Have you found a biography for an ancestor in a county historical society publication or a county history? If so, did it provide clues about your ancestor’s life?
I’m lucky to have two different biographies of George Mentzer. The biography found in the book, History of Woodson and Allen Counties, Kansas, provides clues to George’s life as a young adult.
In 1850, George Mentzer was living with his mother in Stow, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. In 1860, George was living with his brother in Northborough, Worcester County, Massachusetts. The clues in George’s biography indicate that he was living in Illinois between 1850 and 1860.
- 1854 – a farm hand in Illinois at age of 16
- 1856 – a grocery clerk in Chicago at age of 18
- 1857 – helped establish the first hotel in Kewanee, Henry County, Illinois at age of 19
- 1859 – learned the trade of comb maker in Massachusetts at age of 21
Unfortunately, I have not been able to verify these details. George did have a brother, Rufus and a sister, Sarah Oman living in Henry County, Illinois in 1860. Rufus Mentzer served as a postmaster for Kewanee between 1861 and 1866. Thus, George could easily have been in Henry County, Illinois prior to 1860.
However, information in the book, The History of Henry County, Illinois by Henry L. Kiner includes information from a diary by Hiram T. Lay. According to that diary, there was a hotel in Kewanee in 1854. Thus, George Mentzer did not help build the first hotel in Kewanee in 1857.
Even though I have not been able to find additional documentation for George’s life between 1850 and 1860, most of the other information in the biographies has been backed up by other sources.
Below is the biography found on page 680 of the book, History of Allen and Woodson Counties, Kansas (available on Ancestry).
The Veteran soldier who risked his life in defense of the flag, all things else being equal, takes high rank as a citizen. This may be partly because of the quality of the patriotism of the American public, but there is another reason for the preeminence of the veteran. The man who has the form of character to win distinction as a faithful defender of his country possesses the resourceful perseverance so necessary to success in other fields, and this is abundantly verified in the life of George Mentzer, who loyally followed the starry banner during the Civil war and is now one
of the enterprising and prosperous agriculturists of Woodson county, where he has made his home since I869.
A native of Stowe, Massachusetts, he was born June 12, I838, and is a son of Phillip A. and Orinda (Miles) Mentzer. The father, a native of Germany, died in Massachusetts in 1844, and his widow was buried by the side of her husband on the old home place in the Bay state. They had ten children, but only three are now living; Rufus, of Ft. Morgan, Colorado, Mrs. Sarah A. Green of Boston, Massachusetts
and George of this review.
The last named was reared in his native village until sixteen years of age, when he emigrated to Illinois and became a farm hand, being employed in that capacity for about two years. He then went to Chicago, where he secured a situation as clerk in a grocery store, also acting as assistant in a butchering establishment. Upon leaving the city he returned to Massachusetts to visit his mother and while there he learned
the trade of a comb maker, the combs being manufactured from the horns of cattle. He also improved his literary education by attending school. He was still in his native state when the Civil war broke out and there he enlisted as a member of company C, Twenty-fourth Massachusetts infantry, which was sent to Annapolis and on to North Carolina and thence to South Carolina, being discharged in front of Petersburg, Virginia. Among the important engagements in which he participated were the battles of Roanoke Island, Newberne, White Hall Goldsboro, Kingston, Bermuda Hundred and
Petersburg. He did duty in front of the Rebel fort which was blown up by a Pennsylvania regiment. In all of his three years’ service he was never wounded, but was always found at his post of duty faithfully defending the starry banner—the emblem of an undivided union.
When the war was ended Mr. Mentzer returned to Massachusetts and spent the
succeeding winter in Boston, after which he turned his attention to farming. He then again made his way to Illinois, where, prior to the war, he had aided in establishing the first hotel in Kewanee. He remained a resident of Henry county and was engaged in the butchering business until I869, when he came to Woodson County, Kansas, settling on section six. Center township, where he has since made his home,
his labors being given to the improvement of his farm. He now has a rich tract of land, the alluvial soil yielding good harvests for the work bestowed upon it.
