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Shirley's Writings


Shirley Willard was appointed Fulton County Historian 20 years ago by the Indiana Historical Society. She writes a column of history that appears in the Rochester Sentinel, South Bend Tribune and other Indiana newspapers. Shirley was president of the Fulton County Historical Society for 30 years, 1971-2001, until she retired on her 65th birthday in Sept. 2001. Shirley does not believe in copyrighting history but if you want to use any of her materials, please let her know and give her credit in your writings.

Fulton County had Underground Railroad stations

By Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historian

The Underground Railroads are now called Freedom Trails. Escaped slaves crossed Indiana and Fulton County on their way to freedom in Michigan or Canada. Historians and African-American groups have been researching Underground Railroads (UGRR) and the "stations" or safe houses across Indiana and other northern states. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology began in 1999 researching Indiana's Freedom Trails, asking all counties to contribute help in research.

February is Black History Month, which began in 1926 as "Negro History Week," started by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who was born to former slaves. So in honor of Black History Month, I want to share with you the information I sent to Indiana's Freedom Trails.

Fulton County had several homes near Akron, Rochester and Kewanna that served as safe havens or 
Underground Railroad stations. The abolitionists and Quakers helped runaway slaves in their fleeing to northern states and Canada by hiding them during daylight hours and transporting them at night on to the next station. The Federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 required that escaped slaves be returned to their owners and stated that it was a crime to help a slave escape. After the 1850 Fugitive Slave Laws was passed by Congress, the amount of activity on the UGRR increased, despite the heavy penalties imposed by the law on anyone who helped runaway slaves. It is estimated that some 50,000 slaves made it to freedom through the UGRR from 1840-1860.

The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom, published in 1968, has a map showing "Routes Through Indiana and Michigan in 1848." It shows one route through Rochester. It shows two places where the UGRR crossed into Michigan: one between South Bend and Niles, and another north of Fort Wayne and Auburn.

UGRR stations included houses, barns, haymows, strawstacks that were hollowed out, corncribs, woodsheds, secret chambers, and smokehouses. The runaway slaves were hidden in attics, root cellars, basements, closets, and secret rooms. Caves and swamps made great natural hiding places. Unfortunately for today's historians, not much was written about them. It was a very dangerous undertaking, and sometimes the slaves and the people trying to help them were killed by slave hunters who came to catch the runaways. Only a few Fulton County residents involved with the actual stations wrote anything that has been preserved. However, the old county histories did record the names of some individuals who helped the escaping slaves in their flight from the South to freedom in Michigan or Canada.

I found references to seven different safe houses, or UGRR stations, where escaping slaves were given shelter and then escorted on the next evening to another safe house further north. Akron had three.

1. Dr. Joseph Sippy house in Akron, located on Rochester Street east of the stoplight where parking lot is now, east of Lake City Bank and Akron Floral & Gift Shop. Samuel Essick operated an Underground Railroad station in the stables of his tannery at Gilead in Miami County. About 11 o'clock at night, his son Michael Essick later reported, he and father Samuel led them by a trail in the woods to Akron where they were housed another day by Dr. Sippy, founder of Akron in 1836. I would like to suggest that Akron erect a historical marker for Dr. Sippy in the parking lot, as they plan to turn it into a small park. Be sure to mention the Underground Railroad!

2. John Ball house at Akron, located northwest of Akron near Ball one-room school at 100 N and 1075 E, where David Starner lives now. John's son, Ancil B. Ball, wrote his memories, published in Home Folks c. 1910: "When I was a boy I used to see one or two negroes come down from our loft in the evening, to get into a wagon with a white driver and go north toward the Canadian line. Dr. Sippy and my father both kept underground stations."

3. Alexander Curtis house, located on the south side of Indiana 14 about a mile west of Akron, a three-story brick farmhouse, pictured in the 1883 Fulton County Historical Atlas. Curtis and his brother Nathaniel came from North Carolina and were Quakers. According to Nathaniel Curtis' great- granddaughter Frances Curtis Bond, their safe haven was in a concealed room in the dug-out basement of his farm house. Not only slaves but also immigrants who were escaping from their oppressive countries were helped, as they looked for better lives in the USA. The house still stands and is lived in by Margaret and Roma Webb. The house has two fireplaces in the basement but the Webbs know of no hidden room. Perhaps the UGRR station was the house that existed there before the present house. Henry Barnhart's History of Fulton County states that Curtis had a double log cabin with large fireplace, later replaced by a commodious house. Either house or both might have served as UGRR stations.


Underground Railroad now called Freedom Trails

By Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historian

Nearly every week I get e-mails about Indiana Freedom Trails, today's name for the Underground Railroads (UGRR). In 1998 the US Congress decided that the National Park Service should establish the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program. They challenged the State Historic 
Preservations Offices to do statewide research to identify every UGRR site. Indiana's Department of Natural Resources  Division of Historic Preservation & Archaeology was the only state to take up this challenge because no money was offered to do the work. Jeannie Regan-Dinius is the Special Projects Coordinator, who e-mails me faithfully with news of meetings. Jeannie says they created the Indiana Freedom Trails in 1999. Their office organized volunteers from throughout the state to research this topic. Over the years, this group has developed into its own force so now they have the Indiana Freedom Trails and the DHPA's UGRR Initiative. They work jointly to do research and to educate Hoosiers about the UGRR.  A few of the UGRR stations are now Indiana State Historic Sites, operated by the DNR-DHPA. Levi Coffin's house, Fountain City, is known as the Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad. Conner Prairie, Fishers, produces a program "Follow the North Star" to give a living history experience to people who walk at night and relive the terror of escaping slavery. Lick Creek, Paola, in the Hoosier National Forest, had a settlement of black people. Speed Cabin, Crawfordsville, is another station on the UGRR.

