Mt Ayr, Iowa

civilwarflags liggett_thos



Like many more of our leading citizens, Mr. LIGGETT has taught in the district schools. He is a native of the Buckeye State – but of choice a Hawkeye – having made his advent in Union county, Ohio, March 2, 1841. At the breaking out of the [Civil] war, Mr. LIGGETT was in Monmouth, Illinois, where he enlisted in Co. C 36th Illinois Inf., his first battle beint that of the Battle of Pea Ridge. He escaped pretty luckily until the battle of Chickamauga, when he was shot in the cheek, the ball coming out at the back of the neck. He still carries evidence of that “Johnnie’s” markmanship.

In [February 18] 1869, Mr. LIGGETT was married to Miss Catharine ARTHUR [in Warren County, Illinois], and they have four (sic) children, two daughters [sic, daughters Bessie, Mary, and Margaret; Pearl died in childwood] two sons [Arthur and Harry of Mount Ayr]. They moved to Mt. Ayr in the spring of 1875, when he formed a partnership with J. R. HENDERSON in the grocery business and has continued in the same occupation nearly ever since excepting the three terms he successfully served this county as clerk of the courts. He is now with his brother, J. Hall LIGGETT, conducting a very successful grocery business, as elswhere noted.


I found this entry on the Ringgold County website.  Thomas’ son Harry was my grandfather, and Harry’s brother Arthur was my great uncle.  My mother was born in Mt Ayr, Iowa in 1920.  She reminisces about growing up in a small town:












Our town, Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa, was built around a square with a three story brick courthouse in the very center, a cannon set on one corner of the courtyard, a soldier’s monument (WW I) on another corner and when I was growing up, a bandstand on the north side center.  Each Saturday night during the summer the American Legion Band gave an hour’s concert of mostly Sousa marches and other, not too difficult, compositions.  Forrest Stewart always was the leader.  I played flute and piccolo (Stars and Stripes Forever was a real favorite and challenge!) and the rest of the band was made up of people of all ages from the town and country.  It was a lot of fun to be with this varied group and we actually got paid a pittance by the town for this bit of culture.  We always had a great time and were so pleased when we occasionally rendered something flawlessly, or at least, acceptably.  I think my sister, Jean, played clarinet with us as she grew older.

            All around the square were all sorts of stores and offices – a movie house, the Carnegie Library, the Christian Church on one corner, and, in the early days even a milliner’s shop full of beautiful hats.  We had two or three doctors, several lawyers, one, of course, was County Attorney, a realty company, a bank, a sandwich shop that made anything from hamburgers to pork tenderloins to brain sandwiches, all delicious.  We also had a hotel of sorts, a fire station with truck, a telephone office with operators who place every call for you, and who, therefore always knew all the latest gossip.  Also, there was a gas station, a pool hall which was a “den of iniquity” and off limits to most of the younger set.  I was even scared to walk by it!  There was a post office built during the great depression and decorated by Works Progress Administration mural artists.

            Because Harry and Arthur were friendly people and did a big grocery business all over the county, we were taught to be especially friendly and polite to everyone, whether we knew them or not.  I think that may explain some of the quirks in Jean’s and my personalities – both “conformist” and “non-conformist” attitudes and cynical.  Liquor was frowned upon by most people in Mount Ayr but our Dad who loved a glass of beer now and then (he always put a shake of salt in it) drank it only during his two weeks’ annual vacation away from home.

            During the great depression in the 30s, Harry and Arthur, who allowed groceries to be charged by the month, literally fed many families over the county free.  For several years after good times returned Dad would get a check in the mail for payment for groceries received during that terrible time.  People were basically honest, they just had no money at all during those years.  The only bank in our town closed and because of high mortgages many, many farmers lost their homes and land.  That was disaster enough, but we had a great drought period during that time also.  I don’t remember our family suffering, at least we always had enough to eat.  We wore second hand and made over clothing and purchased as little as possible but everyone else was doing the same.  We saw so many families who were in such dire straits.  Everyday, Dad would come home feeling so sorry about yet another farm foreclosure that we couldn’t feel sorry for ourselves.  We had a comfortable home, a Model A Ford and no debts that could be foreclosed on.  And, apparently the grocery business made ends meet in spite of so many unpaid charge accounts.



Pilgrimage to the Past

Betsy Stroup

Joseph Reid Gamble was born in Ohio on August 8, 1818, and as a youngster moved to Missouri, about 40 miles south to St Louis, near Hillsboro and DeSoto.  He married Elizabeth (Betsy) Stroup, who was the American-born daughter of Dutch immigrants.

