Oklahoma Frontier Family- Milo and Rebecca BELL DEWITT

This blog post is about my husband’s paternal 2nd great grandparents, Milo Greenwood DEWITT and Rebecca J. BELL who married on 1 January 1882 in Crawford County, Arkansas.  I’ve written about Milo before in a post entitled Though Silent, He Speaks and you can find that post on the old blog site here.

The Arkansas Years

On 23 December 1881 a license to marry was issued to Milo and Rebecca from the county of Crawford in the state of Arkansas.  Both of them were living in Crawford County at the time.  Milo was 21 and Rebecca was 22 years old.  On New Year’s Day in 1882, Milo married Rebecca in Crawford County, Arkansas.  A year and a half prior to Milo and Rebecca’s marriage license being issued, Milo was living in Alma, Crawford County, Arkansas (1880 Federal Census).  At 18 years of age he was the sole caretaker of his younger siblings- George, William, Sarah, Ben, and James.  His occupation was listed as “farm laborer”.  What an amazing amount of responsibility for an 18 year old!  Living a couple of houses away was Milo’s paternal uncle, Clayton DEWITT and Clayton’s family.  My research shows that Milo’s dad (Francis DEWITT) died in 1872 and his mom (Bethena BARKER DEWITT) died in 1873.  I’m not sure at what point after their deaths Milo began raising his siblings.  Prior to the deaths of his parents, the family was living in Van Buren (1870 Federal Census record).

I don’t know how Milo and Rebecca met and it has been nearly impossible to trace her family line.  In 1870, there was one young girl living a couple of houses away from Milo (and the house next door to his grandparents) but that girl was only 4 in 1870 and she is listed in the census as H. E. BELL.  This little girl is living with a family by the last name of SHIELDS.  It’s hard to say whether this little girl was related to Rebecca or not.

In any case, Milo and Rebecca started out their lives together in Crawford County, Arkansas.  There is no 1890 census available for the areas Milo and Rebecca most likely lived so it’s 1895 before I pick them up again in the records.

The Indian Territory Years

(Some of the information you read in this section will be a repeat of the of the information found in the blog post about Milo that I referenced at the beginning of this story but there is new information here so I hope you will continue reading.)

On 19 October 1895, Milo was appointed Postmaster at Burgevin, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).  Burgevin is now a ghost town but was located at Skullyville near present-day Spiro, LeFlore County, Oklahoma.  Skullyville, or “Money Town”, was so called because it was here that the Choctaw people received their annuity payments.  ‘Iskuli’ is a Choctaw word meaning “piece of money” and this is how Skullyville got it’s name.  (Exploring Oklahoma History blog)

On 5 May 1897, a claim was filed for Francis M. DEWITT’s (Milo’s dad’s) military pension.  On this document, Milo is listed as a minor and he is filing from Indian Territory.  I’m not sure why he is listed as a dependent minor of his father’s because at this point in time he was an adult, married, and had his own children.

Military pension app DeWitt Milo and Francis

Image from Ancestry.com.

On 1 July 1897, Milo was re-appointed as Postmaster at Burgevin, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).  His compensation was $20.28.  He was postmaster there until Emma SIMMONS was appointed to replace him on 28 April 1898.  The post office at Burgevin was closed on 3 November 1898.  (US GenNet website)

On 12 June 1900, Milo and Rebecca were living at Township 9 North, Range 24 East, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory, when Census Worker, Jeff D. WARD, came.  This location is somewhere near present-day Bokoshe, Oklahoma.  (US GenWeb website)  Bokoshe is a Choctaw word meaning “little creek”.  (Wikipedia)

1915 leflore county map for 2018 milo and rebecca bell dewitt blog post

1915 Le Flore County, Oklahoma map showing Bokoshe, Skullyville, and Tucker.

I found this 1946 photo of the Bokoshe post office at History Link 101:

bokoshe ok post office 1946

In Milo’s postmaster years the postmaster often operated out of his home as opposed to a storefront building like this.

By 1900, Milo and Rebecca had 7 children living at home: Lucille (my husband’s great grandmother), Edward, Everett, Ben, Minerva, Bertha, and Luther.  Also living with them that year was Milo’s brother, Ben.  Milo reported that he was a Postmaster at that time.  Edward, Everett and Ben (sons) were farm laborers.  Milo’s brother, Ben, was also a farm laborer.  There were no BELL or DEWITT families living nearby.  Although Ancestry. com lists the family as living on North West Division Street, the document itself doesn’t say anything about North West Division Street.

1900 Leflore county map for 2018 milo and rebecca bell dewitt blog post

I’ve circled the area where I think the family lived- just Northeast of Bokoshe.  This is a 1900 map of Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory.  You can see a larger version of the map at the Library of Congress website.

As of 1 July 1901, Milo was still working as a Postmaster.  He was appointed Postmaster of Tucker, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory this time.  His salary was $62.76.  Before we move on, I want to let you read a little about what it was like to be a Postmaster in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s in what was Indian Territory (now the state of Oklahoma).  Dennis T. FLYNN was an early postmaster in Indian Territory.  He described his day like this:

Initially, he handed out mail utilizing volunteer help.  He and his volunteers would hand out mail “all day and half the night” and he described his days as lasting from 5:00 in the morning until midnight!!  In 1889 he telegraphed Washington and stated, “Am selling $50. stamps daily. Clerks work 5 a. m. to midnight every day.  When mail is opened the line at the window is half-mile long.  We handle 3,000 letters and 1,000 newspapers daily…”.   (Exploring Oklahoma History blog)  For all of this information, I have yet to find anything that would describe Rebecca’s life as a postmaster’s wife but having been a mom I can imagine what it was like to have 7 children to raise and a husband who was unavailable from before sunrise until well after sunset.