The Freedom Trails branch out across Indiana, all leading north to freedom, and the number of Indiana's 
UGRR stations is unknown but estimated to be in the hundreds.

In my last column I told about three Underground Railroad stations at Akron. There were four other UGRR stations or connections in Fulton County.

1. Jerry Barbour house in Rochester. Nobody seems to know where this house was. There was a black man who had a barber shop - was this the same person who operated the UGRR?

2. Tom and Jane Mogle house near Kewanna. Located on the southwest corner of 400 S and 500 W, this 
house was on a route of the UGRR that ended in Calvin, Michigan. The Mogles hid slaves in an upstairs room.  The door to the room was camouflaged. It had no woodwork and was papered to look like part of the wall. There black escapees were led under the eaves and through a small opening to a chamber over the kitchen. The room could hold six people; the beds were pallets on the floor. When it was time for the guests to move on, the farmers would link together and hide the slaves under hay and take them to the next station, which was somewhere in the Bremen area, according to Mogle descendant, Mildred Tomlinson in Fulton County Historical Society Quarterly in 1974.

3. Sherrard house at Green Oak four miles south of Rochester on Old 31. Henry Sherrard Sr. and wife Opal bought the house and moved there in 1925. The house was torn down in 1997. Sherrard wrote in FCHS Quarterly, 1973, that the leg of the escaped slaves trip to Green Oak began from a daytime sanctuary in a brick house on the north side of Mexico, Indiana, and the Dunkert Church, another UGRR station. There was only one entrance to Sherarrd's basement and its door contained a peephole for security against unwanted callers. There also was a hole bored in the living room floor above the basement. It was covered by a rug during the day, but uncovered when owners of the house wanted to communicate with the fugitive slaves. Sherrard had been told that the escaped slaves were taken to Plymouth or Bremen. Their abstract indicates that the house was built between 1842 and 1845 when the farm was owned by Cyrus and Jeremiah Smith, so they were probably the ones who operated the UGRR. Jeremiah died in 1856 and his son Eli bought out his siblings, so Eli might have operated the UGRR too. Sherrard's daughter, Betty Thousand, recalls that someone told her parents that some slaves died while there and were buried under the barn so that the livestock would hide the graves with hoofprints. The old two-story barn was located southwest of the house and is long gone too.

4. Christopher Campbell, Leiters Ford. Campbell came to Fulton County in 1853. He was known as a "Black Republican" because of his sympathy for the colored people and help with the UGRR through Fulton County. It is not known if he had a safe house or helped others by escorting slaves at night.

When the government passed bad laws, Americans fought against them, first underground, and then openly, as in the Civil War. After the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the war, the Underground Railroad was no longer needed and many of its stations were forgotten. But Indiana's Freedom Trails is determined that this part of Indiana's history not be forgotten.


llen, Champion Milk Producing Cow for 17 Years, Changed the World
By Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historian

There once was a black and white cow named Ellen, who lived south of Rochester, and became a world 
champion milk producer in 1975. People came from all over the world to see her. Car loads of visitors arrived nearly every day and buses brought visitors almost weekly all summer long. Ellen held the world record for 17 years till 1992. During that time she helped to change history and the way of life for all farmers.

Beecher Arlinda Ellen, her registered name, was owned and raised by Harold and Norma Beecher and their eight children on a farm near Mt. Zion at the south end of Lake Manitou. Ellen was a big Holstein cow, a gentle peaceful cow that calmly chewed her cud and produced lots of milk. She produced 195 pounds or 23 gallons of milk one day in January 1975. She averaged 165 pounds of milk a day that year. (I can remember in the 1950s my father getting two or three gallons from a Guernsey cow and thinking that 5 gallons from a cow at one milking was great.) Ellen's record of 55,560 pounds of milk in one year was verified by Dairy Herd Improvement Association officials, working with Purdue University Extension specialists. Holding the world record for 17 years was an amazing record!

Weighing about 1800 pounds, Ellen was considerably larger than the average cow. Her udder was larger too, being wider and deeper, closer to the ground than most cow's. She ate about 60 to 70 pounds of a commercial grain mixture, the same amount of top quality alfalfa hay and drank between 50 to 60 gallons of water a day. She was an exceptional converter of feed, according to Purdue University. She ate about seven percent of her body weight in dry matter daily and produced five times as much milk as the average cow.  Because of Ellen, agriculturists and farm representatives came from all over the world to visit and to buy Holstein cattle in Indiana. Yes, Indiana became the top producer of dairy cattle. Farmers in foreign countries wanted those black and white cows from Indiana - no other state would do! - and they came by airplanes and then by buses to see her. This was at a time when artificial insemination and in vitro growing of eggs and implanting those eggs in other cows was just beginning to gain popularity. Ellen's calves would be considered very valuable. Sperm from her sons were used to artificially inseminate many cows for several years.