Betsy Stroup’s people came to America from Holland because of religious persecution.  When she was 4 years old, in 1825, both her parents died in an epidemic that was sweeping the country.  She was then bound out to a family until she was 18, where she worked for her room and board and did not go to school.  Instead she drove the cows from the pasture, milked them, set the milk in crocks in a cave, skimmed the cream and churned the butter.  In the evenings she worked on spinning wool or knitting socks.

When Betsy was 15 or 16 she ran away and married Joe Gamble.

Thirteen years later, Joe left his wife and five children to join the gold rush in California.  He and his two brothers and a cousin made it to Colorado where Joe became ill with the measles.  They left Joe in Colorado and went on without him.  Both brothers died in California.  Once Joe recovered, he found that he had lost the sight in one eye.  He sold his outfit, bought a spotted Indian pony and rode home.

Back in Missouri, a neighbor of theirs had purchased a young Negro girl at a farm sale nearby and led her with a cord around her waist alongside his horse.  The neighbor stopped at Joe’s farm on his way home from the sale to have a slice of watermelon.  Joe cut a huge slice of melon and told his son, Greene, to take it to the Negro girl tied to the colt.   Joe was a staunch abolitionist and was bitterly opposed to slavery.  He was suspected of being one of the promoters of the “Underground Railroad”, a term used to designate a system which provided Negroes wishing to escape from slavery into a free territory with guidance, shelter and protection.  The probabilities are that Joe helped a number of slaves to secure their freedom.  As the slave issue became more intense, he realized that it would be best for him and his family to locate elsewhere.

In 1851 or 1852, he saddled a horse and rode to northern Illinois.  He shoveled the snow away and dug a hole so he could smell, feel and taste the soil, and before he left, he purchased an unimproved 160 acres.  He sold his Missouri farm for 800 dollars, all in gold and silver coins.  In the spring, he loaded his family of seven children, and all his belongings in ox wagons and started the journey to Carroll County, Illinois.  He took nine horses, forty head of cattle, and about forty sheep, along with the yokes of oxen to pull the wagons.  Two of his neighbors, who wanted to see the new place, went with him and helped with the stock.   Joe’s uncle, William, and his son also went along.  It took most of the summer to travel the 320 miles, but they arrived in time to dig a well, build a small house and shelter for the stock and put up hay for the winter.  Blue-stem prairie grass was nearly waist high.

Shortly after arriving in Illinois, the nine horses decided to return to Missouri.  The horses left in the night so they had a head start.  When they reached the toll bridge across the Illinois River, the toll keeper would not let them through the tollgate and onto the bridge, so they swam the river and kept right on going.  Joe had to borrow a horse the next morning when he found his horses were gone, and he rode 90 miles in pursuit of them before he overtook them.

The new farm was all prairie land and had to be broken with a breaking plow pulled by three yoke of oxen.  Joe built a good house and other buildings improving the place.

In June of 1858 he started to take a load of wheat drawn by two yoke of oxen to their market in Polo, IL.  The hired hand did not get the gate open in time.  Joe tried to stop the animals before they crashed the gate, but they swerved, knocked him down and he was run over by the load of wheat.  His injuries proved fatal and he died after three days of suffering.  This was just before Joe’s 40th birthday.  He and Betsy had nine children.

The two oldest girls, Nancy and Caroline, were already married.  Silas Greene became the new head of the household at age 14.  My great grandfather, John Perry, was 12.

Fast forward to 2012, 154 years later….

It was a sunny summer day.  Not too hot, with a cool breeze. My father was on a pilgrimage to see where Joe Gamble lived and died.  Joe was my father’s grandfather’s father.  Three generations back.  As we drove over back roads through small towns in northern Illinois, it was obvious why Joe moved there.  It was fertile land.  All the crops were thriving and healthy.

We were three generations in the car.  I was driving and my son was manning the GPS.  Our final approach to Union Cemetery was on a gravel road surrounded by cornfields.  The cemetery was small, no sign, no fence.  Just a cleared area with lovely big trees and cornfields all around.  At least half the headstones were so old we could not identify them.  We did find a couple we recognized and we knew where our plot was so even though we couldn’t read the headstone, we knew we were in the right place.  The cemetery was well kept and neat.  My father was pleased.

The cemetery was in Wysox Township and the Township Clerk had an office in Milledgeville, population 1,032.  We headed over to see her in case she had any other information.  It turns out our family purchased three plots right next to each other.  They don’t know who or how many people are buried there but we have records showing there were probably at least eight relatives.

It was getting to be lunchtime and the clerk recommended a good restaurant in Lanark, a neighboring town, population 1,400.  We had a good meal and wandered around the cemetery in Lanark for a bit.  It was much bigger and we had no idea what, if anything we would find so we enjoyed the shady veteran’s memorial and headed home.

All in all a lovely day.

(My cousin Bud is responsible for gathering much of this family history.  Thank you!)