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The Disappearance of a Chambers Family from Smithville

Blog post by Randi Richardson

“It was heart rending,” according to her obituary, “one of the most pitiable sights witnessed in the south part of the county.”

Mary Chambers, noted only as “Mrs. James Chambers” in her obituary, about 44 years age and a resident of Smithville, reportedly had been sick and running a fever for several weeks, but no one suspected anything serious until she suddenly grew worse.  On Friday, August 5, 1894, her misery was relieved by death.

Her obituary described her as having been kind and conscientious.  She belonged to the Christian Church and was well respected in the community.  Among those who knew her, not one word detrimental to her life could be spoken.

It was Mary’s orphaned children that prompted much of the community’s concern.  Her husband, James, had died several years earlier leaving “a large family.”  Afterward, although Mary did what she could to bring in money by keeping a boarding house, primary responsibility for the family’s support fell to a son, Roscoe, really only a child himself.

In 1891 some Smithville boys, including Roscoe Chambers, got together for a group photograph.  The photograph was later loaned by Mrs. Lottie Robinson to a Bloomington newspaper for publication in a column titled “Our Bloomington of Yesteryear” No. 94.  Although the boys were named, no effort was made to match the name to a face.

A few months previous to her death, according to the obituary, Mrs. Chambers, married John Scott, a well-known farmer of Clear Creek Township.  It was noted that their wedded life was not exactly one of joy and happiness.  They subsequently separated and Mary filed suit for divorce.  The case was to have been tried in the September term of court at Bedford.

Now I have a curious mind, and I wanted to know.  Who was Mrs. Chambers, legally Mrs. John Scott? How long ago had her husband, James Chambers, died?  What happened to Roscoe?  How large was her “large family,” and what happened to those poor children.  Did the Chambers children end up in an orphanage?

Through research it was learned that James Chambers married Mary Souders in Monroe County on September 15, 1873.  In 1880, they were enumerated together in Polk Twp., Monroe County.  Both were 30 years of age and James worked as a farmer.  However, he suffered from rheumatism and had been unemployed for the entire past year.  There were also two children in the household:  Roscoe, age 6 and Pearl, age 2.

James, a farmer, was not a rich man, not by any means.  When he died in 1890, the only evidence of his death was a brief obituary on May 20 in the Bloomington (IN) Telephone noting that “[H]e has been sick for some time.  He was a son of David Chambers who died by the side of the railroad a month or so ago.”  There was no official death record, no will, no probate and no tombstone to mark his grave.

An unidentified, Civil War soldier is readied for surgery.

Perhaps David’s obit would be more revealing, but that was not the case.   There was no autopsy; the only records pertaining to David Chambers’ death were a military-issued tombstone (name not included in the Monroe County Cemetery Index) in the Clover Hill Cemetery at Harrodsburg and a brief obituary in the Bloomington Telephone on April 1, 1890, where it was noted that David Chambers of Smithville, commonly known as “one-armed Dave,” died Sunday morning.  “He was found about one mile north of the Harrodsburg depot by the side of the railroad.  He had laid out all night.  He was an old settler and drew a very large pension.”  Military records indicate that David Chambers served as a private in Co. G, 31st Reg’t, Indiana Infantry.  His left arm was severely wounded in a Civil War battle that took place in Dallas, Georgia, on May 27, 1864, and was subsequently amputated.

After the death of James and his father, David, the next tragedy to befall the Chambers family was the death of Roscoe, James’ son who was left to provide support for his mother and siblings.  When his father died in 1890, Roscoe would have been about 16 years of age based upon his age, 6, in the 1880 census.  In 1893 at the time of his death, he was living in Smithville and would have been about 19 although, according to his one-line obituary, he was 21.    The cause of his death was noted as “lung fever,” commonly known today as pneumonia.

Then, as noted above, Mary died—Roscoe’s mother, the family matriarch.  Who was left, if anyone, to carry on the family name?  The family genes?