Ellen's milk production helped revolutionize dairy farming. Fewer cows were needed to produce milk for the world. That meant fewer farms and dairymen. That spelled the end of the widow who supported herself and her few acres by milking and selling Grade B milk to small plants like Armours Creamery at Rochester, Litchfield at Warsaw, and Winsor Dairy and Craft Dairy, Peru, in the 1930s to 1960s.

At the same time, the world became conscious of the effects of fat and high chloresterol on human heart problems. Being a Holstein, Ellen's fame contributed to the shift in popularity of brown cows to black and white cows. No more Jerseys and Guernseys with their high butterfat content. Out the door with Ada the Ayrshire, a popular cartoon about the crazy antics of a contrary cantankerous cow in farming magazines! In with the pretty black and white cows!

Cow crafts popped up all over, especially black and white Holstein cows. They are popular subjects for arts and crafts in the Midwest. They are seen in ceramics, paintings, appliques on towels and clothing, dolls, every kind of material. Ellen's likeness is being reproduced by artists all over the world. The picture of a gentle black and white cow is found wherever rural art is found: in calendars, magazine ads, books, festivals, and schools. There are also silly pictures and statues of little cows in dresses and aprons, black and white calves in straw hats with fishing poles, etc. Small statues of cows and calves in a different pose for every month of the year now grace many a shelf in thousands of homes.

Thanks, Ellen. You had no idea how much influence you would have.

Ellen's mother (or "dam" in breeder's talk) was Bridgecrest Skylighter Elsie, purchased from Harry Bridge & Son (Jim), Royal Center. Harry is the father of Bob Bridge of Rochester. Ellen's father or sire was Pawnee Farms Arlinda Chief, owned by Wallace Lindskoog, of California. Beecher Arlinda Ellen was her whole name, and she was born on the Beecher farm a half mile east of the Mt. Zion bridge. Ellen was raised there, and was the 4-H project of the oldest son, Stan Beecher. He was a member of the Woodrow Sodbusters 4-H Club and attended Woodrow School for his first grade. Woodrow was closed in 1959 and the pupils went to Columbia Elementary in Rochester. Stan and the other Beecher kids rode the school bus driven by my father, Charlie Ogle.

Ellen was listed in the Guiness Book of World Records 1975-92 as the world champion cow. Her picture was in Life magazine. Life sent a photographer from New York City to spend several days at the farm capturing Ellen in many poses. After all of his work, the print they chose to publish simply showed Ellen grazing with a goose wandering by in the foreground. A large photo of her is still exhibited at the Purdue University Veterinary School. When she was the world champion, Purdue and Curtis Breeding Service would hold a special day "Ellen Day USA" and place a huge framed photo of Ellen by an alfalfa field and Harold Beecher was there to tell visitors about the feed that Ellen ate.

Ellen had seven offspring. All were bull calves except for one heifer, which was born as a twin to a bull. This heifer was infertile, as commonly happens in over 90% of bovine females born twin to a male. Such heifers are termed "free-martins." Using modern medicine, veterinarians can stimulate the growth of multiple eggs in a cow's ovaries and later artificially inseminate the cow to produce fertilized embryos. A week later the embryos are harvested and can be grown in vitro or immediately transferred to recipient cows which carry the resulting calves through the pregnancy periods. In this manner, more calves can be produced from one cow than the normal one calf per year. (The gestation period for cows is 285 days.) Unfortunately this technology was only in its early stages in the 1970s. Later developments vastly improved the success of these techniques. Ellen was taken to a clinic in Michigan to have her eggs harvested, but she yielded only one fertile embryo that lived. All six of her sons were used in artificial insemination (AI) to sire calves but none of her descendants achieved Ellen's huge milk-producing capacity.


How Ellen got to be the World Champion Cow
By Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historian

Harold and Norma Beecher and their eight children raised Ellen, a black and white cow that became world champion milk producer in 1975. To celebrate a luncheon was held in the Rochester High School cafeteria, sponsored by Dean's Milk, Curtis Breeding Service and Purdue University. Ellen's record stood for 17 years, until in 1992 another cow surpassed it.

To verify the milk records, testers came once a month to check results by watching the milking and weighing, usually 11 or 12 times a year to establish a true record. Purdue and Holstein Assn. did 21 tests in one year to verify Ellen's milk production. Now cows are tested every 60 days. Ellen's world record stood for 17 years, and then along came Tullando Royalty Maxima, of Oxford, New Hampshire, who broke the record in 1992. The record has been broken seven times since. Today the world record is held by a North Carolina cow, LA-Foster Blacketor Lucy with 75,275 pounds of milk in 1998. Later records were not verified as closely as Ellen's.

Dr. Jack Albright, Purdue Univeristy, worked with the record keepers and built up a collection of materials about Ellen. He donated materials and a video of Ellen to the Fulton County Museum. Albright recently gave a talk in Japan on the Behavior of the High Yielding Cow. When he retired in 1996, he donated boxes of Ellen materials to the School of Veterinary Medicine Library at Purdue University.

