This story starts back in the Civil War… My great great grandpa William Slyter enlisted in the 28th Wisconsin Infantry Company F and after a few minor skirmishes died of tropical disease near Memphis in the summer of 1863. Before my father passed away in 2000, he gave me an oral family history that pointed me towards Whitehall, Wisconsin. So one summer day in the 90s I rode over on the lovely alphabet roads along the great river and made the first of many visits to Whitehall’s courthouse, library, and cemeteries.
In the town cemetery I was scoping out the substantial monument to an Isaac Fuller, who William’s widow married a few years after his passing, only to have Isaac struck dead by lightning a couple years later. The ground was soft underfoot with a century’s accumulation of topsoil and pine needles, but what’s this hard thing under my foot? Looking down, I note a flicker of white stone amid the green and brown, so I get down and investigate further. Hmmm, this flat rock seems to extend a bit, and are these characters chiseled in it? removing a few handfuls of dirt revealed a broken old military standard gravestone. I got some paper towels and water, and with the help of a few selections from the BMW’s complete tool kit, the words appeared… This was the gravestone of William Slyter, my g-g grandpa!
As always happens in genealogy, opening one door merely reveals a bunch more, each full of further intrigue. I wrote out a bio of William and the family history and left copies in a baggie sticking out from under the gravestone, which was noticed by the County Veterans Service Officer who provided a proper wrought iron identifier and they decorate the grave every memorial day. The bio and history was also noted by a fellow genealogist who contacted me with a few more bits of the story.
Turns out that William’s widow Saphronia was pretty resourceful, and with 4 children to feed she had to be. She found her way across Wisconsin to Whitehall and married the aforementioned Isaac Fuller, and before his untimely end they had a child, Wellington Grant Fuller. And undaunted by the loss of Isaac, a few years later Saphronia married another local farmer, West Daggett. Being up in years by then they moved off the land into a palatial for the times house in Whitehall where they both passed away as the 20th century dawned.
Now, I should note here that my father’s side of the family, the Slyters, are with occasional exception a bunch of drunks, never do wells, etc., and thusly not much of anyone has bothered to document their dysfunctional family history. My mom’s side, the Shobe’s, has regular reunions and has even published a history book, which is updated online. This makes the Slyters far more interesting to study, and as you can imagine, William and Saphronia and all her husbands were not going to go quietly into history. Heck, William was the sane one, a carpenter, and I’ve found monuments for him at the Memphis vet’s cemetery as well as in Whitehall. That may or may not be explained by the fact that the 1860 census showed a William T. Slyter and a William F. Slyter living next door to each other in Menominee Township, Wisconsin, both carpenters and one a generation younger than the other and married to Sophronia. The military is confused too, sometimes giving William the “T” middle name and sometimes “F” in their records. They generally list the birthdate for the younger William though, but the military standard gravestone in Whitehall gives a date of death of July 15, 1862, a couple months before William enlisted and a year exactly before the date of death listed on the gravestone in Memphis. Civil War history buffs tell me this is par for the course, the war being a tragic farce of disorganization that ended only when the Union got their stuff halfway together. If you wonder why the military is so obsessed with discipline and chain of command, the Civil War made them that way- they actually had neighboring militias fighting against each other!
Given the family history, it thus comes as no surprise that the inheritance of West and Sophronia’s small mansion in Whitehall would be disputed. The disputant was an R.O. Broadway of South Dakota, who alleged by handwritten agreement that he’d somehow acquired the property from Sophronia’s son Wellington Grant Fuller, by then living 300 odd miles west in Colton, South Dakota. And Wellington claims he bought the property fair and square by making regular payments to mom and dad, with the property to be delivered upon their deaths… Suppose they did deals like that before Social Security.
Now I was tempted to ride the 600 mile round trip to visit William’s memorial and the grave at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery of another William Slyter, my father who served in World War II. But I’d been there many a time, 600 miles of 2 lane is a long day in Minnesota, and the F800S’ front tire didn’t look to have 600 miles of tread left. But what the heck… I’m right next door to South Dakota, and didn’t dad say that some of our family moved there and even ran for governor?
Now the neat thing about the genealogy web is that it keeps getting bigger and better. I’d never researched the alleged buyer of the Whitehall home, R.O. Broadway… Doesn’t just the name sound like the invention of a classic old west flim-flam man? Turns out that R.O. Broadway also put a “Dr.” before that name, and he’s listed as such in a turn of the century directory of physicians in South Dakota. But unlike most of the doctors in that directory, there’s no listing of what medical school he graduated from… And he is listed as practicing in little Bryant, South Dakota, conveniently located 100 miles west on a 2 lane I haven’t explored before.
‘Twas pretty quiet on Main Street, and the rest of Bryant too. No sign of “Doctor” Broadway’s office, ’tis a clinic there but it’s clearly been built in the past few years. So I retreat to the town’s Cenex Co-op C-Store and grab a coffee and some Wi-Fi. Looks like Mr. Broadway was also known as Robert Broadway, and after 1905 he had no recorded presence in Bryant. But he did buy some land between Pierre and Rapid City in 1920, just in time for the dust bowl. Time to google Wellington some more… Hmmm, here’s a picture of his grave site in Colton, guess that’s where I’m ridin’ next!
80 miles further the Zion Lutheran Cemetery was easy to find, but Wellington’s grave wasn’t! Found a Fuller gravestone, but ’twas the wrong Fuller. Though I’d have time to hit Costco in Sioux Falls before closing, but spent a half hour walking the good sized graveyard before finding my Fullers. Paid my respects, took a picture, and rode the 70 odd miles home… With a stop at Micky D’s supper club to search online some more!
Rainin’ today, so no ridin’. And here’s a pix of the Suzuki rotary bike I walked away from saturday: