Week 27: #52 Ancestors – Independence
By Eilene Lyon
In my story about Emma Jenkins, I detailed some of the events leading to the downfall of my great-great-grandfather, Robert Ransom. The more I discover about the Ransom family, the more I find a humongous, convoluted soap opera.
I’m not sure if these people were crazy, crooked, unlucky, or some combination thereof. It’s certain that Robert Ransom’s older brother, William Clark Ransom, was a bit shady.
Robert Ransom (1830 – 1883) seems to have been committed to family, and also to his religion. Like his father-in-law, Henry Z. Jenkins, he was a member of the Methodist Episcopal church, having become a lay preacher in Blackford County, Indiana.1
Robert was a successful businessman, but in the early 1870s he and his brothers, William and Bazel B. (“B.B.”), began trading lots of real estate.2 Many of the swaps were between themselves and other family members. All were highly leveraged. It appears to have been an attempt to artificially inflate the value of the land.
Then, the three brothers bought a bank in Hartford City, Blackford County, Indiana.3 The real estate market tanked in 1879, and their real estate debts doomed them. William seems to have extricated himself before the crash. Robert and B.B. were left holding the bag.
From all I have found, I would have to say that Robert and B.B. were essentially good guys, but under the sway of their older brother. I could be wrong, but they appear to have been genuinely liked and respected in Blackford County, and they suffered many tragedies within their immediate families.
After the bank went under, and the lawsuits began, the three brothers sought new horizons. William went to Michigan. Robert and B.B. headed to Independence, Kansas. They already had a sister and brother-in-law living there, Dr. Moses S. and Mary A. Stahl.4 Those two have some interesting tales, but that will be for another time.
Robert and B.B. opened a dry goods and grocery store in Independence in late 1880 or early 1881.5 It was a quick success. They took on relatives and friends as business partners and continued to grow, expanding to Cherryvale and Elk Falls. Robert’s family, Emma and the children, moved to Kansas in early 1881.6 In all, seven of Robert’s siblings eventually lived in southeast Kansas in the early 1880s.
The Ulmer House, oldest remaining residence in Independence, Kansas. Robert Ransom likely visited this home during his short time there.
Independence was founded in 1869 on land purchased from the Osage Indians.7 It was a new frontier town, much like the Ransom’s home, Trenton, had been back in 1836. There was opportunity and that was like catnip to the Ransom family.
These people (not just the men, mind you), could detect the whiff of ripe pickings an ocean or continent away. And they knew how to pluck them.
Robert Ransom was quick to adapt to his new community, serving as a substitute preacher, a member of the Masons, and supporting the Freedman’s Relief Association, an organization dedicated to helping homeless, but hard-working, blacks to find a home in southern Kansas.8
Downtown Independence in 2012. The two buildings comprising Big Cheese existed in the time Robert Ransom lived there.
His death on February 1, 1883 came suddenly.9 He contracted pneumonia, reportedly after serving jury duty during inclement weather.
Bazel died a few years later. He suffered from tuberculosis for several years. In the summer of 1886, he went to Michigan on a couple occasions to stay with his brother, Dr. William C. Ransom, despite the fact that he had two younger brothers in Kansas who were also physicians.10
Bazel’s end came on September 1, 1886, at the home of his sister and brother-in-law (and business partner), Harriet and Joseph Landon.11 Both Robert and B.B. are buried in Mount Hope Cemetery. Both were 52 years old when they died.
And that is how Robert Ransom ended up (literally) in Independence, Kansas.
Feature image: Headstone with Masonic symbol for Robert Ransom in Mount Hope Cemetery, Independence, Kansas. (E. Lyon 2012). Note: the headstone is heavily tilted to the left, but the ground is level. The photograph compensates for the tilting stone for legibility.
- Shroyer, Mary. 1972. History of the Millgrove United Methodist Church. Family History Library collection, Salt Lake City, Utah. ↩
- I collected numerous deeds from the Blackford County Courthouse deed books in Hartford City, Indiana, 2017. ↩
- Beeson, Cecil. “Bits of Pioneer History: A Pioneer Banking House.” Undated clip from The News (Hartford City, IN), collected by Beeson and bound in book form at the Allen County Library, Fort Wayne, IN. ↩
- “Main Street Hotel” South Kansas Tribune (Independence, Kansas), October 18, 1882, p. 4. Downloaded from Newspapers.com. ↩
- “Messrs. Ransom” South Kansas Tribune, November 17, 1880, p. 3. Downloaded from Newspapers.com. ↩
- “List of Pupils” South Kansas Tribune, March 30, 1881, p. 2. Downloaded from Newspapers.com. ↩
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independence,_Kansas ↩
- “Freedman’s Relief Association” South Kansas Tribune, July 6, 1881, p. 4. Downloaded from Newspapers.com. ↩
- “Died. Ransom.” South Kansas Tribune, February 7, 1883, p. 3. ↩
- “B.B. Ransom” Independence Daily Reporter, August 23, 1886, p. 4. Downloaded from Newspapers.com. ↩
- “Mr. B. B. Ransom” Independence Daily Reporter, September 1, 1886, p. 4. Downloaded from Newspapers.com ↩