Harold and Norma Beecher have eight children: Stan, Fort Wayne; Steve, Brattleboro, Vermont; Susan, 
Indianapolis; Sherry, Cleveland, Ohio; Scott, Howe, Ind.; Shirley, Logansport; Paul, Bluffton; and Pat, 
Valparaiso. All have become professionals and succeeded in their chosen careers, which may explain why the Beechers have only four grandchildren.

Only one son continues work with cows and milk production. Steve Beecher works for Holstein Association USA, a registration organization for Holstein breeders, located at Brattleboro, Vermont. I called Steve to get his memories of Ellen and more detailed information on Holstein records. He recalled that thousands of visitors came to see Ellen from all six continents: North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. 
Beechers kept guest books for them to sign. The US government once brought gricultural attaches from 23 countries, and they ate box lunches at Beecher's. Another time a German group made a video of Ellen to show on Germany's TV.

Steve said Ellen was like part of the family. She liked visitors but did not get along well with other cows, being a "boss cow." She had an enormous appetite and seemed to eat 20 hours a day. The Beecher boys spent a lot of time carrying feed and water by hand to Ellen. She would knock other cows away from the feed so they put her in a box stall by herself. Every day Ellen was put out in a two-acre old apple orchard by herself to graze. Ellen loved apples, the only treat she was allowed. She was led by halter to the milking parlor, a real family pet.

Steve said they never really put a price on Ellen, but she was valued at six figures or more. Estimating her value is difficult because the value of a champion milk producer depends in part on her ability to produce embryos resulting in many salable offspring. Because Ellen did not produce embryos or daughters, she was not able to reach full potential in that way.

Ellen's mother, Elsie, was the first purebred cow Beechers ever owned. Ellen was sired by artificial 
insemination (AI), by Bob Bridge, Rochester, who operated his own Curtis AI service. Elsie was hard to breed and had to have several services before she got pregnant, but Bob kept trying and used semen from the same bull every time. This is unusual because after a few times of the AI not taking, they usually switch to another bull. The cost of the AI service was $18 for semen and $6 for the service, for a total of $24 each time. Repeat services were $3 less. While considered costly for the time, Bob's persistence and belief in the potential of this mating proved prophetic. Ellen was the fourth calf born to Elsie. Steve says that Ellen was a genetic freak because of the many unusual things in her make-up but his father maintains that Ellen was no freak, just a fortunate set of circumstances. Whichever the case, over a billion potential genetic combinations exist from any bovine mating as each parent contributes 30 chromosome pairs.

The Beechers built a new dairy barn for their herd of 65 cows and 65 young, which included Ellen and her half sister Valerie. Unlike Ellen, Valerie produced several heifer calves and embryos, which were sold. Durng her fourth year, Ellen was placed in a special box stall in out of the flies and heat. Ellen's daily behavior was recorded and studied, such things as her greatest feeding period was 3 a.m. to 11 a.m., she shut her eyes only 30 minutes a day, had an even temperament and was not upset by intruders, she was a dominate or boss cow, and had minimal investigative behavior, or in other words, was not nosey. In one 24-hour period Ellen consumed hay 13 times, grain 12 times; straw 2 times; water 7 times; and mineralized salt 5 times. She spent 7 hours and 30 minutes ruminating or chewing her cud. Of the 14 hours lying, 8 hours were lying on her right side and 6 hours on her left side.

When a cow is flushed to get the eggs, they may get one to 50 eggs at a time. A cow can be flushed every month for eggs. First the cow is artificially inseminated, and after seven days, the flushing is done to get fertilized eggs (embryos) that can be grown in vitro and then implanted in other cows. In that way, a cow that produces high quantities of milk can have her genetics multiplied many times more than just by having one pregnancy a year, which is the normal course of events. The gestation period for dairy cattle is approximately 285 days.

Ellen was flushed about 20 times but the harvested eggs were unfertile except for one. Ellen's last calf was born breach, which means back feet first, a bull calf, but during the birth Ellen's cervix was torn. So she was not bred again. Her one egg that proved viable was a bull and was contracted to a Japanese AI company, but it had an umbilical hernia. It was surgically repaired but the Japanese could not take the bull because of their government's ban on imports of animals which had experienced hernias.

As time passed Ellen got old. She got gray hairs all over the black spots. She developed kidney problems and eventually could not stand. So the Beechers had veterinarian Richard Sommers, Silver Lake, to come and put 
her to sleep. She died March 17, 1984. Milt Thousand came with his backhoe to dig the grave. Ellen was 
buried near the road in the Beecher's yard, near the sign that stood there proclaiming her to be the World Champion Cow.