The one other known member of this family yet unaccounted for was Pearl Chambers, Roscoe’s younger sister, who would have been about 16 at the time of her mother’s death.

In 1896, Pearl’s name was found among Monroe County marriage records.  When she was about 19 years old she married Charles Litz, son of Benjamin and Elizabeth (Sullivan) Litz.  Four year later in 1900, they were living in Marshall Twp., Lawrence County, Illinois, with two small children:  Leo, age 3 and Roxy M., 9 months.  Earl Chambers, Pearl’s 14-year-old brother was also a member of the household.

At some point the Litz family returned to Smithville, Indiana.  They were living there in 1917 when Pearl was visited by her brother, Ben, from Wyoming.  Afterward the Litz’ located in Indianapolis.  Ben Chambers died there on December 5, 1936, at the age of 56 and single.  He was buried in the Washington Park East Cemetery in Indianapolis.  Pearl provided the information for the death record.

Pearl was also the informant at the death of her husband, Charles Litz, who died in Bedford, Lawrence County, Indiana, in 1957 at the age of 80.  He was also buried in the Washington Park East Cemetery. Near Ben.

Pearl’s brother, Earl, married Ruth Carter in Lawrence County, Indiana.  They moved from state to state fairly frequently.  He died in Sarasota, Florida in September 1963.

With her siblings and husband gone, Pearl moved to Seattle, Washington, to live with her daughter, Roxie (Litz) Pfafman.  She died there in February 1966, survived by Roxie and two sons, Leon and Russell, both living in California.  Her remains were returned to Indiana and her funeral was held in Bloomington by the Greene and Harrell Funeral Home.  Burial was at the side of her husband and near her brother Ben in the Washington Park East Cemetery.

So we now have most answers to the above questions.  Although Mary was identified as Mrs. James Chambers in her obituary, legally she was Mrs. Scott at the time of her death because her divorce from John Scott was not yet finalized.  She has no death record or tombstone to confuse the matter by providing conflicting evidence.  Mary’s “large family” is believed to have consisted of four children:  Roscoe, Pearl, Earl and Ben.  Not really so large after all.  Mary’s husband, James Chambers, died in 1890 as did her father-in-law, David Chambers.  Neither man has a death record; only David has a tombstone, and it is of military issue with little information.  Roscoe, Mary’s son, died in 1893, without a death record or tombstone, at the approximate age of 19, not long after the death of his father.  There is no record related to the care of the surviving children after the death of their mother except than for Ben who lived with Pearl for a while after Pearl married.  Pearl, Earl and Ben all lived to be mature adults. The last survivor of the family was Pearl, the only one easily found in historical records.

Hopefully this information will be of some assistance to other researchers of the Chambers family.

 

Sources:

  • David Chambers obit, Bloomington (IN) Telephone, April 1, 1890.
  • Mary (Souders) Chambers Scott obit, Bloomington (IN) World, August 9, 1894, p. 5.
  • Charles E. Litz obit, Indianapolis (IN) Star, September 27, 1957, p. 29.
  • Mary (Souders) Chambers Scott obit, Bloomington (IN) World, August 9, 1894, p. 8.
  • Roscoe Chambers obit, Bloomington (IN) Republican Progress, April 26, 1893.
  • Mary Ann Scott vs. John Scott—Divorce, Bloomington (IN) World, April 26, 1894, p. 3.
  • John Scott, filed for change of venue, Bloomington (IN) World, May 10, 1894, p. 1.
  • Monroe County (IN) Marriage Record, Mary A. Chambers and John Scott married in Monroe County on December 10, 1893.
  • James Chambers (erroneously indexed as Chambers James at Ancestry.com), 1880 Federal Census, Polk Twp., Monroe County, Indiana.
  • David Chambers, digital image of the tombstone available on FindaGrave.com.
  • David Chambers medical record, U. S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Indiana; The Medical and Surgical History of the Civil War, available on Ancestry.com.
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