Wednesday, August 12, 2015

200+ Years in Indiana

My ancestral roots in Gibson County go back to pioneer times back when Indiana was still a territory. I've spent countless hours researching my pioneer heritage and those branches of my Mills family who spread out from Gibson County, Indiana to Oklahoma and points beyond. Here's a little about the first generation of my Hoosier-born ancestry on mother's side.

Berilla Louisa Mills-Greek (1829-1908) provided the launching pad for my research. My third great-grandmother provided the family story published by Gil R. Stormont in his 1914 "History of Gibson County." She recounts how her Grandfather Mills' family emigrated from lower Maine to what would become Gibson County in southwest Indiana. Berilla weighed only one pound at birth 14 Mar 1829 in Princeton, IN; her twin brother, Zyasa, weighed seven pounds and yet died the following day. They were the first of three pairs of twins born to Duston and Louisa (Stapleton) Mills. Their's was the first full generation of Mills to be born on Indiana soil. After her marriage to Joseph Greek in 1848, the couple moved from Vanderburgh County (Evansville, IN) to a farm five miles east of Princeton. Joseph was a bricklayer at the time of their marriage, but he eventually took up farming in the rolling hills between Princeton and Francisco, IN, in a rural community known to locals as Fairview. She bore Joseph twelve children in all. Such was the case with Indiana farming families. The more children meant more hands for the hard labor required by that occupation.

Besides a twin brother who died a newborn, Berilla had a sister Adelia (1831-1853) who married Charles King in Gibson County, 1849. She bore him two children who went to live with grandparents, Duston and Louisa Mills, in Princeton after her death in 1853. A third sister, Cecilia Ann (1832-1875), born just 19 months after Adelia, married twice--Henry Bucklin in 1853 and George W Smith in 1871.

Berilla's fourth sister, Zelissa (1833-1886), followed suit in marrying a member of the Greek family--Samuel, Joseph Greek's younger brother by five years. Coincidentally, Samuel had been married previously to a daughter of Bracket Mills of Evansville, who was a first cousin to the Mills of Gibson County. Cousin Emily died at the age of 24, just two years after her marriage to Samuel and before she bore him any children. Zelissa married the widower in Gibson County just two days before Christmas 1852. They had one daughter, Lulu, and Zelissa died of liver and bowel disease in 1886, age 53. Samuel built the Garden City Mill in downtown Princeton in 1871.It sat along Chestnut Street near North Main St., just east of the Louisville, Evansville & St. Louis RR Depot. Adjacent to him, another Mills, Byron (1835-1908) brother to Zelissa Mills-Greek, ran the Peoples Planing Mill.

Byron took up the family business, carpentry, at an early age. He married Mary Jane Curry in 1855. He was a lifelong resident of Princeton, IN, with a home at 514 N. Race St., about four blocks east of his mill. His wife was near term with their fourth child when Byron enlisted 21 Oct 1861 in Company B of the Indiana Volunteer Infantry (Union Army). Besides running the planing mill, "a dealer and manufacturer of rough and dressed lumber, flooring and ceiling manufactured to order, in hard or soft lumber," (published on a county map by DJ Lake & Co, 1881), Byron was a charter member of the Grand Army of the Republic Post 28 in Princeton. Mary Jane bore him eight children before her death in 1882. He, then, married Ellen Spencer of Evansville. He died in 1908 of cirrhosis of the liver.

That brings us to the seventh child of Duston and Louisa Mills, a son, Horace Ames (1838-1856), who died at the age of 17, cause unknown, and is buried in the old Page Cemetery just east of Princeton, IN. Of the three sons born to that family by 1840, only one, Byron, had survived to adulthood. Firstborn Zyasa died an infant and Horace a teen.

Born in 1840, daughter Elvira (1840-1913) never lived on her own nor did she ever marry. She was not of sound mind, or as one census taker noted in 1880, "idiotic." At the time of her death, she was living with her nephew Guy Olds, near Francisco, IN.

Albert and Polly Mills Family, early 1900's

The second pair of Mills twins born on Indiana soil were Almena (1843-1878) and Albert (1843-1920). The latter became a local Civil War hero while his twin sister married a first cousin, Edgar Mills of Evansville, and died in her mid-thirties after bearing one daughter. Albert enlisted in Co. B. about three weeks after his brother Byron. Nearly three months to the day after mustering out of the Union Army, he married Polly Ann Yeager of Princeton. Up until the Civil War, Albert had lived on his father's farm and then obtained 80 acres known as the Weidenbach farm, where he lived until moving to Princeton in 1870. His sister, Berilla, wrote, " He was elected constable of Patoka Township, in which position he served four years and was then interested in the sawmill business for 25 years, also following carpenter work about ten years. He has been employed by the Southern Railroad Company at their shops for the past ten years (ca. 1914), and is numbered among their most faithful and efficient employees." He and Polly lived at 330 E. Monroe Street in Princeton. They raised five children.

The final pair of twins--children eleven and twelve to Duston and Louisa Mills--were Mary Katherine (1846-1930) and John (1846-1922). John married twice in Princeton--to Eva Paul and Fannie King--and lived at 621 Seminary Street, then 820 S. Race St, before moving west. Family stories say that his twin sister, Mary Katherine, was friendly with the Native Americans living on the Patoka River and tutored some of them. That's how she met her husband, a member of the Miami tribe, Cass Olds. He took her out west, where they married in Iowa, 1870, before moving to Missouri. By the mid-1880's, they were divorced and had six children together. She had lived out in California with one of their sons around the turn of the century, but was back in Gibson County, IN, by the time the 1910 U.S. Census was taken. She lived with various family members in and around Princeton where she died in 1930. Her twin brother died in 1922, making her the only one of the 12 Mills children to live long enough to witness the Great Depression.

Aside from being carpenters who made everything from flatboats to log cabins to milled flooring, the Mills were also learned men who practiced law, served in public office and helped to establish the towns of Princeton and Evansville. This brief recap is of my direct ancestors on my mother's side, who was born a Larson. Her grandmother was born a McEllhiney and the granddaughter of Berilla Mills-Greek who is at the forefront of this post. That is my direct connection to this great pioneering family. Berilla's grave is clearly marked and sits alongside a corn field in Center Township, Gibson County, in the area briefly described above as Fairview, between Princeton and Francisco. Sadly, the burial sites for her father, Duston, and grandfather, James, the patriarch who led the family from Maine to Indiana, are unknown. James died of milk sickness while living with another of his sons and the entire family was buried in the Patoka River bottoms, precise location unknown. Duston, my fourth great-grandfather, presumably died in Princeton in 1875, and though we know much of the story of his family, I do not know where he and Louisa (d. 1882) were laid to rest.

I'll share more about the other branches of this family in a future post, so stay tuned. (Note: The State of Indiana celebrates it's bicentennial next year. My family has owned a Gibson County farm throughout the state's 200-year history.)

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