Sunday, January 8, 2012

Backward Glance - Silas T. Bemiss

photo courtesy Dakota 2010
When I was a child, my great-grandmother, Maud May (Morgan) Bemiss, dictated some family history to one of her daughters. I remember being fascinated by the mysterious 'Grandad' who served his guests from town (Grinnell, Kansas) muskrat legs, passing them off as chicken, and thinking it was a great joke! He then went to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to seek out a new place for the family to live, only to have his trunk returned with news of his death, which looked to be 'foul play.' Who wouldn't be intrigued?!

Silas was born to Thomas A. and Salinda (Babcock) Bemiss on March 20, 1828. The family lived in Chautauqua County, New York. Silas was the fourth of twelve children, including: Alva, Elvira, Almeda Mary (died young), Smith Jonathan, Phoebe L., Rebecca, Caroline Melissa, Sarah, William O., Stephen and Almeda.  All of the children were born in New York. Sometime between the 1845 New York State census, when they lived at French Creek in Chautauqua County, and the federal census taken in 1850, the family moved to Wayne, Erie County, Pennsylvania.

On April 27, 1853, Silas married Keziah Nason, in Greenfield, Erie County, Pennsylvania. Keziah was the daughter of Ezra Washburn and Phoebe (Brown) Nason. Silas and Keziah had two children: William Silas and Phoebe Silinda, both born in Pennsylvania. Their family lived in  Union Township in Erie County at the time of the 1860 federal census.

Silas served in Battery E, 1st Regiment, Pennsylvania Light Artillery (14th Reserves) during the Civil War. He enlisted as a private on December 29, 1863. From the National Park Service Civil War site, the history of the regiment from the beginning of 1864 is this:

"Duty at Portsmouth, Va., till July, 1864. Siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond July, 1864, to April, 1865. Chaffin's Farm, New Market Heights, September 28-30, 1864. Fair Oaks October 27-28. Before Richmond till April, 1865. Occupation of Richmond April 3. Engaged in demolishing defences and removing Ordnance till July. Mustered out July 25, 1865."

We believe the soldier on the left is Silas T. Bemiss.
After the war, Silas' family continued living in Union Township in Pennsylvania. However, Silas was not enumerated with his wife and children in 1880. He doesn't seem to be on the 1880 census at all! Maybe he was out scouting for a new place to live?

In 1884, along with their son, William, and his wife, Olive, Silas and Keziah relocated Gove County, Kansas, to a 'homestead north of Grinnell just south of the Saline River across from the Haverkamp Grove.' They withstood the blizzard of 1886. 'That Spring you could walk for miles down the Saline on dead cattle.' In 1888, Keziah died, and is buried in the Grinnell City Cemetery.

The family story is that Silas left for Oklahoma, leaving Keziah with the family. However, according to Silas' pension application, he filed on January 25, 1890, from Kansas. So, it seems he was in Kansas until at least that time. He did ultimately go to what became eastern Oklahoma. He died in Indian Territory on February 8, 1895. He is buried in the Stokes Cemetery in Bartlesville, Washington County, Oklahoma. His headstone was provided by Vermont Marble Company, presumably a contractor who provided headstones for veterans.

Even given the cold facts of Silas' life, there is mystery that surrounds him, just teasing to be found!

1 comment:

  1. I just came across this blog via a google image search. I actually took that muskrat photo back in 2010. Glad you were able to use it!