Today Ellen still lies in an unmarked grave in front of the former Beecher home, now owned by Amish farmers, east of the Amish one-room school and the Mt. Zion bridge. Maybe someday someone will place a historical marker there or at the Mt. Zion bridge. Meanwhile Ellen is remembered by a big picture in the meeting room of the Fulton County Museum, recently donated by Harold and Norma Beecher. There is a drawer full of memorabilia collected by FCHS, the Beechers and Dr. Jack Albright. This includes studies that record such details as that cows eating with their heads in the downward position produce 17% more saliva than cows eating with head held horizontally, which directly influences the efficiency of ruminal functions and probably increases milk production. These studies were to find information to help farmers do things to produce more milk. Evidently, it is working because the U.S. has fewer cows and dairies producing more milk than a larger number of cows did years ago. In 1951 Fulton County had many dairy herds; the size averaged seven and a half cows. Today Fulton County has bigger and fewer dairy farms, maybe as few as ten.

The big blue silo at the former Beecher farm still has the words in white letters: HOME OF ELLEN, BEECHER HOLSTEINS, a reminder of when the black and white cow lived there and set the world record a quarter of a cenntury ago.











Rochester's Giant Bear Gets Famous
By Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historian

Only one Giant Short-faced Bear skeleton has been found in Indiana, and that is the one unearthed south of Rochester on west of Nyona Lake on Chet Williams' farm. It has become well-known in scientific circles because it was the biggest most-nearly complete skeleton of a Giant Short-faced Bear found in America.

Since unearthed in 1967, Rochester's Giant Short-faced Bear has been studied by many scientists, painted by artists, written up in various magazines and scientific journals, and is now exhibited in three museums! The original bones are in the Field Museum, Chicago. The new Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis, and the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, have casts made of the bones.

Rochester's famous giant bear is seen and/or mentioned on several web sites.

But it had never been in the Rochester Sentinel nor did hardly anyone in Fulton County know about the giant bear. It has indeed been Rochester's best-kept secret. And a monstrous secret it was, labeled by many scientists as an Ice Age Super Predator!

An article about the big bears of Indiana was published in Outdoor Indiana in 1983, and the author, Ron 
Richards, described the bones in drawers in the Field Museum, but he did not mention they were from 

In 2000 I was contacted by a school teacher, Franklin Snocker, Scottsbluff, Nebraska. He asked what I knew about Rochester's Giant Short-faced Bear so I xeroxed what I had, a single South Bend Tribune article in 1987, and sent it to him. He send me two packets of information on the bear from books and web sites. One thing he was looking for was a book entitled: Giant Short-faced Bear, Arctodus simus remains from Fulton County, Indiana.

A few weeks ago I called Ron Richards at the Indiana State Museum to inquire about the mastodon bones there. He said they made a cast of Rochester's Giant Short-faced Bear and it is exhibited in the new museum. The cast was made by Field Museum for $35,000. He has a copy of that book we were looking for about the Giant Short-faced Bear from Fulton County and sent me a xerox copy for the Fulton County Museum. In fact, Richards is the author. I sent Snocker a copy and he gratefully sent me six more packets of material about our famous giant bear to share with local schools. Any teachers or students interested in the Giant Short-faced Bear are welcome to contact me at home at 223-2352 or the Fulton County Museum.

The Yukon Beringia Interpretative Centre and Museum in Canada also paid $35,000 for a cast of Rochester's Giant Short-faced Bear. I brought up their web page and emailed them to ask why they wanted a cast of this bear when they already had others. John Storer, paleontologist for the Yukon government, answered, "Because the Rochester specimen is the best preserved specimen and is a relatively large individual. Alaska and Yukon haven't produced anything as complete, though we do have some odds and ends of large individuals." He told that they had a taxidermist make a fleshed-out version of the giant short-faced bear for a diorama. An artist did a painting of the bear. If you look at the, you can see Rochester's famous bear.

There are no Giant Short-faced Bears alive in the world today. What made them die off? The evolution theory poses the ice age as the killer of the giant bears, elephants, elks, ground sloths, beavers, and other beasts that were much bigger than today's versions. But all the religions of the world state that a world-wide flood was the cause. Which is more logical, water or ice? You will have to judge for yourself, as scientists, historians and clergy argue back and forth.

Whatever killed them off, we know this much. The skeletons are all located near sources of water or formerly muddy places that dried up after tile was used to drain the county's low areas in the early 1900s. Did the huge aniimals get bogged down in quick sand or mud and, unable to get out, die a slow death of starvation or suffocation?

An interesting idea on what caused the extinction of the Giant Short-faced Bear is found on Texas Park & Wildlife Department's web page: a theory that man invented the atlatl to protect himself from this fearsome mega-predator. An atlatl or throwing stick was a shaft or carved stick which enabled man to throw a sharp stick or arrow with greater force at a longer distance. With it he could kill the buffalo and other beasts that were much bigger and stronger than he was. For thousands of years the Giant Short-faced Bear had raided man's villages and had easy picking. But with the atlatl, man gained the advantage and the last Giant Short-faced Bear died about 8,000 years ago.

There is an Indiana Atlatl Society, with a web page on the Internet. I contacted them and invited them to come to demonstrate the atlatl at the Trail of Courage. Since that is the same weekend as their major atlatl-throwing contest in Evansville, they probably won't get here in September. Don Fisher, a former volunteer at Conner Prairie, said he would come to the Redbud Trail Rendezvous to teach how to make and throw atlatls.


