Joseph Chicken Sr.


It seems fitting that since I began the post on Joseph Chicken/Baker with his gravestone, I would do the same for his father, Joseph Chicken Sr. It is found near a sparsely occupied town in Brule County, South Dakota, on what is now an Indian reservation. On a trip a number of years ago, I found out that I would be going within 10 miles of it and so I couldn't resist stopping to check it out. At the time I knew he was my 4th great grandfather but didn't know a lot about him. I still wouldn't up until a week ago when I wrote the post on his son that you just read last week. I decided to do a new newspaper search based upon my recent successes and turned up a number of articles on the man. However before I post those, I'll tell you what I knew before. 

Joseph Chicken Sr. was born in 1811 in Durham County, England according to the 1841 England Census. At the time he was living in the town of Evenwood with his wife Elizabeth Ann Britton and two of his children. My 3rd great grandfather Joseph Jr. wouldn't be born for another six years. 

Joseph Chicken and family uprooted and made their way to America in the spring of 1849 aboard a ship full of Mormons heading west. I have written about that journey in the past because it was fairly uneventful until it made New Orleans and then became a ship of death as many passengers died on the way upriver to St. Louis. It was there that Joseph Chicken Sr. parted ways and headed up to SW Wisconsin to a lead mining town called New Diggings. 

He was a miner when he lived in England and took up mining upon setting up home in New Diggings but had transitioned into farming by the time the 1860 Census was taken. I don't know why the change but I have a theory. His eldest son John Chicken made the voyage over with the rest of the family and became a miner as well when he reached adulthood. In the 1850 Census, John was 19 years old but still living with the family. But he disappears after that without a trace and I've never been able to find anything about him though I can follow the lives of all the other children. The majority of the time that happens, it means he died and because mining had high death rates, I wonder if John died in a mining accident. It might also explain why his father Joseph decided to become a farmer.

Wife Elizabeth Ann Britton Chicken would die in 1869 and is buried in the Pilling Family Cemetery. The Pillings were evidently good friends of the family and would play a role in my Bolton family after the John Bolton died in the California gold rush. The Bolton's daughter Frances if you recall, is the one who married Joseph Chicken/Baker Jr. I visited that cemetery a handful of years ago to try and locate a headstone. I found many broken up and buried under a thin layer of earth in the old part of the cemetery but none that were legible. So her grave is for all practical purposes, unmarked at this point.

Joseph Sr. would remarry a lady by the name of Mary Jane Cummings Dean the following year in 1870 and they would continue to live in the same part of Wisconsin for another ten years at least. They are found there in the 1880 Census living not to far from the Pilling family. In 1882 when his son and my 3rd great grandfather Joseph Jr. died, he was presumably still living in the same area and attended Joseph's funeral but I have no evidence to prove that only they aren't very far apart as the crow flies. 

There the trail goes cold for about ten years and then popped up again in South Dakota where Joseph Sr. started proving up on a land claim made in 1890. The following year, second wife Mary Jane would die at age 72 according a cemetery index (more on this later). I suppose being a bachelor at that point with plenty of time on his hands was why Joseph Sr. would prove up on several more claims by 1894. 

After that, I knew nothing of his life until his death in 1903 at the age of 92. In a county history book, I found the following:

So I really never had much to go on. Newspaper articles do provide some of that missing detail if they happen to be digitized for a particular area where they lived but for most of my time spent searching, they never were for Joseph Chicken Sr. That is until last week when recent successes caused me to do another search and I found several (new to me) newspapers digitized in the same county of SW Wisconsin and also near where he lived out in South Dakota. An hour later, I had quite a bit of information.

The above article dated March 1881 says he owned a card house.

Then a grocery store before selling his inventory to L.F. Bigler.

Evidently the reason for getting out of the grocery business was to get into the temperance saloon business just two weeks later. Until finding this, I had no idea such a thing ever existed but Google has assured me they did. They were for a time (during that time period) quite popular as a place for men to congregate without having to imbibe in alcohol.

But a year later, Joseph Sr. started selling off his property. 

