REV. JOHN L. AND LYDIA BLAKELY FAMILY
By Ramona (Conrad) Painter
(Reprinted from "Keya Paha County--100 Years, 1885 - 1985")
My great-grandfather, John Lemmons Blakely, was born March 17, 1834, in Morgan County, Illinois, the third child and second son of Charles and Licettee (Lemmons) Blakely.
Early in 1841, at the age of seven, John moved with his family to Jefferson County, Iowa. They settled near Fairfield. Charles and his parents, Alexander and Sarah (Lakey) Blakely, farmed and were affiliated with the Baptist Church. John received his education in the common schools and the Fairfield Seminary.
April 10, 1857, John was married to Lydia Sampson in Jefferson County by Rev. Joseph Gassner, the local Methodist minister.
Lydia was the daughter of Rev. Thomas and Mary (Grundy) Sampson. She had been born August 20, 1840, in Golzinthney, Cornwall, England, where her father was a miner. The family emigrated to America in 1848 when Lydia was eight years old. After spending several years in Pennsylvania and Maryland, they moved to Iowa in 1854. They settled five miles northeast of Fairfield, where Lydia's father was the Methodist minister.
John and Lydia were blessed with children. Theodore was born April 5, 1858, Preston born April 7, 1860, Ernest born December 31, 1861, Kate born April 8, 1864, Wilber born September 7, 1865, and Roscoe born June 16, 1868.
John and Lydia then moved their family to a farm in Taylor County in 1870, settling near Gravity, north of Bedford, the trip being made in a covered wagon. John farmed his 160 acres and worked closely with the local Baptist Church. Here Vinnie was born June 2, 1870, Percy was born July 28, 1872, and Ellen was born May 16, 1874.
John's parents, Charles and Licettee, moved to Taylor County in 1875, and farmed close by. John was ordained a minister of the Baptist Church that same year. He had charge of the Union Baptist congregation near Hopkins, Missouri, not far from his farm.
That summer a terrible tragedy occurred. Lydia had washed clothes that day, and after she was through, she put a tub of nearly boiling hot water down to scrub the floors. To her horror, seven-year-old Roscoe came running into the room and fell into the tub. Little Roscoe died the 24th of August. Death and hardship had been constant companions to this young couple and their families, but nothing had prepared John and Lydia for the loss of this dear little boy. And it was said that Lydia was never heard to laugh aloud again. Roscoe was buried on the west side in the Old Lexington Cemetery, north of Bedford, overlooking the gentle rolling Iowa countryside.
Edna Lydia was born May 20, 1876. Shortly after, Lydia's health began to fail. In those days it was called "consumption", and Lydia wasted away.
April 5, 1877, Theodore turned 19, on the 7th Preston was 17, on the 8th Kate became 13, on the 10th John and Lydia observed their 20th wedding anniversary. May 6th, little Ellen had her third birthday, on the 18th Lydia died, not quite 37 years old, and on the 20th baby Edna had her first birthday! It was a pathetic but staunch little group that stood at the graveside that day as Lydia was laid to rest beside her beloved Roscoe. John always said of Lydia to his children and grandchilren, "She was a fine woman. She gave her life for her family."
After Lydi's death, John gave up his pastorate and devoted his time to his children and his farm. Kate, at 13, found most of the responsibility of the household on her shoulders. Her grandmother, Licettee Blakely, and her aunts were a great source of guidance and help. During this time little Edna became sick with spinal meningitis, leaving her quite lame.
In the fall of 1882, John began to think of going west to Nebraska. He would take the older boys with him and take out a homestead. The area that interested him most was north of the Niobrara River in what was then Holt County. He felt too that he could once again return to his ministry.
In 1883 the western part of Holt County was organized as Brown County. It was in an area southeast of the village of Springview where John took his homestead. His date of settlement on the southeast quarter of Section 31 in Township 33 of Range 20 west was March 1, 1883.
As soon as possible, John had constructed a home for his family. It was 15' by 30', made of log with a sod roof and brown tarpaper. It boasted of a board floor, four glass windows and three doors. The bored well was 150 feet deep and curbed. He and the boys moved into the house May 18th.
John left on the 11th of July to return to Iowa for his younger children. Because of Edna's sickness, the seven-year-old was very weak. Thinking the child would never make the journey alive, John's mother begged that Edna stay in Iowa. But John said no, he would rather bury her along the trail than leave this dear child of his behind!
The motherless family gathered their precious belongings in their covered wagon. Leaving all they held familiar and dear, they set out on the long journey west. 18-year-old Wilber stayed in Iowa, coming to join his family later.
Often to pick wildflowers or just out of boredom from riding in the wagon, Kate 19, Vinnie 13, Percy 11, and Ellen 9 walked or ran beside the wagon. Not to be left out, Edna would insist on joining them. She'd often stumble and fall, only to get back up and try again! And at the end of the long trip, she was a much stronger little girl!
September 29 they arrived at the homestead. Although their land was fairly flat with small ravines and hills, the land to the south gradually dropped to the Niobrara River. They never tired of looking at the panorama view of the canyons, endowed with sumac, oak, elm, cottonwoods, ash, pine, cedar, wild plums, and grapes. To the north, the land was as flat as a table, and one could see for miles, so different than the rolling land of southwestern Iowa. But if they felt nostalgia, they knew this was where they belonged--this was "home"!
Those years of improving the homestead were hard years, encountering all the hardships and trials connected with pioneer life. The homestead continued to flourish. Summer time found the children busy in the garden so that the root house would be full for the cold Nebrska winter ahead.
John began Christian work immediately among the homesteaders with Sunday school and preaching in their homes. John was the first Baptist minister in Keya Paha County, often the only minister in the whole area. He had three churches, besides holding Sunday schools in Cherry, Keya Paha, Brown, Rock, Holt, and Boyd counties. There were always marriages, deaths, and accidents, often times being called away from home in the middle of the night.
For 30 years John took the Word of God to the far reaches of the new land, doing the work he had been trained to do, all the while taking delight in his children and then his grandchildren. He saw the country grow and change, he saw drought and after the rain, the glory of the rainbow. He felt the tears of Job, sang the songs of David, and ran the race with Paul. In 1913 his health began to fail, and he made his home in the homes of his children. February 16, 1923,at the age of 88 years and 11 months, John died at the home of his daughter, Edna and Abraham Titus, and was buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery at Springview.
Lydia Sampson Blakely
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