Lone Star

Week 45: #52 Ancestors – Rich Man

By Eilene Lyon

This really isn’t about a rich man, or even a poor one, or actually, even about a man, though it starts out with one.

Robert J. Halse was born in Highland Township, Winneshiek County, Iowa, in 1860.1 Along with most of his family, he relocated to Codington County, South Dakota, to take up a 160-acre homestead in the early 1880s. Robert suffered from epilepsy, but other than that, very little remains to tell us about his personality.

At 39, Robert married Alsina Neville and they soon had a daughter, Lizzie (b. 1900) and a son, Clarence (b. 1903).2 Alsina gave birth to another girl, Ethel, in 1905.3 But apparently the marriage wasn’t a happy one and Alsina left Robert, taking only baby Ethel with her.

Robert suffered a fatal seizure in 1906. Did Alsina then take in her two older children, just 3 and 5 years old? No! I find this very hard to understand. Somehow, I think being orphaned might seem preferable to knowing your mother abandoned you.

I featured Clarence Halse’s sad/heartwarming tale in an earlier post. Lizzie’s life went in a radically different direction. Why the two siblings were separated is a mystery. It must have been hard for them.

When their father died, Lizzie and Clarence inherited his property, but they were too young to live there on their own, of course. In 1909, the farm was valued at $1,688.4 Undoubtedly this was held in trust for all three of Robert’s children, but land records for South Dakota are not easy to obtain, so I do not know the details. The Clinton Halse family later acquired the parcel.

15DATScans2 130
Lizzie Halse with her cousin, aunt, and uncle: Myrtle (left), Will, and Lizzie Casterton in Highland Township, Iowa, about 1907. (Courtesy W. Halse)

While Clarence eventually found a home at the farm next door with the Johnson clan, Lizzie went to Winneshiek County, Iowa, to live with her aunt, Elizabeth Casterton, Robert’s closest sister. Elizabeth also went by the name Lizzie. Her husband, Will Casterton, was the eldest son of a wealthy Decorah banker (there’s your “rich man”).

Will and Lizzie had two grown daughters, so little Lizzie had no playmates at home on the Casterton farm. But she no doubt found some children nearby to keep her company.

While it’s clear that Lizzie moved in with the Castertons about 1907, she doesn’t appear in the 1910 census (anywhere). The Castertons were living with their married daughter, Myrtle Newhouse, that year.5 Perhaps Lizzie went to a boarding school?

Casterton portrait - nabeck1 on Ancestry 8-9-19b
Will and Lizzie Casterton with their daughters, Hilda (top) and Myrtle, about 1905. (Courtesy of nabeck1 on Ancestry.com)

The Iowa census for Highland Township in 1915 reveals Lizzie has been in Iowa for 8 years, is attending public school and completed 8th grade. She is Episcopalian, and there is something written in “Occupation” but I find it difficult to interpret.6 What do you think?

1915Lizzie Iowa.jpg

In 1920, Lizzie, still with the Castertons, is 19 years old and apparently finished her high school education.7 Perhaps it was around this time that she received her inheritance. It was no fortune, but it seemingly enabled her to be self-sufficient.

South Dakota must have been tugging at her heart, for sometime between 1920 and 1930, she made her way to Madison, in Lake County. There she operated her own beauty salon in the vicinity of 1st Street SW and Egan Avenue, the main thoroughfare.8 She probably had an apartment in the same building. As a proprietor, she likely employed several other beauticians.

The railroad depot in Madison, South Dakota. Perhaps Lizzie Halse stepped off a train here in the 1920s. (Wikimedia Commons)


Whether it was the harsh northern plains winters or the Great Depression that sent Lizzie packing, we’ll never know. But by 1932, she relocated 1100 miles away, nearly due south, to Houston, Texas. As best I can determine, she operated a beauty salon in a women’s clothing store owned by the Dollahite-Levy Co.9 Two years later, the company filed bankruptcy.10

Certainly Lizzie must have found suitable employment in this booming Texan city. She survived a devasting flood in 1935, but she and the city both bounced back. Houston became Texas’s largest city in 1939.11

Lizzie finally found love in the metropolis. At the age of 35, she married Thomas Warren Webb, who was just slightly younger than her.12 His WWII draft card indicates he had black hair and brown eyes, was 5’ 10” and weighed 205 lbs (perhaps a bit chubby, but you know that mid-life weight gain thing).13 Oddly, Lizzie never learned the names of her husband’s parents.14

Thomas bounced around jobs and cities a few times after their marriage, not unusual for the 1930s. He eventually settled into work as the chief deliveryman for Sinclair Refining.15 In 1949, he and Lizzie relocated for a final time to Graham, Texas, where they lived out the remainder of their lives.

Feature image: Egan Avenue in Madison, South Dakota, c. 1930s, where Lizzie Halse had her beauty salon. (Wikimedia Commons)


P.S. I learned in the course of reviewing sources for this post that Lizzie had a child when she was 43. I attempted to make contact, without success. I hope very much to get in touch with this 2nd cousin someday.

  1. Ancestry.com. U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Church Records, 1781-1969 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. 
  2. South Dakota, Birth Index, 1856-1917 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2003. . 
  3. Ibid. 
  4. Elizabeth Halse (et al.), Watertown, South Dakota. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. 
  5. Albert L. Newhouse. Year: 1910; Census Place: Highland, Winneshiek, Iowa; Roll: T624_428; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 0157; FHL microfilm: 1374441. 
  6. Lizzie Halse, 1915. Iowa, State Census Collection, 1836-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007. 
  7. W. C. Casterton. Year: 1920; Census Place: Highland, Winneshiek, Iowa; Roll: T625_519; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 169. 
  8. Elizabeth Halse. Year: 1930; Census Place: Madison, Lake, South Dakota; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 0012; FHL microfilm: 2341959. 
  9. Miss Elizabeth Halse; Houston, Texas, City Directory, 1932. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. 
  10. “Lease Deal Is Aired In Court” The Marshall News Messenger (Marshall, Texas), February 16, 1934, p. 1 – via newspapers.com. 
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houston 
  12. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/49086965/web 
  13. Thomas Warren Webb. The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; WWII Draft Registration Cards for Texas, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 1593 – via Ancestry.com. 
  14. Thomas Warren Webb. Texas, Death Certificates, 1903-1982 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. 
  15. Thos W. Webb; 1947, Fort Worth, Texas, City Directory. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. 

20 thoughts on “Lone Star

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  1. I can’t imagine my mother abandoning me, I think it would be easier to accept being an orphan. I get a sense that she had no strong attachments, moving so easily as a single woman, until she married. I cannot figure out the occupation or what is written by earnings. She must have still been in school.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think the middle word is Uncle, but the first and third have me stumped. I think it just says “compensation” in earnings.

      I think Lizzie was probably scarred by her childhood, and Clarence, too. He never married.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. That may be it.

      Though it’s hard to fathom Alsina’s actions, she isn’t the only mother to have done such a thing, unfortunately. Maybe she had a serious post-partum depression after Ethel was born.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ll have to return to your post when my brain’s a bit more awake, but after looking at the census document it looks like the middle word is ‘under’ – so maybe she was working under someone else?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a tale for Lizzie. I agree that being orphaned sounds better than being abandoned, but who knows? I cannot read what her occupation was either, but she did manage to go on in life so that’s encouraging. Strong woman, I’d say.

    Liked by 1 person

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