ties began to disintegrate with the result that most of the living children did not get together again as a family.   Sometimes, relationships die long before death comes to the individuals.



Ronald M. McCall, Ph.D

Professor Emeritus

Geography and Earth Science Department

Shippensburg University  

Shippensburg, Pennsylvania


December 15, 2012




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