A month after selling his property, the newspaper announced he has moved his business (presumably his temperance saloon) to a new location.

A month after the previous article and two since he sold "his property" it sounds like he bought another building and moved it to a vacant lot to use for occupancy. I'm assuming this is referring to his residence and not his business but it really isn't all that specific. But the next article answered my question.

By fall of the same year, adds for Joseph Chicken's "Place of Amusement" were in all the newspapers. Again I have never heard that term before but this one had a good description of what might be found. Google also assured me that these place were a thing back in the day. To me it sounds like he combined his past grocery business with the temperance saloon and created a place of amusement.

Whether business in the "temperance saloon" or "place of amusement" business wasn't what  he hoped it would be, his fancy was evidently caught elsewhere and the following early spring, less than five months after the above advertisement, he was no longer in business.

Three weeks after the announcement of his preparation to go west, in February of 1884, he left. From the sounds of the brief article, it sounds like he was on good terms with the community so at least I know he wasn't ran out of town and it sounds like other families went with him.

For six years, the newspapers are silent and I guess this doesn't surprise me. Whenever I have moved, it takes awhile to blend into the new community and make a name such that someone might want to publish an article about you. In Joseph's case, it took six years before the above article announced that he was sick. It sounds ominous but it was in 1900 and I know he lived another three years after this article.

In fact, this article published nine days later lists him as not only alive, but hale and active for a man celebrating his 89th birthday.

Then I found an article later that fall  (Nov 1900) mentioning his wife as being sick. I had thought his wife died in 1891 according to a South Dakota death index which lists her at the correct cemetery so to rule out other Chickens around. So I checked the 1900 census again and sure enough, she is listed and having been married 30 years at that point so it had to be the same Mary Jane. So I went back to look at the photographs I took of their gravestone seen at the beginning of this post.

 Not very clear though I can see the year 1891.

So I put it into my photo editing software, turned down the brightness and increased contrast and it clear says June 15, 1891. So on one hand I have a newspaper article and census record saying 1900+ and on the other hand I have a cemetery index probably based upon this very tombstone saying 1891. In the past, I have found tombstones to not be very reliable as they are written by children or other relatives and dates get mixed up. Perhaps the stone cutter messed up. So for now, I'm going with 15 Jun 1901.

This was supported in the days since I started this post and I have found another dozen articles detailing Mrs. Chicken's health and birthday visits from a daughter from her first marriage. I won't bore you with those as perhaps the most interesting I have saved until last.

At 92 years old, one just assumes the person died of old age but evidently this wasn't the case. This little story was reported in about 10 area newspapers. What a way to go. But at 92 years old and after 19 months of living alone without his second wife, he was probably more than ready to rest his weary bones. I feel like I know much more about him than I did before this latest newspaper check which is a reminder that I need to go and check many more spots on my family tree for news. 


  1. A temperance saloon! Mr. Chicken must have had change of heart after his card house was shut down, since I'm sure there were adult beverages at the card house.

    1. I pondered that very fact too. I might have said that the "card house" was just another earlier version of his "place of amusement" were it not for the fact that the former was shut down by city council. It doesn't seem like they would shut down a place of just card playing, unless perhaps there was illegal gambling going on, if that was even a thing back them.

  2. The jokes they made with his last name--clever! Cutting one's throat with a pocket knife shows a lot of determination and a strong will to die. Your newspaper research is fascinating and has certainly helped me a lot with my Fent mysteries.

    1. Foreshadowing, but I learned a lot more about that particular incident that I will be posting at the end of this week.

      I really enjoyed trying to solve your Fent mystery, and perhaps I haven't given up yet. Sometimes, one has to just wait for technology to catch up, or in this case, more records to be digitized.

  3. For the love of fat bassets, this was a fascinating read, Ed. Joseph Chicken had quite the life. I always enjoy your research but this was one of my favorites. Thank you.

    1. It certainly ranks up there on my list too. But stay tuned because my next post turns it up several more notches with details about his life!

  4. What an amazing story those newspaper tidbits tell. And what an interesting glimpse into historical things that we no longer know about. A very sad ending, though.


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