Tattered Past

Tattered Past: My ongoing journey through genealogy, history, writing, self-exploration and art. ~~~ Rita Ackerman

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Happy Birthday Gr. Gr. Grandfather John

My great, great grandfather was born on this day (Oct. 3) 1843 in Illinois. I never met him, but Grandma often talked about him. One of the various stories was that he would get caught with his eyes closed during church services. He said he was just resting his eyes, but the others had heard him snoring.

The Fowler Christian Church where John Riley Keith and family attended service.

John Riley Keith married Nancy Ann Thompson in 1864. They stayed in Illinois for a few years before taking their young family to southwestern Kansas not far from notorious Dodge City.

These tintypes were given to me by my grandma Jennie. I believe they are Nancy Ann and John Riley Keith around their wedding time. The speckled appearance on John's believed photo is bits of plastic. They had been stored in a plastic/vinyl folder like notecards come in, and the plastic had melted onto the tintype. I consulted a photo archivist and he said it would be best to leave it alone. 

They had five children, Charles, Laura, Cora, Nellie (my great grandmother) and Willard, the only one born in Kansas. Nellie told of walking a good part of the way just as other stories about wagon trains reported.

They lived in dugouts in what is still known as Keith Canyon, now part of a large pasture.

Keith Canyon and the remains of the dugouts built around 1884. Photo taken 1990.

In 1895, a state census was taken in Kansas. Besides the usual information on the inhabitants of each household, agricultural information was listed. Part of John's list included one acre planted in Irish potatoes and one acre in sweet potatoes. He had 1500 lbs. of cheese made, 200 lbs.of butter made, three horses, 7 milk cows, 13 cattle, 1 horse died before March 1, 1885, and 1 dog.

John was a stonemason and built many buildings in the surrounding counties. He also built the Keith house in Fowler, Kansas where my sister was born 100 years after John Riley. 

The Keith House in Fowler. John Riley is with the wheelbarrow on the site of his brick making lot. The building is the Keith house which I visited in 1990. It was in terrible condition to the point I couldn't bring myself to take photos of the inside. 


John died in 1915 and is buried next to his wife in Graceland Cemetery in Meade, Kansas. Nancy
Ann had died in 1910. 

John lived a long life and left his mark on the land.
Just like thousands of other hard working pioneers
he is only remembered in a few documents, and
through family stories and research.