The Lewis and Parsons family in Jewell County, Kansas

After the Civil War, Jewell County, Kansas, centered in the middle of the state along the Nebraska border, a beautiful county with a rolling prairie, attracted hardy pioneers. The Lewis family pioneered in Burr Oak in the 1870’s-1880’s, led by Tom in 1870 and Cal in 1871. The Parsons family moved to Montrose in about 1894-5. As the families grew, Hazel Lewis, Cal and Belle’s next to youngest child, married Ralph Parsons, an up-and-coming young teacher and banker, oldest son of Lew and Letta Parsons, on 12 July 1916. He had become a banker in 1915 at the Burr Oak State Bank. Soon he was promoted to the Republic Bank in Formosa, where both of their daughters were born, Jeanne in 1918 and Lindell in 1920. A few years later, Ralph was promoted to bank manager in Randall, a small town to the east of Montrose, just south of Hwy 36. There he and Hazel raised their girls until the sad day that the banks were closed and he lost his job, about 1933. After selling their home and moving to Superior, Nebraska for a year, Ralph borrowed $50 from his mother and he, Hazel, and the girls drove to Florida, to live near her sister Grace and Fred Myers, who was Ralph’s best friend. After Ralph died in 1973, I remember Uncle Fred turning to me and saying, “Ralph was the best friend I ever had.” In Florida they found relief for their wounded souls and began a new life with new work. Ralph was 42 when he started over selling insurance. Soon he was promoted and given an agency in Louisville, Kentucky. By then, his girls were in high school and they stayed with Grace & Fred to finish from West Palm Beach High School. Ralph & Hazel rented an apartment on South Third Street near the University of Louisville to allow their daughters to attend the University of Louisville. Jeanne graduated with a degree in Pipe Organ and Piano from the University of Louisville School of Music, while Lindell earned a BA in English with a teaching license.

Hazel’s parents Cal “C.E.” & Belle Lewis lived in Burr Oak on part of Cal’s original homestead. Ralph’s parents, Louis “LL or Lew” Parsons & Letta lived a few miles north of Montrose in Richland Township. Ralph attended elementary school at John’s Creek, in Mankato, and then he attended Normal School. Hazel attended Burr Oak
Elementary School and high school through grade 11. Ralph & Hazel first lived in Burr Oak; then Formosa, Randall, and later Superior, Nebraska.


Our family and the Burr Oak United Methodist Church 1873-2010

Burr Oak, Kansas United Methodist from SW 1.JPG

The Lewis and Riner families were among the
founders of the Burr Oak United Methodist Church,
which began in 1873.

[notice the symbolism of the Twelve and the Upper Room]

The Burr Oak United Methodist Church was founded
on June 28, 1873. The first class met in the upper room
of a local log cabin on that date. Of “the twelve,” our family
members were Thomas Lewis, brother of  our great-grandfather
Cal “CE” Lewis; Robert Richland Skeels [RR] and his wife
Susannah Riner Skeels. She was the sister of great-great
grandmother Mary Riner Clayton [mother of Belle].  Soon
they were joined by Harve J and Mary Skeels Grubbs,
[grandparents of Homer Lewis]. CS Pangborn [married
to Roseanna Riner, another of Mary’s sisters]. William and
Phoebe Lewis [Cal’s brother]. William Riner [Mary’s brother]
and his wife Jennie Lewis [Cal’s sister]. Cal also joined in the
1870’s. All these names were on the subscription list
which paid the minister’s salary [annual renewal].

Finally, one day I noticed this name on the subscription
list: Mrs. Clayton, 1886, and it dawned on me that she
was great-great grandmother Mary Riner Clayton, our
great-great grandmother from the Riner line, who moved
to Burr Oak in 1886 to be near her Riner sisters and brother
after her husband Ben Clayton passed away. Her daughter
Belle, a widow, came with her mother and her two small
daughters. Soon Belle she renewed her acquaintance with
Cal and our line began. As a little girl, Belle lived next door
to Cal and his first wife Milly; Cal’s property was next to our
progenitor Daniel Riner in Onarga, Illinois. Daniel, born in
1796 in Virginia, was the father of Mary, Susannah, Will,
Roseanna, and Hannah, along with others who died before
the family moved to Kansas. Cal was 21 years older than Belle,
but they had the happiest of marriages from 1886 until his
passing in 1928. [saddened only by the deaths of two of their
children, and one of hers, and one of his].

Over the decades, family members served as deacons,
taught Sunday School, sang in the choir, worked in the
Sunday School classes, served in the Ladies’ Aid Society,
and faithfully served the church until the doors were closed.
Our dear cousin Anna Belle McDonnel Grubbs was there as
the numbers dwindled down to 5 or 6, faithful until the end.

In 1870, following the death of his wife and son, Cal Lewis,
our great-grandfather went to Burr Oak, Kansas and made
a claim. He joined his older brother Thomas, who had arrived
the year before. Thomas had been taken prisoner during a raid
by the 9th Illinois Calvary in Tennessee and placed in the Libby
Prison for a time and then taken to the Andersonville Prison. He
was kept in the two prisons for nine months but was liberated
and received an honorable discharge from the army at the close
of the war.

