Paul J. Bunnell, FACG, UE
(Hi. I was surprised to see the school still around. My ten year project about my wifes grandmother is finally nearly completion. It was selved several years but now it's ready to go to print. I thought I's share the from part of the book for your interests. My wife and I want to be members and I'm not sure, we'd love to attend in August. Not sure if we can.)
The Nellie (Patten) Markham Letters
By Paul J. Bunnell, FACG, UE
Table of Contents
Dedication and Memory To
Source and Acknowledgement
Chapter 1 The Meeting
Chapter 2 The Children
Chapter 3 A Broken Home
Chapter 4 I Want My Children
Chapter 5 1906
Chapter 6 1907 - 1908
Chapter 7 The Pursuit
Chapter 8 1909 & After
Chapter 9 Later Family Correspondence
Only A Battered Box
This book is dedicated to my wife
Leslie Diane (White) Bunnell
The Great Grandchild of Isaac Markham and Nellie (Patten)
Special Memory To
Isaac & Nellie Markham's Grandson's
Robert Frederick White
Motion Picture Director
Walter Leroy White
Retired Malibu Deputy Sheriff
Esther Ellen (Patton) (Nellie) Markham
Who was the inspiration to write this book
To all the children who have been separated from their parents for whatever reason.
Source & Acknowledgment To
The Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota
Alissa Wiener, Reference Librarian.
State Welfare Department, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Mrs. Ruth Weidell, Supervisor, Adoption Unit.
Jack White, fellow genealogist, cousin-in-law, and son of Walter White.
Mr. Galen A. Merrill, Superintendent of the State Public School of Minnesota c.1900-1915
Walter & Mabel White family records, Isaac & Nellie's grandson
Lewis County Clerk's Office, Mrs. Joyce F. Pellam, Deputy County Clerk, Lowville, New York, help in 1986 with Orin Markham and family all census at West Turin.
After checking several times with the Minnesota State Welfare Department in Minneapolis, and the help and guidance of Mrs. Ruth Weidell, an employee there, I finally found a gold mine of genealogical materials locked in the cellar of that old building. I just knew there were records waiting to be found and when Mrs. Weidell discovered them after my insistence, a load of letters and documents came forward. The next challenge was that most of Nellie's letters (amounting to over 50) were written in pencil and being nearly one hundred years old shown tremendous wear. Most look like Brail dots.
I made duplicate copies and began a six month project of tracing, like dot-to-dot to reveal the communications that stretched from 1890's to 1920's. Only a few documents were lost to the wear of time. Nearly ninety-nine percent were recovered. So rich in the struggles of a failing family at the turn of 1900 and revealing the early process of the Minnesota child welfare programs, this story would make a great movie staring Sally Fields as Nellie Markham.
Anyone that reads this story will feel the heartbreak, restlessness, torment, and struggles of Nellie Markham as she loses her children and tries to regain them again. Thanks to these found letters, a fragmented family has been partially been placed back together.
"Tumbleweed" is about a family tragedy that takes place in the northern prairie states of Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Saskatchewan, Canada, but mostly in or around Minneapolis, Minnesota. Near the turn of the nineteenth century two people came together and fell in love and got married. Nellie Patton thought she had finally found the person who could make her happy and settle down for the first time in her life. But her physical and mental faults slowly tare their marriage apart. Isaac Markham, now realizing that they were not meant for each other decided to take up with another woman. But there is one... or should I say... four little problems... Their children!
Isaac abandoned Nellie who had developed tuberculosis and as this deadly disease got worse, her support for her children also got weaker. In the last part of the eighteen hundreds, the new Minnesota State School welfare system located at Owatonna was established to protect children in the factory 'sweat shops" and from family mistreatment. Soon, the system zeroed in on Nellie and her little ones. They snatched them up and assigned them to the state school, and later they went to foster families on farms throughout southern Minnesota. Now depressed and unstable, Nellie took out on a crusade to retrieve her children. The emotional drain was almost too much for all parties concern.
Feeling restless, Nellie started to drift about looking for that happy place in her life. Hoping to find a better living for her and her children. Her bible was her only companion and true friend. She became, as this story labels her; a "Tumbleweed", moving to and from six states and one Canadian province repeating these moves several times over. Along the way she managed to disrupt the state school and foster homes encouraging her children to run away making them more unstable and unhappy. Her cough worsened as she pleaded to the governor for help, begging for the returned of her children. Instead, fate takes a terrible turn when some of them are released to Isaac, their father. He tried to care for them by making a new life in Northfield, Minnesota with the same women who ruined his marriage with Nellie.
Health matters and women's rights play a big part in this tragic story of Nellie's quest for happiness. But in 1921 tuberculosis took the life of their youngest child as he drifted about aimlessly like his mother. An emotional ending brings Nellie's grandson to her as his mother raised him from the floor to peek through a small barred window in an institution. His mother, Mary Adeline, Nellie's daughter points towards the broken and sickly old lady inside. The end of this troublesome story is at hand.
The genealogical and historical value of this work places these lives in the growing west where factories are taking over the farms, automobiles replacing the horse and the train tracks scarring the landscape in the name of development and progress. Eastern European immigrants pour into the mid-west for those factory jobs. Children are used for farm work and heavy chores of the day making the State School System a likely source for couples without children to seek out a family or work hands for their farms.
Nellie was a simple and plain woman who worked very hard at sewing, cooking and hotel managing. Her restless soul and her sick body managed to blow through the mid-west like a 'Tumbleweed."
Like that "Tumbleweed." Her pioneer spirit travels through our veins. After all, wasn't the American dream part of the making of this story? Very little of these events are fiction. Much of the material came right from the characters own hands in the form of letters and documents pertaining to their everyday life, mostly between 1880's to 1920's. Any errors are few, and regretted, and welcome any input for future publication. I've become attached to Nellie and her fateful struggle.
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