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Joseph Rock
Birth: Apr. 16, 1823
Quebec, Canada
Death: Mar. 19, 1880
Fort Garland
Costilla County
Colorado, USA

Joseph Rock, the wagon maker, was born and baptized in 1823 in Varennes, Lower Canada (now part of the Montréal metropolitan area), son of Joseph Rock and Charlotte Bertrand, their fifth of eight children. He had an older brother named Joseph who died in infancy, and he was given the same name.

On his baptismal record, his surname was spelled "Roque". During his adulthood, the surname was occasionally spelled "Roch" as well.

He and his older brother Louis moved to the United States about 1840 in search of work, and were still in the U.S. when their father died in 1842.

Joseph married Catharine Boucher, daughter of François-Firmin Boucher and Catharine Miner, some time about 1849, probably in Vermont. They were listed on the 1850 U.S. census in Northfield, Vermont, as 25 and 18, respectively, boarding at the residence of another couple from Canada. Their first child was born in Vermont later that year, and their second was also born in Vermont.

They returned to Canada some time around 1854. Joseph's brother remained in Vermont, and raised his family there. They lived in Durham County in Lower Canada (now Québec), near some of Catharine's family. They lived in a small Canadian town now known as L'Avenir until about 1863 or '64, when they moved again to the United States, this time for good.

With a stop in Illinois (a child was born there in about 1867), they settled in southeast Kansas. Joseph successfully homesteaded a farm in Woodson County, Kansas in 1871, sold it in 1876, and then built a house for his family in 1879 in Humboldt, Kansas.

Joseph, as an immigrant whose command of English was limited, was viewed with suspicion by many neighbors. It was a common immigrant experience, repeated by many individuals of many different ethnicities in many locales over our nation's history. His son John remembered later to his own children how he and his siblings were taunted by school classmates because of their poverty and their father's poor education. He also told of how Joseph always insisted that his children spoke only English in the house, and that they work hard to become Americans.

In 1878, two men were charged with the theft of a barrel of alcohol, and Joseph was arrested as an accomplice; Joseph did not participate in the theft, but apparently had some knowledge of it -- the actual proceedings of that trial have been lost, but it is likely from what was reported is that they shared a drink with him without revealing the origin of their find. Charges against him were quickly dropped and he gave evidence against the two men, who were convicted.

However, he was charged twice within the next month with two other thefts. The local newspapers of the day treated him in the stories of these cases as a notoriously habitual criminal, even though both cases were quickly dismissed for lack of any evidence against him.

Even though he was not actually involved in the first theft, he was sued by the owner of the alcohol (a pharmacist), as he was the only person with any money. He lost the case, which cost him $135 plus legal fees, plus a horse belonging to his wife that the plaintiff successfully attached.

Despite those setbacks, Joseph and his family still sought the American Dream. Joseph's wife Catharine bought some land in Humboldt in October 1879, and he built a house upon the property. They had barely moved their family into the new home when Joseph contracted in November 1879 to build, repair, and maintain government wagons and carriages at Fort Garland, in the San Luis Vally in south-central Colorado. Most civilian jobs at the fort were filled from local residents, but Joseph's particular skills were in short supply there and the money offered him justified the long separation from his family, so he made the 650-mile (approximately 30-hour) train journey to his one-year assignment.

Fort Garland was a frontier outpost, and was being reinforced and upgraded due to fear of Indian attacks; what is known as the "Meeker Massacre" had happened only a few months before and a few miles away, and improving the fort's defenses was considered a high priority. As a result of its location in the distant frontier and the fact that most of its civilian residents were non-English speaking, many of the troops assigned there were likewise chosen from non-English stock. Joseph found himself among not only Hispanic and Irish soldiers, but French-speaking Louisiana Cajuns and French-Canadians like himself as well. As far as he was from his family, he undoubtedly found himself part of a community and perhaps in a way felt closer to home.

However, his assignment did not last the year, and Joseph was returned to his family in a coffin. He died of pneumonia at Fort Garland's infirmary on 19 March 1880.

One newspaper in his home county reported his death on page five of a six-page newspaper as follows: "Mrs. Rock received a telegram last Monday evening [21 March 1880], that her husband, Joseph Rock, who was employed in a government wagon repair shop, at Ft. Garland, Col., was dead. No cause of his death was given. His remains will probably be brought home for burial."

Another newspaper had this to say: Word was received her this week that Joseph Rock, whose family lives on Bridge street, died at Fort Collins [sic], Colorado, on Friday the 19th inst."

A week later, another paper made the following observation: "Mr. Rock, who left this place for Colorado a short time ago, died at Ft. Garland, that State, last week and was brought back for burial on Saturday [27 March]. Judging from the number that come back on biers, it would seem that Colorado is not such a healthy place as imagined."

Joseph's family was poor, and he was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave in Humboldt's Catholic cemetery. His widow and children moved within a year to the Kansas City area and never returned. The cemetery was moved in the mid-20th century, and Joseph's grave, along with all other anonymous burials, was placed in a mass grave in the new cemetery, and is now lost to time.

There are no known photographs of Joseph. The graphic that accompanies this memorial is an advertisement from 1862 that Joseph took out to announce his new carriage and wagon shop in the town of L'Avenir. One might note that spelling was casual even in 1862, and his name in the ad was written as "Roch" even then.

Family links: 
  Catharine Boucher Rock (1831 - 1882)*
  Charles Ephraim Rock (1850 - 1937)*
  John Augustus Rock (1859 - 1925)*
  Katherine Rock Graham (1861 - 1943)*
  Frances Harriet Rock Lincoln (1869 - 1944)*
  Frederick William Rock (1875 - 1951)*
*Calculated relationship
Saint Joseph Cemetery
Allen County
Kansas, USA
Created by: FamilyMan
Record added: Jan 05, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 63745045
Joseph Rock
Added by: FamilyMan
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