Their brother William Lewis and his wife Phoebe, along
with their sister Jennie and her husband Will Riner, came
in September 1872 [some sources say 1871]. Cal, Tom, William,
and Will Riner, and their cousin Tom Miller had all served
together for three years with the 9th Illinois Calvary. Soon
Will Riner’s family began to join him: Susanah Riner & R R Skeels
came in March 1872. Cyrus Pangbourn and Roseanna Riner
came in March 1882. Hannah Riner and Jesse Drake arrived
in 1888.

After she was widowed, our gg-grandmother Mary
Riner Clayton also came to Burr Oak in 1886, along with her
daughter Belle Hunt Fry. Soon afterwards, on April 29, 1886, Cal
and Belle were married at her uncle’s home in New Bedford, Iowa.
Cal’s brother David stayed in Onarga, IL on the family claim. Cal’s
sister Sarah Lewis & Ben Brown also pioneered in Kansas, as did
Jacob Riner, Daniel’s oldest son. The Riner-Lewis-Miller-Pangbourn-
Skeels, Grubbs, and Drake family farms line two roads in Burr Oak
Township, out toward Otego and White Rock. All these  siblings
and cousins came to Kansas together and lived [and prospered]
on a line of farms in north-central Kansas.


Methodist Church

Great-Grandfather Cal Lewis’ Civil War Letter

When I was looking for something else, I finally found the copy
of this letter our great-grandfather Calvin Lewis wrote when
he was serving with the 9th Illinois Cavalry, Company M,
in the Civil War. He and his brothers signed up the same day,
November 20, 1861, and served until the end of the war
[well, Tom and Will languished in Libby Prison and then
Andersonville Prison until the end].  They were fighting in
Tennessee and got into a skirmish. Cal was knocked off of his horse
and rolled into the bushes. His brothers Tom and Will were captured.
Cal lived into his 80’s and Tom lived into his 90’s.
          After the war, all three brothers and some of their cousins
pioneered in Burr Oak, Jewell County, Kansas. In 1883, Will
and his family made a visit of several months to Onarga,
Illinois, their hometown, where Will suddenly became ill
and died. He was buried in the Onarga cemetery alongside
many friends and relatives. Some years ago, Lou Ann Hawkins Frogge,
our distant cousin and my genealogy partner, wrote to me, wondering
if I knew why Will had left his family in Kansas and seemingly
disappeared. She said they had no idea where he was buried or
what happened. Since I had studied the Onarga Cemetery records,
I knew he was buried there. It did not take us long to figure out
what really happened. She was then able to make a lovely page
for him on
            Anna Belle Grubbs, wife of Homer Lewis Grubbs,
Mama Jeanne’s first cousin, [son of Hazel “Dee Dee” Lewis Parsons’
sister Mattie Lewis Grubbs] sent me some of the old photo albums and
assorted pictures and letters. Among the pieces, I found a wadded
up letter, the size of a half dollar. When I unfolded it and pressed it out,
here was this letter Cal Lewis wrote to his sister Sarah. Some of
his delightful personality shines through and his comments about
“uncle abe” are fascinating. Near the end, he notes that he has
not heard from Tom or Will, but has heard talk they will be exchanged.
We knew Tom was in Andersonville as there are documented family
stories, but we didn’t know for certain about Will. However,
this letter is certainly evidence that he was a prisoner, too.
            On Facebook, there is a page called Descendants of
Andersonville Prison. The man who runs it has researched
it carefully and is gathering all the records he can. I sent
him a picture of Uncle Tom taken some years after the war,
which he has published on the page.
There is also a national park website
Roster of Company M, 9th Illinois Calvary

LEWIS, Calvary    private  Onarga  Nov 30 1861    Mustered out Dec 10, 1864

LEWIS, Thomas   private  Onarga  Nov 30, 1861   Mustered out Apr 24, 1865

LEWIS, William    private  Onarga  Nov 30, 1861   MO Jun 16, 1865 to date May 30, 1865

KISER, Samuel Veteran Onarga Mar 16, 1864 Disch, Apr 10, 1865; disabil.
KISER, Samuel Private Onarga Nov 30, 1861 Re-enlisted as Veteran
[Son of Elizabeth Starry, sister to Mary Starry Riner]
RINER, Jacob 2nd Lt. Onarga Nov 30, 1861 Resigned Mar 27, 1862 [he had dysentery very BAD]
[Son of Daniel and Mary Starry Riner]
RINER, William Private Onarga Nov 30, 1861 Mustered out Mar 11, 1865
[Son of Daniel and Mary Starry Riner,
married Jenny Lewis, sister of Cal, Will, and Tom]

Another family cousin, George Miller, was killed July 7, 1864 in battle at Jackson, Mississippi. [son of Cal’s aunt Elizabeth Lewis Miller]