The next record for Milo is dated 1 July 1903.  He is once again appointed as a Postmaster, this time in Tucker, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory.  His compensation for this job in 1903 was $67.46.

 

The Oklahoma Years

The last record I’ve found for Milo and Rebecca is the 1910 census.  The family had moved to Brown, Jefferson County, Oklahoma.  Brown is located south of Oklahoma City right on the Red River which separates Oklahoma from Texas.  Oklahoma became a state in 1907 thus ending the territorial years.

On 23 April 1910 when Census Enumerator John REED came, Milo and Rebecca had 2 sons (James B. and Luther H.) living at home.  Their widowed daughter, Lucy (Lucille) WILLIAMS and her three sons (Homer, George, and Walter) were also living there.  Family oral tradition says that Lucy’s family was very much against her marriage to Barton WILLIAMS but we see here that she is, once again, living with them after Barton’s early death.  Lucy’s children were 1, 3 and 7 years old in 1910.  Milo was farming on rented land.  Rebecca was not employed outside the home.  James and Luther were laborers on their father’s farm.  The census says Lucy was not employed outside the home but family oral tradition says that Lucy was doing laundry for others to make money to support her and her children.  It is said that this is how she met her future husband, Dick CULLUM.  All the people in Milo’s home in 1910 could read and write English with the exception of the children ages 7 and under.  None of the household members were attending school.  Milo is on a farm schedule but I haven’t found that farm schedule yet so it’s hard to say what his farm looked like in 1910.  Just shy of a year later, on 12 February 1911, Milo passed away leaving Rebecca to finish raising Luther.  (James was already 18 in 1910.)  Milo was buried in Petersburg Cemetery in Ringling, Jefferson County, Oklahoma.  The town of Ringling was named after John RINGLING, the owner of Ringling Brothers Circus.   (Oklahoma History website)  The blog post I referenced at the beginning of this story discusses Milo’s burial place so I won’t repeat that information here.

Rebecca lived another 23 years after Milo passed away.  In 1920 she was living with her still-single son, Luther who was working as an Engineer at a lumber mill.  Also in the home were two of Luther’s DEWITT nephews and a DEWITT niece, as well as his sister Lucy’s son, Homer WILLIAMS.  Lucy herself was living nearby with her new husband, Dick CULLUM, six of their children, and the other two children that Lucy had with Barton (including Bart’s grandpa George).  Rebecca was not employed outside the home.  Lucy’s son, Homer, was a laborer at a lumber mill.  Dick, some of the CULLUM children, and both the WILLIAMS children living with him and Lucy were farming.  Rebecca’s son, Benjamin, and his family were also living nearby.

In 1930, Rebecca was still living with her son Luther.  Luther was still single and his niece, Lilly DEWITT, was still living with them.  They were farming and renting a home in Lawrence County, Arkansas at that time.  Four years later, Rebecca passed away and was buried at Clover Bend Cemetery in Lawrence County, Arkansas.

milo dewitt's head stone

Photo of Milo DEWITT’s gravestone.

rebecca dewitt grave

 

Photo of Rebecca BELL DEWITT’s gravestone.  I have taken a photo of this grave but for this blog post I utilized the grave photos found at the FindAGrave website here and here.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve enjoyed this depiction of the life of a Territorial Postmaster, you might enjoy the Smithsonian National Postal Museum’s virtual exhibit.  Their home page is here.  I especially enjoyed looking through the murals. Ten of the murals are from Oklahoma post offices.  See if you can guess which ten.

If you’d like to review a couple of USPS publications that include historical postal information, you can look at those publications here and here.  If you’d like to review some information from the National Archives, you can preview a little of what they have on postmasters here including this group of documents that gives a helpful caveat about researching postmasters from the Indian Territory.  You can find National Archives information specific to post offices here.  You can learn more about Territorial postal routes here including a very cool clickable map of 1903 postal routes.  You can find the Choctaw Nation on section 2D of the state map.  Click anywhere on the section map to enlarge it and then scroll to the far right section of the map about halfway down and you’ll find the Bokoshe and Spiro areas where Milo and Rebecca lived and worked.  (If you are in my family, choose the section 1D map, click anywhere on the section map to enlarge it, scroll to the far right section of the map about 1/3 of the way down and you’ll find the town of Echo which was a residence for my DRAKE family during Oklahoma’s Territorial years.  You can read about that in my blog post entitled The Dam Drakes.  This blog post was written in the very early years of my blog so it’s a bit different than my other blog posts you’ve read but I hope you will still enjoy it.)

Until next time,

Lisa @ Days of Our Lives blog

Resources used:

  1. Websites cited in the body of the blog post.
  2. Ancestry.com-
  • Official Register of the United States, Containing a List of the Officers and Employees in the Civil, Military, and Naval Service Together with a List of Vessels Belonging to the United States: Vol 2, 1897; Vol 2, 1901; Vol 2, 1903;
  • Appointments of U.S. Postmasters, 1832-1971: Vol 90, 1896-1930U.S., Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971U.S., Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971U.S., Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971U.S., Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971;
  • Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934;
  • Arkansas, County Marriages Index, 1837-1957Arkansas, County Marriages Index, 1837-1957;
  • United States Federal Census: 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930;
  • http://www.Findagrave.com.

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Oklahoma Frontier Family- Milo and Rebecca BELL DEWITT

  1. Pingback: John Bell and Sarah Hardin- Another Postmaster and His Wife | Days of Our Lives

  2. Pingback: Milo Greenwood Dewitt- Though Silent, He Still Speaks | Days of Our Lives

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