How It All Went Wrong

Week 12: #52Ancestors – Misfortune

By Eilene Lyon

By all measures, my cousin Orville Bodtker was a very unlucky young man in World War II. But I think for sheer, unrelenting misfortune, I have to turn to the story of my great-great-grandparents, Robert Ransom and Emma Jenkins, the parents of Clara Pearl Ransom.

Robert was born 11 Nov 1830 in Belmont County, Ohio, the second child of James Ransom and Elizabeth Anderson.1 The Ransoms moved to undeveloped Blackford County, Indiana, in 1836, when Robert was five.2

Emma Jenkins was born 24 Aug 1835 in Springboro, Ohio, the fourth child born to Henry Zane Jenkins and Abigail Bedford.3 Emma was just two when the Jenkins family moved to Jay County, Indiana, in 1837.4 Though they were in different counties, the Ransom and Jenkins families were just a few miles apart, on either side of the county line.

Three of the Ransom children married three of the Jenkins children. The first marriage was between Robert’s older brother, William, and Emma’s older sister, Ann, in 1850.5

Robert and William Ransom went to California during the gold rush and due to lack of funds and a poor choice in transportation, it took them eight months to get from Indiana to San Francisco.6 Despite that inauspicious start, Robert and William did find some financial success out west, mostly by farming, not mining.

Robert headed home to Emma in January 1855, carrying part of his money in a money belt, and sending the remainder by Adams Express – just in time for the collapse of Adams Express in the wake of a banking scare.7 This was the first of the misfortunes.

Robert and Emma were married that March.8 They had planned to go to California, but Emma was pregnant, and Robert’s parents needed him at home. With the help of Henry Jenkins, Robert established a store at the Trenton, Indiana, crossroads.9 He engaged in several businesses, according to daughter Clara, and was generally successful. He was also a lay preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church and by all accounts a moral man.

Emma gave birth to their first child, James Henry Ransom, on 23 Dec 1855.10 Three daughters followed in quick succession, one every two years. Then scarlet fever came around in February 1862, taking all three little girls in the space of a month.11

RansomJamesHenry - age 7 - A - Jeri661

James Henry Ransom, age 7 (1863). Courtesy of Jeri661 on

Emma and Robert buried seven of their thirteen children as infants or toddlers, including a set of fraternal twins in 1866.12

In the 1870s, Robert sold his business interests and bought a bank in Hartford City along with his younger brother, Bazel. William was part of the venture for a time, but somehow managed to extricate himself before the fall.13

The three brothers began speculating in real estate, leveraging their purchases with large mortgages. On 19 May 1879, their rash investing behavior came back to bite them and they were forced to close the bank.14 Lawsuits began in earnest, as Robert and Bazel’s creditors began calling in their notes. The properties securing them could not be sold to cover the debts.15 Robert and Emma lost everything.

Fleeing the disaster they’d created, Robert and Bazel moved their families to Kansas; William moved to Michigan. Robert went into the mercantile business with his brothers-in-law in Independence. He seemed to be putting his life back together, though the lawsuits back in Indiana continued.

In January 1883, Robert was called to jury duty in Independence. Reportedly caught outdoors during a storm during this service, he came down with pneumonia. Days later, on 1 Feb, he was dead at age 52.16 Emma was left with three minor children to rear on her own. Even after Robert’s death, she continued to be a defendant in the Indiana lawsuits. Emma eventually moved to Moscow, Idaho, following her son, Arthur, who worked for the railroad. She still had two minor children at the time, Fred and Clara.

In 1899, Emma’s daughter, Emma Louella Hockett, died in Kansas, leaving two small children.17 Emma went to Kansas and brought her grandchildren to Idaho to bring up. But shortly after, she fell victim to a stroke and Clara had to take responsibility for the children.

Emma Jenkins Ransom’s hard life came to an end from complications of her stroke on 5 Feb 1902, nineteen years after the death of her husband.18


Emma Jenkins Ransom about 1897. Courtesy Special Collections Library, University of Idaho


Feature image: Clara Pearl Ransom and Emma Jenkins Ransom on their porch in Moscow, Idaho, about 1900. Courtesy of the Special Collections Library, University of Idaho.

  1. Date on gravestone for Robert Ransom in the Mount Hope Cemetery, Independence, Kansas. 
  2. Shinn, Benjamin G. 1900. Biographical Memoirs of Blackford County, Ind. p. 273. 
  3. Date on gravestone for Emma Ransom in the Moscow Cemetery, Moscow, Idaho. 
  4. Admittance of Abigail Jenkins to the Whitewater Monthly Meeting on 28 Dec 1837. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. 
  5. Marriage of William C. Ransom and Ann J. Jenkins on 14 Feb 1850. Indiana, Marriages, 1810-2001 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. 
  6. Departure from Indiana imputed from Jenkins family gold rush letters (collection of author). Arrival in San Francisco on September 10, 1852: Passenger list of the Archibald Gracie, Daily Alta California, 11 Sept 1852, page 2. 
  7. “One Week Later From California” Richmond Weekly Palladium (Richmond, Indiana) · 23 Mar 1855, Fri · Page 2. Downloaded from on 15 Feb 2018. 
  8. Marriage of Robert Ransom and Emma Jenkins, 1 Mar 1855. Jay County, Indiana; Index to Marriage Records 1850 – 1920 Inclusive Vo, W. P. A Original Record Located County Clerk’s Off; Book: C-B; Page: 221. 
  9. Jenkins family gold rush letters (collection of author). 
  10. California, Death Index, 1940-1997 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000. 
  11. Family records compiled by Clare Ransom Davis. 
  12. Ibid. 
  13. Delaware County Circuit Court, Feb 1876. Jesse H. Dowell, Ebenezer T. Chaffie, Robert Ransom, Boyit [sic] B. Ransom, William C. Ransom (doing business as Hartford City Bank) v. Charles A. Harper. 
  14. Costello, Sinuard. Van Cleve diary transcription (unpublished). Blackford County Historical Society, Hartford City, Indiana. Numerous real estate transactions were recorded in Blackford County for the Ransoms in the 1870s. 
  15. Numerous lawsuits recorded in Blackford County court docket records. 
  16. Obituary for Robert Ransom. South Kansas Tribune, 7 Feb 1883, page 3. 
  17. Web: Kansas, Find A Grave Index, 1854-2012 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. 
  18. Family records compiled by Clare Ransom Davis. 

17 thoughts on “How It All Went Wrong

Add yours

    1. Emma grew up in abject poverty and was no stranger to hard work, but it’s hard to imagine losing so many children, everything you’ve worked for and then your husband, too. And both her parents died just prior to that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed. My family all seems to near the 100 mark before dying, and stay pretty healthy all the way through. It is nice to live without losing a child. Or seven! Wow. That is tough.

        Liked by 1 person

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