Memorial to Jim Talbott

Jim Talbott - Kewanna's loss to Viet Nam

By Shirley Willard

James F. Talbott, Kewanna,
died in Viet Nam in 1969.
James Franklin Talbott died in Viet Nam, Kewanna's only soldier not to return home from that conflict.
We called him Jimmy. I was his teacher 1960-66 at Kewanna School and as class sponsor took them
on their senior trip. I remember him as a very good basketball player - he was often listed among the
top scorers in Loganland. His senior year he had an average of 18.7. I remember his beautiful
handwriting - very important to an English teacher like me. And I called him Diego in Spanish class.
He was not an A student but he was always well behaved and he tried hard. He was well coordinated,
hence the good handwriting and basketball throwing.

How does "the little town with a big heart" recall its fallen hero? They built a Veterans of Foreign Wars
post and named it for him. They did bingo and dinners for fund raising and then volunteers did most
of the construction work. Paul "Bud" Weller suggested the name. Inside are plaques with his picture
and these words:

Cpl James F. Talbott, Co. B 5th/46th Battalion. 198 Brigade. Born July 22, 1948 - Died in Viet Nam

Aug. 6, 1969.

James F. Talbott VFW Post No. 1121 chartered May 18, 1972.

Ladies Aux. chartered Jan. 7, 1973.

I traveled back to Kewanna recently to talk to Jim's mother, Ruth Talbott. Down through the years I have often thought about him, and when we visited Washington, D.C., in 2005, Bill and I looked up Jimmy's name. As his class sponsor, I guided them in making money for their Senior Trip. Of course, Bill 
helped pop the corn for the ball games, and since most of the KHS Class of 66 was boys, he had to do the bed check during the trip to Gettysburg, New York and D.C. So we have many good memories of that group and Jimmy.

Ruth recalled that Jimmy weighed five pounds and eleven ounces when he was born in the Plymouth hospital. He had a problem with stomach muscles not closed so food came back up, but he took pills for 15 days and the problem cleared up.

When Jimmy was a youngster, the family lived in Kewanna and Jim delivered the Indianapolis Star.
They moved to the country when Jim was a freshman. Jim worked on nearby farms putting up hay
for Russell Koebcke and others. He liked to be outdoors. They lived on a hill on the Tamarack Road
east of Kewanna.

Jimmy had two younger sisters: Linda and Nancy. Nancy was eight years younger than Jimmy and
they were especially close. He got her a basketball suit and they played together at their outside
hoop. He bought her a BB gun too and taught her to shoot it. Nancy played in the Girls Basketball
team in 1975 but that was after Jim was killed.

After graduating from Kewanna High School, Jim attended Anderson College for one semester but
quit to help at home because his father developed a heart condition. He said he wanted his sisters
to have 12 years of school without having to worry about money. He got a job at Winamac Coil
Springs and gave his pay check to his mother every week.

1966 Loganland Basketball All-Stars

Front from left: Rich Hood, Winamac; John Maudlin, Caston; Steve Norris, Rochester;
Jim Talbott, Kewanna; Al Hendrickson, Frontier. Back row: Norm Newell, Pioneer, Neil Adams,
Logansport: Bruce Zabst, Caston; Tom Zellers, Logansport; Mike Albers, Logansport.  Ruth was a cook at Kewanna school for four years and then worked at Winamac Coil Springs for 28 years. The factory foreman, Alvin Parrish, said Jim never once went out the driveway fast, throwing gravel, like so many others of his age did.

Another good report Ruth recalled was from Judd Crabill. He and his wife had just returned from Florida and were eating in the Kewanna restaurant. Jim was there with his buddies but  he came over to the Crabills and shook hands and said he was glad to see them again.

After graduating from KHS, Jim helped other Kewanna kids by teaching them basketball. One time he talked till midnight in the Kewanna gym to straighten out a troubled kid.

Jim liked to have a late snack with his friends and his mother would cook for them before she went to bed, making a roast or fried chicken or tacos. Tacos were new as a food in Indiana then but Jim loved them. Kenny Robbins and Jeff Moore and other class mates would come over to eat and chat with Jim. One time they ate five dozen tacos!

Someone at work called Jim a 4-F-er because he was classified as 4-F because of his father's heart condition and therefore not eligible for the draft. This remark made Jim upset and angry. So Jim enlisted and took basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Then he was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. He came home for Christmas before being sent overseas. The night before he left home to go to Viet Nam, classmate Michele Corbett gave a going- away party for him at her apartment in Logansport. Attending were Kenny Robbins, Markeeta Conrad and husband Nick Klinefelter, and others. Markeeta was a 1966 classmate too, and had once had a date with Jim. She said he was very shy and well mannered. She recalled that Jim told them at the party that he was scared to death about going to Viet Nam.

He was sent to Viet Nam in January, 1969. In April he got a bullet in his leg but the medics took it out and he was sent back in to fight.

I read all of his letters from Fort Lewis, Washington, and from Viet Nam. In about the first letter from Nam he wrote that the cookies and nut bread his mother sent were moldy, the fudge no longer good so please send him canned fruit from on.

Later letters thanked them for sending cans of spaghetti and meat balls, tomato soup, and Slim Jim jerky. He wrote of rainy nights in the jungle, sleeping in a poncho on the ground.

