A Frontier Hostess and Midwife

Week 3: #52 Ancestors – Unusual Name

By Eilene Lyon

How my great-great-grandmother, Meltha Lucinda, came by her name is a mystery. There is a place name “Meltha” in the Domesday book. It’s located in West Yorkshire and now known as “Meltham.”1 It’s not a particularly common name.2

One thing is clear: Meltha Lucinda Painter didn’t much care for it. She always went by “Lucy.”

Her Painter ancestry in America goes back to an English immigrant named John Painter, her 3rd great-grandfather. He settled in the Quaker community of Evesham, New Jersey, and married into the Braddock and Hancock families – notable early Quakers in America.3

Her parents, William W. Painter and Betsy Self, were born in Ohio and married in Greene County in March 1845.4 Lucy, their first child, came along in January 1846. Six siblings would follow.5

Lucy grew up in Winneshiek County, Iowa, where the Painters were the second white family to settle in the area.6 William’s primary occupation was miller in the county seat, Decorah, but he later settled on a farm in Highland Township next to the Robert Halse family.7 The “boy next door” was Richard “Dick” Halse, who’d been born in Northern Ireland.

Stitch15DATScans2 111-15DATScans2 112
Dick and Lucy Halse (left) with Will and Elizabeth (Halse) Casterton. (Courtesy W. Halse)

Dick looked like someone who could have starred in a movie Western (if he’d been born a century later). Lucy was a bit plain, but sturdy, and the two were married November 19, 1869 and remained together “‘til death did them part.”8 They had only two children: Hillard LeRoy (known as Roy) in 1872, and Ernest Guy Tresselyn (known as Guy) in 1873.

Roy had just two children, with his first wife, but Guy had eleven, so Lucy didn’t lack for grandchildren to dandle on her knee. Roy has an odd distinction. His second wife was first married to his son! Yep, he married his daughter-in-law (after his son’s death, it should be noted).9

Highlandville-BirdsEye
Highlandville, Winneshiek County, Iowa (Public domain)

Dick and Lucy Halse farmed on rental property in Winneshiek County until they migrated to Codington County, South Dakota, along with most of the Halses and some of the Painters. They acquired homestead land in Section 15 of Dexter Township.10

They hired a talented carpenter named Al Ramsey to construct a large boarding house in 1885, which became known as the Halse Half-Way House, because it was half-way between Watertown and Webster. In those pioneer days, travelers depended on the Halses for food and lodging, there being few other houses in the vicinity.11 In addition, their establishment served as post office, giving the “town” of Halse a place on the map for a short time.

HalfWayHouse
Half-Way House about 1975 (Courtesy of Watertown Historical Society Museum)

Lucy was an excellent cook and also served as the local midwife. The Half-Way house sported a croquet court, horseshoe pits, and a billiard table to entertain the guests. The visitors Lucy and Dick hosted included land agents and bird hunters from back east. Dick recalled some hunters asked him to bring a wagon to where they’d been shooting in a nearby slough. They filled the bed of the wagon with snow geese they’d killed that day. 12

After Lucy and Dick retired from running the hotel and moved to nearby Florence in 1907, the building was rented out to lodgers. The Half-Way house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, but sadly its final owners allowed it to fall into ruin and it no longer exists. It was removed from the listings in 1987.13

Lucy’s parents migrated to Codington County even before she and Dick left Iowa. Lucy’s mother, Betsy Painter, passed away in 1900 and her father, William, two years later. They were both interred in the Dexter Cemetery.14 Lucy and Dick are also buried there. Lucy’s life came to an end in 1928 when she had a massive stroke on New Year’s Day, just shy of her 82nd birthday. Dick passed away the following year from myocarditis – heart inflammation – just after turning 82 himself.15

Feature image: Lucy and Dick Halse in their later years in Florence, South Dakota (Courtesy P. Neal).

PainterMelthaL1
Headstone in Dexter Cemetery (E. Lyon 2012). The birth year is incorrect. Lucy tended to fudge her age over the years, probably not wanting to be known as older than her husband.

 

Meltha Lucinda Painter on Ancestry


  1. https://www.examinerlive.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/ancient-origins-huddersfield-place-names-13344555 
  2. https://www.mynamestats.com/First-Names/M/ME/MELTHA/MELTHA-by-race.html 
  3. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/104164263 
  4. Ancestry.com. Ohio, County Marriage Records, 1774-1993 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016. 
  5. https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/22745619/person/1300542943/facts 
  6. Alexander, W. E. 1882. History of Winneshiek and Allamakee Counties, Iowa. Western Publishing Company, Sioux City. p. 241. 
  7. Copy of Highland Township Gazetteer map from ~1875 (no source citation given on copy) 
  8. Ancestry.com. Iowa, Select Marriages Index, 1758-1996 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. 
  9. Alma Wellnitz and Raymond Halse. Ancestry.com. South Dakota, Marriages, 1905-2017 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005. Roy and Alma Halse. Year: 1930; Census Place: Florence, Codington, South Dakota; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 0004; FHL microfilm: 2341955 – via Ancestry.com. 
  10. https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=SD1770__.483&docClass=STA&sid=5dhkn3xa.cot 
  11. Allen, Don. “A Glimpse of the Past…” undated clipping from Watertown Public Opinion
  12. Ibid. 
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Register_of_Historic_Places_listings_in_Codington_County,_South_Dakota 
  14. Watertown Regional Genealogical Society. 2006. Dexter Cemetery, Codington County, South Dakota. pp. 18 – 19. 
  15. Ibid. p. 12. 

17 thoughts on “A Frontier Hostess and Midwife

Add yours

    1. Yes, it does sound that way, but it a very rustic manner. I’ve written a bit about it before, and also wrote a piece about Dick and Lucy adopting a baby in their later years (A Tale of Two Adas). Only the outbuilding remains. I guess the current owner just uses it as crop land.

      Like

  1. Eilene,

    They not only lived full lives, they lived long lives given the time.

    I think it’s fascinating as to how homesteads such as theirs served multiple purposes. Theirs was a home, a half way house for travelers, a post office. I mean, think of all the stories that passed through there!

    Great piece of history.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Marc. It always boggles my mind when I think about how in frontier times that even people with little cabins were expected to provide refuge for any passing traveler. We sure would not do that today! I’ll bet Dick and Lucy really had some stories – too bad most of them are gone.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Open doors, you’re right.
        My mother was born and raised in Rockaway, NY. It was open doors for all neighbors. Drop ins, helping out a family in need. Everyone pitched in and did their part for others.

        Yes, they had books worth of stories, those two. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with Lucy, I’d forget about Meltha, too. Whatever were her parents thinking? Being the only spot to stop between two pioneer cities seems like someone had business acumen that was downright smart. Most interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That really is an unusual name, but at least her parents gave her Lucinda as an option. I guess that redeems then a little. 😀
    Loved that first photo with them sitting on the bench and her hand by her face. You so rarely see candid shots like that in old photos.

    Liked by 1 person

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