Monday, September 2, 2013

South Dakota: Visiting a Chicken


Newer readers of my blog might think that a cemetery is an odd place to visit on a family vacation but older readers will know that it is expected behavior for me. I am the family historian and genealogist and any trip I planning always means some time researching if my planned route will take me by any place I would like to visit in an effort to further my genealogy research. So that is how I ended up at Springhill Cemetery just outside of the county seat of Gann Valley, South Dakota, population 14 and perhaps the only unincorporated town that is a county seat in the nation. It is also known for holding the record for the hottest temperature recorded in South Dakota, a whopping 120 degrees Fahrenheit!

What brought me there was that a man by the name of Joseph Chicken, who is possibly my 4th great grandfather is buried there. I have written about it many times over the last decade of my hard fought search for this side of my family which began as Bakers and whom I only recently have believed that there real surname was Chicken. As of right now, I am about 95% certain that my 3rd great grandfather Joseph Baker is really Joseph Chicken, son of Joseph Chicken Sr. whose gravestone can be seen in these pictures. I have lots of evidence pointing towards my conclusion and it is way too much to chalk up as a coincidence but my search still goes on for the smoking gun that can make me say I'm 100% certain.


My 4th great grandfather moved sometime around the death of his son Joseph Chicken in 1882 at age 35. Several of his other older children were already dead along with his first wife and my 4th great grandmother. He had already remarried to the lady sharing the above shown plot of ground and South Dakota had just opened up this vast swath of prairie to be homesteaded by pioneers. He moved out there, settled on a little piece of land just north of Gann Valley and lived out his remaining years. I had hoped that perhaps I might get lucky and see some children buried next to him or some clue that might help my on his gravestone that might help me on my quest but it was not to be. Instead if was a visit to pay homage to one of my many ancestors, a still noble quest.


As this quest to track down this family tree has been wont to do over the last decade, it has provided me with another mystery to solve. According to all my research, Joseph Chicken was born in November of 1811 and lived until 1903. I have lots of evidence to support that. Yet as you can see from the tombstone above, what is carved in stone is much different. It states:

Mr. Joseph
Chicken
Passed to spirit life
Feb 28, 1893
Aged 91 Years and
4 Months

I have several census records and the passenger list of the boat he sailed to America that all state that he was born in November of 1811. For the above epitaph to be true, he would have been born in November of 1801. I also have him very much alive in the 1900 census at age 88 living with his second wife in South Dakota. Although I don't have a record of his death, a user run website called Find-a-Grave has his death listed as February 1903 which is 91 years and 4 months after his birth if it was in November of 1811 as all records indicate. Yet the gravestone obviously says Feb 28, 1893 for a death date.

So how to reconcile this discrepancy? I need to do more research to even think of a plausible answer. I initially thought that because they died well away from the rest of the family, that there wasn't any close family nearby to set the facts straight when making the headstone. But usually it is the birth date that gets messed up and not the death date which is usually pretty obvious to most people, especially the year it happened. Perhaps the stone was erected many years after the fact by more distant family. I think my first step will be to try to contact the poster who listed the death years much different than what it on the gravestone to see if he can offer up an explanation.

I also need to do some more research to see where I need to research. Gann Valley is in Buffalo County, South Dakota which is mostly an Indian reservation. Most of the time when doing research on a relative, I head to the local library and courthouse at the county seat. Gann Valley, all 14 inhabitants, obviously didn't have either of these things so I'm not sure where the county records are kept, if they even exist. As it has been all of Joseph Chicken Sr's descendants, this will be another tough nut to crack.

4 comments:

Leigh said...

Nothing beats genealogy as a hobby. You have an extremely interesting thread to follow there!

Ed said...

Leigh - It most definitely entertains me and keeps my mind working.

Vince said...

I expect the gold rush was the reason why many were drawn to that area.
When I saw the title and the photo I instantly thought you were at the little Big Horn.

Ed said...

Vince - The gold rush happened about five years earlier and was on the opposite side of the state from where my ancestors lived. But for many, free or nearly free land was just like a gold rush.