On July 5, 1969, he wrote: "We were out in the jungle working for eight days.  Boy, was it ever a bitch out there. We were penned down for three days. We couldn't even get in supplys. We had three heliocopters shot down. We had ten guys who got shot in the leg or arm. We had only enough food to get one meal a day. But we went without food for a three day period. Also we had new men coming out to join us but three of them got shot. Once they couldn't land them on the ground. We had three companys working
together. In one of these other companys, we got four GI killed and three wounded." Jim was counting off the days until they could "stand down" and rest at base camp.

On July 18 he wrote "If you are wondering why this paper is kind of dirty, well its because of the heat making my hand sweat like hell. Boy, you don't realize how nice it is back home. When you can lay down and watch TV and go and get a cold glass of milk, a cold soda. Get 3 hot meals a day. And one thing else, when I get back. That is driving every where you go. So you can see that I don't plan on walking too much when I get back. Well, I am sitting on a hill. It is 7:45 p.m. just enough light to write for a while. We will spend the night here this hill, then move at 6:00 a.m."

In another letter he mentioned that he was paid $201.00 a month. "When I get home, I just want to stay in Kewanna. I don't really care about going any place else. There aint no place like home sweet home." (For historic comparison, a private in the Korean War was paid $113 a month. In World War II a private was paid $41 plus $15 overseas pay, plus 10% if in war zone, which would amount to about $60 a
month. Today in the Iraq War a private is paid $1,534 plus $225 a month if in danger zone, and tax free in a combat area.)

On August 9, 1969, Ruth and Si received a white Bible from Jim as a present for their 23rd anniversary. They did not know it but he had been killed on August 6. They got the word the next day August 10. Ruth had gone to the Kewanna Methodist Church. The Army officer came to their house and Si went with him
to find Ruth at church and tell her. But Ruth went out the other door to go to her mother, Goldie Hamman's house, so they missed her. The minister Rev. Leroy Wise went with them and they told her the sad news at her mother's house. Every day they received a telegram from the government announcing
his death - a yellow taxi delivered it. This continued for several days.

Jim had been in Viet Nam just seven months and was making plans to take R&R (rest and recreation) in Hawaii in a few days. He was point man on a patrol and was shot in the head, the bullet entering his forehead and exiting by the right ear. When the officer came in September to give them Jim's medals, he said they (the Army) had made a mistake, that a man who wore glasses was not supposed to lead a patrol because light might reflect off his glasses and be a target for the enemy. This made Si very angry and bitter.

The funeral was August 16 at the Kewanna Methodist Church. The casket had a glass top, the same as presidents are buried in. Ruth said they were given the option to get a different casket but decided to keep him in that one because she did not to disturb him. The government paid the Talbotts $10,000 for 
death benefit, and supplied the casket and metal plaque for the tombstone. Talbotts paid for the lot, burial, funeral home and tombstone.

The family was given Jim's billfold and other personal items. Ruth and Si had given him a $2 bill and his grandmother Goldie had given him a silver dollar but they were both gone. His watch was stopped at 5:20 p.m., the time he was killed. Also among his things was a photo album. Jim told his mother that his best buddy was a black man named William Shields. His picture was in the album.

The Army chaplain wrote to Ruth and told of counseling Jim several times. Jim said he had been taught not to kill but the chaplain told him that he had to kill to defend himself.

Ruth and Si were so distraught that grief was making them sick. Their doctor advised them to move to a different house to get away from the memories. So they moved back into Kewanna in November.

Still Ruth continued to have sad dreams every night, asking God over and over why Jimmy had to die. One night, she is not sure if she dreamed it or if she actually heard a knock on the door and got up to answer it. Jimmy was there and she exclaimed, "How did you find us since we moved?"

He said, "Mom, I came to tell you that I am so happy in a beautiful place and I don't want you to grieve any more."

It has been 38 years and Ruth has not had any more dreams. She is able to tell the story without crying. Just hearing it made me all choked up.

Rick Weller, president of the class of 66, served two years in Viet Nam. After attending college for one semester, Rick joined the Marines. On patrols he was the radio operator so he was back three or four men from the point man. He was about 30 miles from Jim when he was killed. Rick was in Da Nang and
Jim was in Chu Lai, which was a hotter area (more battles). Rick and Jim wrote back and forth but did not see each other in Viet Nam. Rick said the last time he saw Jim was at a basketball game at the Aubbeenaubbee School gym. He envied Jim's natural abilities - he was a superstar in all sports. Rick learned of Jim's death from a letter from his mother (Barb Gast) - the sad news hit him like a ton of bricks. Rick came through Viet Nam ok. Barb flew to Hawaii to visit him during his R&R. It still grieves Rick that Jim never got back home.  "I didn't have the guts to go see the Viet Nam wall but I sent my wife and kids to make etchings." A few days later Rick called me to say he had found a news clipping from the Sentinel May 18, 1961. It has a picture of Kewanna's junior high 440 relay team all smiles for the photographer after establishing a new record at the Fulton county track meet. The quartet
circled the oval in 56.6 seconds to crack the mark of 57.2 seconds set by Richland Center in 1960. Pictured were Al McPherson, Kenny Robbins, Ricky Weller and Jim Talbott. I went to the museum and made a copy of the picture from the original Sentinel. I remember those kids at that age, so short and cute, before they all got taller than me, their English and history teacher.