In Henry county, Illinois, Mr. Mentzer was united in marriage to Miss Emeline Minnick, a daughter of John Minnick, a Pennsylvania German, who had a family of five daughters and one son. The wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Mentzer was celebrated on the 1st of January, I867, and they are now the parents of eight children, as follows: Charles 0. who married Nettie Wells; John P. who married Anna Wells; Susie May; Henry A.; Phillip E. who is now a student of the State Agricultural College of Kansas; Ernest E.; Clara E. and Clarence A. Although the Mentzer family have usually been Republicans, George Mentzer cast his first presidential vote for the Democratic
nominee in 1860, and is now a Prohibitionist. He believes most firmly in the abolishment of the liquor traffic through acts of legislation, and he is the type of citizens who support all measures to advance the moral welfare of the community.
Below is the biography found in the Woodson County (KS) Historical Society publication, In the Beginning from July 1970.
The George Mentzer Family
Around 100 years ago, George Mentzer, a veteran of the Civil War first came to Woodson County, seeking a home here on the prairie. On May 16, 1870, he made a contract with the MKT Railway to purchase 160 acres in the northeast corner of Section 6-24-14. Isaac T. Goodnow was the Katy land agent in Neosho Falls at that time. Mentzer made a deposit of $67 on the $738.67 that the five-year contract called for. He then returned to his home at Kewaunee, Henry County, Illinois the following year, early in the spring of 1871, George Mentzer with his wife Emeline, and two sons, Charles 0. and John Fred, and a close friend, George W. Allen, came to Kansas in a covered wagon.
They arrived in Neosho Falls in May. Obtaining rooms for Mrs. Mentzer and the two small boys at the Falls House where they were to stay until a home was made for them on the homestead.
Mentzer and Allen then loaded up some supplies and lumber and headed for the new homestead that was all prairie grass except where West Owl Creek cut across the southwest corner of the quarter section. They built a small two-room cabin and some necessary fences and sheds.
Mentzer then went to Neosho Falls and brought his family to the new home. Allen, who was a single man, stayed with the Mentzers for awhile until he obtained the southeast quarter of Section 36-24-14.
George Allen married a school teacher from Toronto and moved onto his new farm (where Harley Mentzer lives).
The George Mentzer farm is still owned by descendants, known as the John Williams farm.
George Mentzer was a native of Stowe, Mass., where he was born June 12, 1838. His parents were Phillip and Orinda (Miles) Mentzer.
There were ten children in this family. Phillip Mentzer was a native of Germany.
When the Civil War broke out G. Mentzer enlisted as a member of Company C, 24th Massachusetts Infantry. We believe that George Allen was with him throughout the war.
He participated in several battles. In one battle he was one of nine soldiers of his company to survive. Mentzer was discharged at Petersburg, Virginia, after three years· of service.
Following the war he returned to his native state and spent the succeeding winter at Boston. He made his way to Kewaunee, Illinois where he met and married a young lady who was clerking in a store.
George Mentzer and Emeline Minnick were married on January 1, 1867, at Kewaunee. His bride was a daughter of John Minnick, a Pennsylvania German. While named Emeline, she was known mostly as Emma. They were the parents of eight children; namely, Charles 0., who married Nettie Wells and their children were Gladys (Mrs. Roy Green), twins Paul and Pauline (Mrs. Osmond Briles, Leslie, and Herbert.
John Fred, who married Anna Wells, their children were HaLel (Mrs. Ed Herold), Cecil (Mrs. Emil Beine), Pearl (Mrs. A. Peterson), Marjorie (Mrs. Paul Weide), Fred, Harley, Mildred (Mrs. John VanValkenburg), Aleta (Mrs. Wendell Tolle).
Susie May, who married Ed Tunnicliff. They had no children.
Henry A., who married May Litton. They had a daughter, Dixie. A son died in infancy.
Phillip E., who married Anna Sheflin. They had three sons, Howard, Lauren and Ivan.
Ernest E., who married Edith Dummond. They had eleven children : George Edward, Talmadge “Tye”, Fleta (Mrs. Leon Vanvalkenburg), Austin, M. Burdette, Keith, Juanita (Mrs. Charles Baldwin), Norryce, Lovell, who was killed in action in World War II, and Donald. A son Laddie died at the age of six months.
Clara E., who married John W. Williams. They had twelve children: Glenn M., Goldie M. (Mrs. Ted Brodman), Edith E. (Mrs. Lester Harding), John Harold, Leo L., Freddie Lloyd, Helen D. (Mrs. Orval Smith), George Wesley, Clifford W., Letha M., Doris Ann (Claxton), and Verna L. (Mrs. LeRoy Faherty). Clarence A., who married Grace Graham, had no children.