Marvin Good, another class of 66 member, recalled once during a basketball game that Rick Weller said "We are getting way behind. How can we win this game?" Jim immediately spoke up with "We just gotta make more points."

Kenny Robbins, class of 1966, was a good friend of Jim's. Ken's bachelor party was held the night before Jim was killed. Ken's wedding took place Aug. 9 and word had not yet been received of Jim's death. Ken learned about Jim's death when his mother called him on his honeymoon. Ken recalled many happy 
times with Jim: playing basketball and baseball and track, running relays. When Dean Day was coach, the players got free milk shakes at the Kewanna drug store if they grabbed the basketball rim 20 times during practice. At the Marlow Inn, they got free hamburgers and French fries after a game, courtesy of 
various alumni. After graduation they played summer basketball for the Penguin Point team, coached by Jim's uncle, Charlie Talbott. They played outdoors in Riverside Park, Logansport. Jim wanted to be a catcher but they often put him as pitcher, where he excelled too. He was invited to try out for the Pittsburg Pirates and he was accepted. But they said he had to go to the farm club and Jim refused and came home. About that time is when he enlisted to go in the Army.

Tom Troutman, now an optometrist in Rochester, was in the same class with Jim and was best friends with him for a while. He recalled that everyone in Kewanna was best friends at one time or another. He and Jim used to stay overnight at each other's houses when in grade school. They would have a pick-up basketball  game with Ron McColley in McColley's garage or in Troutman's hayloft and Jim would always win. Jim was an outstanding athlete, the best natural athlete from Kewanna. He was very personable and friendly - everybody liked Jim. Tom was home from college for the summer when Jim was killed. He and his father went to see Jim's parents and she showed them some of Jim's letters. Jim wrote that
he doubted that he would make it home alive. They were told that the point man on a Search and Destroy Mission lasted only a few days so they took turns being the point man.

When John Hott, another classmate of Jim's, was asked about Jim, he immediately said Jim was his best friend. The Hotts lived on a dairy farm northeast of Kewanna and as soon as John was finished milking cows, he drove to school, picking Jim up every day.

Don Cowles, another class of 1966, recalled Jim as his best friend from the time they were kids in grade school. They used to carry their baseball mitts on the handlebars of their bikes all summer and played in Howard Zeller's yard. At that time Jim lived across the street from the Catholic Church. One time
(after they had graduated) Don and Jim went for a ride with John Seidel and got the idea to drive on the ice across Bruce Lake. They got about 25 feet and the car sank. After 41 years Don recently told me what they did on the senior trip that I had never heard before. Don and Jim slipped out of the Radio City Music Hall and went to Greenwich Village on their own. They had their roommates put pillows in their beds to look like they were there asleep to fool Bill when he came to do the bed check at midnight.

Before he left for the Army, Jim told Don he wished he had not enlisted. Don was at Kenny Robbins' bachelor party and so was Si Talbott. But they had not received notice yet of Jim's death. It was such a shock to the whole community. "Jim is my hero," stated Don. "He was always a good kid and so talented, so competitive in sports. We all miss him."

Another classmate, Marsha Agnew Tomerlin, recalled that she was taller than the boys in Junior High and Jim would ask, "Will I ever catch up with Marsha?"  Of course, he did in high school. She stated, "Jim knew he didn't have to go but he sacrificed his life for his country. We must never forget but always tell our children and be grateful."


Ruth Talbott loaned me all of Jim's letters and Army papers and photos, which I copied for a scrapbook to be placed in the Fulton County Museum. Anyone who has pictures or letters they wish to donate to this scrapbook, please bring copies to the museum, open Monday - Saturday 9 to 5. Or mail to Shirley 
Willard, 3063 S 425 E, Rochester IN 46975. My phone is 574-223-2352 and I would love to hear from my former Kewanna students and people who knew Jim. I will add your memories to this if you wish. The Sentinel published a condensed version of the above story on May 26, 2007.






















About Shirley Willard

About Shirley WillardShirley Willard moved to Rochester in 1941 when she was five years old. She got interested in history while sitting on a bale of hay listening to the old farmers talk. Shegrew up on a farm in the Mt. Zion neighborhood south of Rochester and attended Woodrow Grade School, graduating from Rochester High School in 1955, Manchester College in 1959 and a MA from Ball State in 1966. She taught English, history, Spanish and journalism for 14 years. She was a charter member of Fulton County Historical Society, and was the first secretary in 1963. She served as FCHS president 1971-2001, spearheading the building of the Fulton County Museum, Round Barn Museum and Living History Village called Loyal, Indiana. She founded the Trail of Courage Living History Festival in 1976. She is a writer and has written, edited and published books and newsletters for FCHS, its Genealogy Section, Indian Awareness Center, Historical Power Assn., and Potawatomi Trail of Death Assn. She continues to volunteer as a writer for FCHS and as Fulton County Historian.

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