In the first years of their life here along the branch of Owl Creek Indians would camp along the creek as they would travel from the reservation to the Indian Territory to the south. They were friendly Indians, but inveterate beggars. George Mentzer smoked a pipe. These Indians would often beg tobacco from him. On one occasion Mentzer found a couple of Indians digging in the bank along west Owl Creek. They were digging out a skunk. He asked them what they were going to do with it. They replayed, “Eat ’eml Heaps of good eats in ’em.”
Some of the Indians would come to the Mentzer house and bargain for eggs. They seemed to delight in scaring the two little boys, Charley and Fred.
George Mentzer had one of the first telephones in the county. He and C. B. Goodale, who lived about two miles to the north, each got telephones and fixed a line between them so they could talk.
Early on a Sunday morning in December, 1887, the George Mentzer family was getting ready to go to Sunday school at the Methodist Church in Yates Center. The Mentzer home was three miles west and about a mile and three-quarters north of Yates Center.
In the midst of their getting ready a man came to the door. He explained that he was taking a census of some kind although Mentzer observed that the man was carrying a gun. Mr. Mentzer had sold some hogs the day before and his first thought was that the man had followed him from Yates Center. Then he remembered that a man accused of stealing cattle had escaped the law and was in the hills of Belmont township. With this suspicion, Mentzer sent word of the man evidently as the rest of the family went to church in Yates Center.
The story of the cattle theft went back to the week before this, when a man by the name of Charley Mills, who worked for a Mr. Hobson of Belmont township, had been arrested on the preceding Thursday for stealing three head of cattle. The cattle belonged to a Mr. Haywood of Allen County, who was pasturing them in the Hobson pasture. This farm was where a large stone house stood for many years and was known as the Adamson farm, a short distance east from Big Sandy Creek.
Mills had stolen the cattle and sold them to a butcher in Yates Center. He then stole three head of cattle from a neighbor and turned them into the pasture with the rest of the Hayward cattle. The evidence brought against him was almost certain but when he was brought before the justice, he asked for a continuence till the following Friday morning to obtain witnesses. During Thursday night he escaped from Constable Metz, who was guarding him. Friday morning Metz went down to Belmont township and caught sight of the man in the hills and brush and fired two or three shots at him, but Mills got away from him. On Saturday morning Metz and Constable Throughman of Belmont found and arrested their man early in the morning. They all went to Throughman’s for breakfast and while Throughman was taking care of the horses the prisoner got hold of gun, knocked Met7 down and again escaped.
Word was spread throughout Belmont and to Yates Center. A sheriffs posse was organized. The hills and woods throughout Belmont township was guarded and searched all day long but no prisoner was located. Seems like the only “game” the posse saw was numerous door. One man reported seeing 17 deer in one bunch.
Somehow Mills eluded the posse and got out of the hills and to the Ed Currie home where he was permitted to stay all night and on Sunday morning walked to the George Mentzer home on West Owl Creek. The man wanted to engage board and lodging for two or three days at the Mentzer home.
When Mentzer sent word to town about the man whom he suspected as the missing prisoner, two Yates Center fellows, Joe Allen and Will Pruit, who evidently thought they would get some glory and perhaps some reward, took it into their heads to go out and capture the prisoner.
It was mealtime and the Mentzer family, including Mr. and Mrs. Mentzer, the six sons and two daughters, and the stranger were at the table when Allen and Pruit first came to a window and then to the door. They came in, got the drop on the stranger, then asked Mrs. Mentzer and two daughters to go into the other room. Mrs. Clara
(Mentzer) Williams, who still owns the Mentzer homestead recalls that although she was only 5 years old at the time, and she was very much frightened when the men asked them to go into the other room.
The two young men were having some difficulty until Abe Smith, a nearby neighbor and early day sheriff of Woodson County arrived and helped them. Smith was not sheriff at this time. The prisoner had gotten on his knees in a pleading position and was creeping closer to one of the boys before Mr. Mentzer stopped him.
The prisoner, Charley Mills, waived examination and on Monday was taken to jail at Eureka. He was an old offender and a dangerous man. A short time later he escaped from the jail at Eureka and that’s the last trace of him that we found.
Even though these biographies may not be totally accurate, they provide lots of details about the life of George Mentzer, his siblings and his family.